Off the Beaten Path: How to Build A Better Vacation

istock_000004701539xsmall.jpgVacations, it is often said, cause nearly as much (if not more) stress as they’re supposed to alleviate. Add to that fears of global climate change, growing awareness of environmental issues associated with travel, and the aggravation and crowds that tend to converge in popular spots, and the would-be vacationer could be forgiven for wondering if it wouldn’t just be better to stay home.

And yet, there’s something vitally important about getting away from it all, about checking out from our daily life and experiencing new vistas that gives us a thrill of excitement every time we cross off another day on the countdown calendar. But how do we counterbalance that need with the environmental damage and stress of the traditional vacation? By going non-traditional, of course. And the good news is, taking the road less traveled often means that there’s no need to chuck out the rest and rejuvenation baby with the “evils of travel” bathwater – if you do it right.

Philanthropic Tourism

Travel to foreign countries, meet strange and interesting people – and help them? Absolutely. Organizations such as the Intrepid Travel Foundation (http://www.intrepidtravel.com/) and Vocation Vacations (http://vocationvacations.com/) can help you choose a vacation that not only gets you out of your daily grind, but puts all that energy to work doing good in the world. Instead of chasing down tourist traps one map square at a time, you’ll spend your days digging wells, building hospitals, touring wildlife preserves and meeting the beneficiaries of innovative new projects. And when you get home, you’ll have real life-changing stories to share instead of the same old hackneyed photos of Uncle Bill holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Eco-Tours

Not looking to work so hard, but still want to go green? Consider an eco-tour. These trips are designed to let regions take advantage of tourist dollars in positive ways, usually with the goal of creating an economy based on sustaining, rather than exploiting, the environment. Whether it’s a nature preserve, an animal rehabilitation sanctuary or a historic site, you’ll enjoy all the comforts and activity options of an exotic vacation while helping the locals make a sustainable living. For more information about ecotravel and how you can make your vacations more about having fun and doing good, check out the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development. (http://www.ecotourismcesd.org)

Agritourism

How do you keep them down on the farm? Simple – you turn the farm into a sustainable vacation experience and let foreign travelers cover the bills. Agrotourism is one of the hottest vacation options going. Choices range from working vacations on an organic farm to learning opportunities featuring exotic livestock to luxury B&B retreats in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains where you can hike all day amid gorgeous scenery and come back to a gourmet meal grown right on the premises. If this sounds like fun to you, Agritoursim World (http://www.agritourismworld.com/) is a great place to start looking for ideas.

Slow Travel

Concerned about the environmental impact of your travel, but still aching to hit the road? Hate the fuss and rush of rat-race tourism, but need to get away? Consider slow travel, where the journey is as much a part of the vacation as the destination (if not more so). Going slow means taking bikes, hikes, boats, rails and other low-impact options and extending the trip instead of opting for the faster and more resource-intensive, “get it over and done with as soon as possible” automobile or air travel. Slow travel is not as popular as some of the previous options, yet – the current generation of Red-Bull-wired desk jockeys still find it hard to be away from the center of things for the extended periods of time that slow travel demands. But it’s likely to become a growth industry in the near future as jobs become more portable, fuel more expensive and time spent enjoying ourselves more sacred. SlowTrav (http://www.slowtrav.com/) offers a site full of resources for the slow traveler.

Carbon Offsets

Even non-traditional travel has an impact. But you can offset some of the damage your globetrotting does, literally, by purchasing carbon offsets. Unfortunately, the jury’s still out on this activity, in terms of actual environmental effects, and there are no perfect choices. But you can make sure your dollar does the most good by carefully researching options and deciding what works best for you. For more information and resources, check out the Wikipedia page for carbon offsets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_offset).

Thanks to the Vacation Tips Blog for featuring this article in the Destinations Carnival, and to Fly Away Cafe for including this post in the July Carnival of Travelers.

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