Written by guest blogger, Alison Spencer.
More and more people are setting off to explore our world. Whether traveling alone or with family, domestically or internationally, individuals desire exposure to new places and new experiences. While this creates invaluable intercultural connections and educates those who participate, it also carries with it potential challenges.
Nowadays, with almost every country accessible, no matter how remote or untouched, travelers are entering sensitive environments. The more people who traverse the lands, the higher the potential for impact, meaning that just by visiting we can damage the earth we initially wanted to experience. It, therefore, becomes absolutely essential to approach travel sustainably. That is to say, strive to minimize our imprint, both daily and whilst traveling, especially if we wish to ensure future generations have the same opportunity to explore as were afforded to us.
Companies large and small have started to embrace this idea and taken tangible steps toward creating processes and practices supportive of environmental protection. Wilderness Inquiry, a Minnesota based nonprofit focuses on making the outdoors accessible to all, is one such organization, having woven concepts of sustainability into the heart of its mission. It stands firmly by the idea of Leave No Trace, both in its headquarters and while taking guests into the wilderness, meaning that whatever is brought in will be carried out, leaving behind an environment without any sign of human impact.
Wilderness Inquiry also focuses on the tenants of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Each menu is designed to be specific to the numbers of persons going on the trips to avoid unnecessary waste. Items no longer in use are donated or repurposed rather than discarded and all employees are educated on environmental recycling habits. These efforts work to diminish the company’s footprint throughout the year and regardless of place, whether canoeing the Mississippi or hiking the Inca Trail.
As we immerse ourselves into a local environment, we need to be cognizant of our direct impact on the land on which we walk and camp. Waste can be minimized by utilizing reusable bottles and traveling with a water filtration system. What we bring in, must be packed out, preferably in bags sorted into trash, recyclables and compost. All natural elements, from flowers to shells, can and should be left in their habitat. Albeit beautiful, they are not souvenirs for the taking. Reducing the use of products, like cosmetics and lotions, will prevent the contamination of water sources. Biodegradable soap, for dishes and bodies, is much preferred although still not free of environmental impact.
Remember, all signage is there for a reason. Stay on marked trails, even if it means traipsing through mud. Veering off course can damage delicate flora and, in turn, devastate the ecosystem’s integrity. Likewise, avoid feeding the local animals. Not only is this dangerous for both parties, it can make animals dependent on humans for their survival.
Amazingly, through our gear choices, we can also directly affect the environment before even setting foot on it. So, before splurging on the newest and most fashionable apparel, consider buying used, renting or repairing items you currently own. This limits the creation of new products, whose accompanying processes can damage the environment. If you can’t avoid purchasing new gear, look for that which is made by eco-conscious companies. A bluesign label ensures no harmful chemicals were used in its creation; Responsible Down and Wool Standards (RDS and RWS) guarantee products made from humanely sourced material; and anything with a Fair Trade Certificate denotes workers were paid higher wages. Note that your purchases are bound to last longer when well-cared for, so wash everything upon returning from a trip.
If you are looking to learn more about sustainable travel or want to feel confident that your upcoming trip will not negatively impact the environment, consider joining one of Wilderness Inquiry’s many expeditions. Visit the gorillas in the mountains of Uganda or paddle through the Apostle Islands. Venture out on foot or in a voyageur canoe. No matter your preference, with Wilderness Inquiry you can explore the world knowing you’re doing so sustainably.