So The way you decide to travel has a massive downstream effect on the local community, economy and environment, which is why eco-tourism and ethical travel are taking center stage. We talk to biologist Katie Lutz, a full-time biologist who explores the world every chance she gets. At the age of 19, she left for her first trip to Mexico, and was instantly hooked on travel. She travels with a deep desire to learn about wildlife and other cultures, but not to exploit them.

‘I’m a Girl Gone International because I never stop exploring. From my day job as a biologist to traveling, I want to know and experience everything. I find travel to be inspiring, it puts me out of my element and routine which sparks creativity in me.’

Katie shares with Girl Gone International how your travel can make a difference.

Shop Local

Spending your money locally can make a big difference in the economy. Try staying at small, family run bed and breakfasts or homestays. The rate is typically lower and often includes a fabulous home cooked breakfast. Eat at local restaurants, which again are typically less expensive and have authentic, delicious food.

Resist the Urge to Haggle

When you’re shopping at local markets, keep in mind that haggling may not always be the right thing to do. You want a fair price, but when it comes down to a few cents, it won’t make much of a difference to you but it could have a big impact on the vendor.

Consider the Environment

The simple act of taking a reusable water bottle, or reusing one you purchase on location can make a large difference in the amount of plastic waste that goes into the environment. This is especially true for those countries that do not have drinkable tap water and/or a recycling program. Most homestays and hotels will be able to refill them for you. My favorite place we’ve ever stayed at was right on the beach in Pemuteran, Bali. The small resort and dive shop employs local fisherman to help with their conservation work towards restoring the over-fished reefs. They called them the “Reef Gardeners”, and they are currently reconstructing the coral gardens in the area. This in turn stops the fisherman from continuing to overfish them. They even had an on-site turtle sanctuary.

Let the Wildlife Be Wild

Eco-tourism is all about being responsible when you travel and conserving natural environments. So when it comes to wildlife related activities, do your research. If the animals are in captivity, only visit those places that do not cage or chain them and allow contact with humans to happen naturally (if at all). When researching elephant trekking in Thailand I quickly discovered how terrible the conditions are for the elephants in the tourism industry. I know I couldn’t support that by participating. I finally stumbled upon Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary near Sukhothai and feel honored to have been able to spend some time there, taking leisurely walks next to the elephants, listening to their squeaks and trumpets, while they happily munched on trees.

Will you choose to make a difference the next time you travel?

By simply spending your money at locally owned establishments, bringing a reusable water bottle and doing a little extra research on animal related tourism, you can actually do a lot of good for that area. And here’s the absolute best part: you can have even more fun because of it! YOU are making a difference, and your experience will be that much richer for it.

This article first appeared in issue 8 of GirlGI Magazine.

community expat

By Katie Lutz

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