Rick Bowmer  /  AP
Hiking an old growth forest on the Salmon River Trail in the Mt. Hood National Forest, Ore.
Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/20/2005 8:04:59 PM ET 2005-07-21T00:04:59

You've decided to camp in the Costa Rican jungle alongside howler monkeys, sloths, parrots and snakes. That makes you an ecotraveler, right? Actually, you can be an environmentally conscientious traveler anywhere you go, from New York City to Nepal's highest summits.

Just ask Glen W. Hanket, author of Underwear by the Roadside: LitterWalk Coast-to-Coast. In 1993, Glen and Sue Hanket left behind jobs, friends and family to stroll across the United States and clean it up a bit. He spent his honeymoon walking from Maine to Oregon bagging more than four tons of garbage.

Traveling with an eye to the environment, however, need not require a Herculean effort. Here are 12 ways for travelers to help the planet.

  1. Do your homework. The International Ecotourism Society can help you find a responsible ecotourism company. Green Globe is a worldwide certification program designed to help tourists discover their impact on local environment and communities. Planeta.com specializes in environmental and tourism reporting.
  2. Choose your destination carefully. "For example, Iceland has some of the most fantastic whale watching in the world, but that country also started hunting whales last year in defiance of an international moratorium," said Chris Cutter, communications manager for the International Fund For Animal Welfare. "In Africa, Kenya has a strong commitment to conservation and a wide variety of habitats and animals, but countries like Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are much less responsible with natural resources."
  3. Select a green hotel. Look for lodges and hotels that have received the Green Seal Certification for environmentally responsible practices. For a list of certified lodgings, visit http://www.greenseal.org/certproducts.htm#lodging. Delaware North Companies, which manages some national parks, created the GreenPath environmental management plan to conserve water and energy, reduce and recycle waste, and maintain the properties' integrity. For a list of GreenPath lodgings, visit http://www.delawarenorth.com/Destinations/Destinations.asp. Vacationing in Canada? The Hotel Association of Canada's ECOmmodation Rating Program recognizes hotels, motels, and resorts that are committed to improving their fiscal and environmental performances. Visit www.hacgreenhotels.com for information.
  4. Rent a smaller car. "Why pay big bucks to gas up a hog when a comfy little car will get you where you're going?" said Rosemary Forrest, public relations coordinator for the University of Georgia/Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. "Unless you are offroading, an SUV isn't necessary and isn't eco-friendly."
  5. Think local. By purchasing food at farmers markets and establishments that offer local groceries, you'll reduce fossil-fuel consumption and shipping emissions.
  6. Think twice before buying certain souvenirs. "Many souvenirs in exotic places are made from endangered animals," said Chris Cutter. "Knickknacks made from materials such as ivory, reptile skins, tortoise shells and chiru fur (for shahtoosh shawls) not only encourage poachers, but may be illegal to bring back to the United States."
  7. Be responsible at the beach. "Humans are visitors to these coastal areas and should enjoy them as such," said Brad Pickel, coastal scientist and beach management coordinator for the Beaches of South Walton. Stay in designated areas and off the dunes. "Remember that the beach is home to numerous plants, animals, and birds that are found nowhere else in the world than at a beach, and many require beaches for nesting."
  8. Respect coral reefs. "The first thing that visitors need to realize about reefs is that they are living animals that should not be touched in any way, so be careful when snorkeling and scuba diving," Pickel said. "As part of their natural protection they are covered by a mucous membrane. When a coral is touched, the mucous membrane is removed. In human terms, the touching would be similar to having road rash from falling off of a bicycle or motorcycle."
  9. Take pictures, not petals. "The national parks and other parks are inundated with visitors," said Glen Hanket, author of Underwear by the Roadside. "If every visitor picked one Rocky Mountain Columbine, or one Indian Paintbrush, the meadows would soon be denuded. Leave it there for those who come after you to enjoy. A photograph will live much longer."
  10. Don't feed the animals. "You may think you're doing that cute squirrel a favor by giving him that bread crumb, but instead you're sentencing him to starvation," Hanket said. "Think of what happens when winter comes and the visitors go — and that critter is no longer able to forage food for himself." Similarly, don't feed marine critters. "Fish and other marine creatures have distinct diets and rely upon their natural instincts to find food," said Pickel, the coastal scientist "By feeding fish, humans can make fish dependant on human intervention."
  11. Don't litter. "Most people don't realize the cost of litter," Hanket said. "Money spent on trash removal is money not available for spending on amenities like campgrounds, visitor centers and the like. Some of the litter is also dangerous to wildlife — plastic six-pack rings being perhaps the foremost example, as animals get their mouths and beaks entangled and then cannot feed."
  12. Offset your travel with alternative energy certificates. A great way to travel green is to purchase wind certificates that pay for the production of renewable energy generated by wind farms to compensate for pollution created by traditional means of travel. Travelers can purchase $20 certificates each time they purchase a plane ticket or $10 certificates when they rent a car. Purchase certificates through Renewable Choice Energy at www.renewablechoice.com.

Robin Dalmas is a freelance writer and former MSNBC.com travel editor and producer.

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