Many are calling this the summer of revenge travel–people have postponed, shortened, or canceled their vacations over the past two years due to Covid, and now many of us have had enough! No high gas prices or overbooked flights can keep Americans from traveling this year. But how do we continue to respect the animals we share this world with, as well as the planet itself, while we honor the wanderlust (or cabin fever) that’s driving this travel binge?
There are a number of things you can consider when traveling to make your trip as animal- and planet-friendly as possible.
Where to go?
Most HAP followers love animals, love the planet, and want to see more of these things when we travel. I know that, for me, one of my favorite things about vacation is the opportunity to experience a different part of the natural world and encounter different wildlife. In fact, I just returned from a long weekend in the Adirondacks where my partner and I were lucky enough to share space and time with a loon at Black Pond.
Photo courtesy of Claire Kmetz via Flickr
For like-minded animal-lovers, ecotourism seems like a great idea. Ecotourism refers to environmentally-friendly travel. To qualify as ecotourism, “trips must involve visiting natural environments, doing nothing to change or adversely affect these areas, and providing cultural and economic advantages to local communities.”
Unfortunately, though, “There’s no way to enforce these requirements…and businesses can advertise trips as ecotourism even when they aren’t environmentally responsible.” The more popular a destination becomes (take Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks, for example), the more human visitors it attracts, the greater the danger to the vegetation, geological attractions, and–perhaps most heartbreakingly–the animals.
It’s common, for example, for tourists to try to get close to animals for photos, sometimes provoking the startled animals to attack. You might think animal attacks on bothersome tourists are totally justified and that the animals are acting for self-preservation, but that doesn’t stop them from facing grizzly consequences.
Most commonly, people feed wildlife or leave food or trash unsecured in parks, on trails, and in campgrounds, which leads to crafty animals like bears eating the food, losing their fear of humans, and encountering humans when they shouldn’t.
This problem isn’t entirely dissimilar to the way unsecured trash in our backyards can attract urban wildlife and lead to unnecessary and dangerous wildlife encounters with people and pets–the problem HAP is working to solve through our Love your Wild Neighbor campaign–but it’s maybe even worse when we go into these animals’ homes and leave trash and food scraps around to instigate these encounters. Just last year, a bear had to be euthanized in Glacier National Park because she had become conditioned to humans and therefore posed a risk.
If you want to travel to a wild place, be mindful that you are in the animals’ world. Secure any food you pack, leave the animals alone, and never try to approach, pet, or feed any wildlife. You may think it is cute and helpful, but it is dangerous for the animals. Even leaving banana peels or apple cores on the trail can attract animals to high-traffic trails and put them in danger.
And maybe consider less-developed lands instead of the bustling tourist attractions of the most famous national parks, since the more we continue to over-consume those parks, the less wild and pristine they will be. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia all boast beautiful state and even national parks, so you don’t even have to go far to explore underappreciated wilderness and the animals we share it with.
How to get there?
Want to make getting to your destination better for animals and the Earth? Traveling by air or cruise ship can be swapped for train or even car travel.
Obviously, cars are major polluters, and wildlife collisions account for millions of animal deaths a year. Even so, a road may be a better way to travel than flying or going on a cruise. While collisions between airplanes and birds do occur, the more significant problem with air travel is its huge carbon footprint. Air travel is a major contributor to climate change, which is driving catastrophic habitat loss for animals in the air, on land, and in rivers, lakes, and the sea. While driving is better for emissions than flying (especially when multiple people drive together in the same vehicle), taking the train is the best of all options.
Obviously, train travel is limited here in the U.S., but I always enjoy when I can take an Amtrak to New York City or even an overnight train to Chicago–the cabins are big and comfortable, they’re generally equipped with WiFi, I get to see a lot of the country as I pass through, and I can rest easy knowing I made a better choice for the Earth and the animals and people I share it with.
Of course, there are some places it’s not practical to travel to via train or even car. Sometimes we have to fly, but to the extent that we’re able to minimize it, we’ll be doing a major service for the Earth and all who live here!
And of course, I have to spare a moment to talk about cruise ships. Anyone who has ever taken a cruise knows how wasteful these can be. Serving after serving of food and drink are pushed on guests, ports of call are promoted as opportunities for shopping, and single-use travel-sized products abound. But the true environmental cost of cruise ships is even greater. They present devastating threats not only to clean water but also to air quality and marine life. If you can opt for a different kind of vacation, you’ll be doing the Earth and the animals we share our oceans with a favor.
Remember, at HAP, our goal is never to shame anyone for their habits or to insist that people be perfect. If your travel plans can’t be aligned with everything on this list, that’s okay! The more of these considerations you can make, the better off our world–and all the animals and even people in it–will be! The goal is progress, not perfection, so anything you can do to make a difference as you travel this year, even down to using reef-safe vegan/cruelty-free sunscreen and remembering your reusable water bottle and reducing your plastic consumption–is a win. So as you travel this summer, enjoy your long-awaited getaway; just remember the animals.2