Categories
Booking Strategy Sustainable Travel

How to Check Your Flight’s Carbon Footprint with an App

It’s well-known that air travel is a major source of carbon emissions. For travelers who want to do something about their flight’s carbon footprint, the options are limited: Invent a more fuel-efficient jet engine (not easy); travel by other means, or not at all (not always feasible); or offset carbon emissions in some way.

Option three is the most realistic, but the challenge comes when determining how much to offset, and how. A new feature from travel app TripIt aims to demystify this question by showing travelers their flight’s carbon footprint and offering suggestions for offsetting it.

[st_related]12 Ways to Travel Sustainably and Still Have a Great Vacation[/st_related]

TripIt uses the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to calculate travelers’ footprint. The GGP says it offers the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standards, which are used by American and European government agencies to track their carbon footprint. TripIt says it “takes into account factors like distance, flight class, and environmental elements” when making these calculations. TripIt tracks individual flights and total annual carbon footprint.

TripIt users can find this information in the flight detail screen under “Carbon Footprint” once they link a trip to the app. The app offers suggestions for offsetting emissions alongside the carbon footprint info. Cumulative emissions can be found under “Travel Stats” in the “More” tab.

[st_related]The Truth About Carbon Neutral Flights[/st_related]

Readers, do you offset your carbon emissions from traveling? If not, would you do so if it were easier to know your carbon footprint? Comment below.

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Categories
Fashion & Beauty Sustainable Travel

The 15 Best Sustainable Clothing Brands for Travelers

[st_content_ad]Sustainability is a buzzword in almost every industry, and it’s a trend that’s influencing travel clothing for the better.

From well-known companies to smaller eco-conscious labels, here are 15 sustainable clothing brands that also offer great gear for travelers.

Coalatree

Coalatree trailhead pants.

Sustainability Win: Most of Coalatree’s products are made from recycled or repurposed materials like coffee grounds, discarded yarns, and plastic. The brand also uses tree-friendly packaging. 

Editor Pick: Trailhead Pants

[st_related]Coalatree Evolution Hoodie Review: This Sweatshirt Is Made from Recycled Coffee Grounds[/st_related]

prAna

prana jola dress.

Sustainability Win: prAna is the first North American apparel brand to make Fair Trade Certified clothing, meaning both the product and facility are certified for ethical and sustainable initiatives. Shop the Fair Trade women’s and men’s collection.

Editor Pick: Jola Dress

 Athleta

Athleta sutton romper.

Sustainability Win: By 2020, 80 percent of Athleta’s materials with be made with sustainable fibers, and 25 percent of products will be made with water-saving techniques.

Editor Pick: Sutton Romper

[st_related]9 Stylish (and Sustainable) Shoes to Wear on Your Next Trip[/st_related]

Toad & Co.

Toad and co wide leg pants.

Sustainability Win: Toad & Co. produces eight different types of fabric, from Tencel to wool, that are either organic or recycled, which reduced the brand’s emissions by 51 tons last year.

Editor Pick: Earthworks Wide Leg Pant

[st_related]18 Things You Need for Your Best Travel Outfits Ever[/st_related]

Jungmaven

jungmaven bali pocket tee.

Sustainability Win: Jungmaven focuses on select fabrics like hemp, a natural fiber that doesn’t require irrigation, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers for production. Additionally, all Jungmaven items are hand-cut and made in the U.S.

Editor Pick: Baja Pocket Tee

United by Blue

United by blue manse chambray button down

Sustainability Win: In addition to using recycled and organic fabrics, United by Blue pledges to remove one pound of trash from oceans or waterways for every product sold.

Editor Pick: Manse Chambray Button Down

Patagonia

Patagonia better sweater.

Sustainability Win: Patagonia shares many resources about its environmental impact. Educating consumers about the environmental impact of specific fabrics is a huge step in changing consumer behavior.

Editor Pick: Better Sweater Zip 1/4 Zip Fleece

[st_related]The Best Zero-Waste Toiletries for Travel[/st_related]

Zanni

Zanni drawstring skirt.

Sustainability Win: ZANNI’s mission is to create classic, practical pieces for women that are made with durable and comfortable fabrics so they last a lifetime. This way clothing never ends up in a landfill.

Editor Pick: Drawstring Skirt

Sarah Liller

Sarah liller leila wrap top.

Sustainability Win: All products from Sarah Liller are made in San Francisco, and the brand’s fabrics are milled in the U.S., which means a smaller carbon footprint.

Editor Pick: Leila Wrap Top

[st_related]15 Best Travel Pants for Men and Women[/st_related]

Amour Vert

Amour vert gardenia jumpsuit.

Sustainability Win: In addition to using exclusive, eco-friendly fabrics, Amour Vert also plants a tree in North America for every T-shirt purchased. Read more on Amour Vert’s sustainability initiatives here.

Editor Pick: Gardenia Jumpsuit

Smartwool

smartwool merino 250 base layer crew

Sustainability Win: Merino wool, the core fabric of Smartwool, is a hero fabric that doesn’t need to be washed after every wear, thanks to its bacteria-absorbing superpowers. Less washing means less water and energy use. What’s more, Smartwool constantly evaluates its wool supply chain with an eye toward animal welfare and environmental impact.

Editor Pick: Merino 250 Base Layer Crew

[st_related]Smartwool Merino Wool Review: A Surprisingly Ideal Fabric for Winter and Summer[/st_related]

Bleusalt

Bleusalt wrap

Sustainability Win: All of Bleusalt’s products are made from beechwood, which is vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainable, since beech trees propagate by themselves and don’t need artificial irrigation or planting. Bonus: beechwood is one of the softest fabrics you can purchase.

Editor Pick: The Wrap

Royal Robbins

Royal robbins dixie plaid shirt.

Sustainability Win: Royal Robbins constantly updates a list of toxic and forbidden chemicals in collaboration with the Chemicals Group. The brand is also a member of the Sustainability Apparel Coalition, and has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2025.

Editor Pick: Dixie Plaid Shirt

Mack Weldon

Mack weldon ace sweatpants

Sustainability Win: The brand Mack Weldon has a program that lets you recycle your worn basics, like underwear, socks, and tees. Instead of ending up in a landfill, they’re either put to reuse in over 50 countries (if in good condition) or broken down by a fiber recycler.

Editor Pick: Ace Sweatpants

ADAY

Aday something borrowed shirt

Sustainability Win: Founded with the concept of simplicity, ADAY’s capsule collection clothing is meant to be long-lasting and trans-seasonal, meaning the pieces never go out of style or show wear. Plus, many styles are made with recycled materials.

Editor Pick: Something Borrowed Shirt

More from SmarterTravel:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Editor’s note: All prices were correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

 

 

Categories
Beach Sustainable Travel

Another Famous Beach Has Closed Indefinitely Due to Tourists

Thailand officials have announced they will maintain closure of the famous Maya Bay indefinitely, after closing the beach to tourists this past June. If you’ve never heard of Maya Bay, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen it regardless—Maya Bay was the setting of the 2001 Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach.

[st_content_ad]In fact, that movie is the main reason officials have had to shut the beach down. Tourists began flocking to Maya Bay (pictured above) after the movie came out and haven’t relented since, leading Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation to keep the park open year round. Most parks in Thailand close for about four months per year.

A decade and a half of that heavy tourist traffic took its toll. An average of 4,000 people and 2,000 boats visited the beach per day, and recent surveys of the ecosystem found devastating losses to the area’s coral reefs and marine life.

[st_related]Popular ‘Cesspool” Tourist Island Closing for Six Months[/st_related]

As a result, the government closed the beach in June with plans to reopen it in September. However, the beach has not recovered and will remain shut down until it does. This follows another closure earlier this year in the Philippines. In that case, infrastructure on the island of Boracay succumbed to excessive beach tourism—1.7 million visitors per year—and the entire island had to be shut down by the government, which called the area a “cesspool.”

More Closures to Come?

While these are somewhat isolated instances, the simultaneous closure of two prominent Southeast Asian beach destinations begs the question: Will this become the new normal? Tourism is a rapidly growing business, with more and more people traveling each year, particularly to places like Asia and the Pacific islands. Combine that with a changing environment, and the likelihood of rising sea levels and warming waters in our lifetime, and pollution from things like sunscreen, and it’s easy to see how the ecosystems and infrastructure around beach destinations are being overwhelmed.

And remember, closures don’t only affect tourists. Destinations like Maya Bay and Boracay Island are huge financial drivers for local citizens, and closing these beaches means cutting off people’s livelihoods in areas where there may not be solid alternatives. The Philippines’ government actually approved funding to help the local economy through the Boracay closure.

Hopefully, the closures in the Thailand and the Philippines can serve as a model of proper destination management. If both reopen with a solid plan for balancing tourism and the long-term health of the local ecosystem, other nations (including the U.S., of course) can follow suit. Closing a beach for several months is worthwhile if it makes way for decades of sustainable tourism.

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Categories
Cities Travel Technology

Would You Take an e-Scooter Ride with Uber?

Uber might have convinced us to willingly accept rides from strangers, and to get into driverless cars, but can it talk us into using an electric scooter as a mode of transportation? We’re about to find out, because the rideshare company just partnered with e-scooter startup Lime.

Lime e-scooter rentals work similarly to the bike sharing programs you’ll find throughout the world—with one major difference: Lime is a “dockless” company, which means the bikes and scooters you rent from them can be picked up and dropped off anywhere. While this seems convenient, if you live in city that has a dockless sharing program, you’ve probably seen the bikes and scooters littering the sidewalks, parks, and places they definitely don’t belong. I’ve seen some dumped in rivers and in the middle of the street.

In most cities, e-scooters are subject to the same rules as bicycles, meaning they are not allowed on sidewalks. So, you’ll have to ride them on the street, in a bike line, or on a designated bike trail. Helmet laws vary from city to city, and you’ll have to use your own helmet if you wish to wear one.

[st_related]10 Important Rideshare Safety Tips for Travelers[/st_related]

Lime’s e-scooters can reach a maximum speed of 14.8 mph, and the scooters have a range of about 20 miles per charge. They currently cost $1 to unlock plus $0.15 per minute to ride. You’ll have to be 18 or older to use one, and you’ll need to have a valid driver’s license.

Once the partnership with Uber officially launches, you’ll be able to unlock your ride in the Uber app in certain cities. It’s unlike calling an Uber in that you’ll have to get yourself to the scooter, first, rather than it coming to you.

Would you try one out?

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Cities Health & Wellness Peer-to-Peer Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

Are Uber and Lyft Making City Congestion Even Worse?

It has long been a centerpiece of Uber and Lyft’s self-promotion that the proliferation of such ridesharing services was a boon to the country’s most congested cities. The idea was that by giving people an alternative to firing up their own cars for every trip, no matter how long or how short, the net amount of city traffic would be reduced.

Result: fewer cars on the road, faster trip times, less frustration, less pollution.

For a Los Angeles resident like myself, it’s a compelling vision. But along with other platitudes of the so-called gig economy, this one isn’t standing up to the test of reality-checking.

[st_related]These Are America’s 10 Most Sinful States[/st_related]

According to the Associated Press, “Ride-hailing companies are pulling riders off buses, subways, bicycles and their own feet and putting them in cars instead.” And those cars are Uber or Lyft vehicles that weren’t on the road before.

Result: more congestion, slower trip times, more frustration, more pollution.

The AP article cites several recent studies to support its conclusions. One study found that rideshare drivers make 170,000 trips in central San Francisco on a typical weekday. That’s 12 times the average number of taxi trips.

Another study cited found that respondents would not have made between 49 and 61 percent of rideshare trips at all if the option didn’t exist, or they would have walked, biked, or used public transit.

The AP did find one study that seemed to support the Uber version of history. That study found that between 2012 and 2015, the number of passenger vehicles in London, including Uber cars, remained approximately the same. There was a detectable uptick in congestion, but it was attributed to road construction and trucks delivering purchases made online.

The evidence linking ridesharing and congestion falls a bit short of conclusive at this point. Check back for updates next year.

Reader Reality Check

Is Uber going to save us, or strangle us?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Luxury Travel Outdoors Photography

There’s Still Time to See Australia’s ‘Field of Light Uluru’

Field of Light Uluru

Australia’s Uluru may be located in the red-tinged desert of the Northern Territory, but at night the sacred landscape lights up with a multi-colored bloom. This ebullient display is known as the “Field of Light Uluru” from artist Bruce Munro. The installation consists of more than 50,000 solar-powered lights that resemble bulb-shaped flowers and are connected by a network of fiber optics. It’s also referred to as “Tili Wiru Tjutu Nyakutjaku” by the indigenous Anangu people, which translates to “looking at lots of beautiful lights.”

[st_related]Get Prices for Hotels Near Uluru[/st_related]

Munro was inspired by the burst of happiness he felt during a trip to Uluru he took with his wife. The installation, located six miles away from the sacred rock, has inspired even more joy since opening in 2016. Munro’s team was careful not to disturb the land and worked with the natural landscape, which is why the lights are not organized in any specific pattern. With this method, the area will appear just as they found it when the installation is taken down.

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Luckily for hopeful travelers, “Field of Light Uluru” received an extension until 2020. This means there’s still plenty of time to plan a luminous visit to Uluru. With the tour operator Voyages Australia, there are many ways to experience the installation from camel tours to helicopter tours, from sunrise to sunset. You can even book a three-course meal in the bush and see Uluru and the Field of Light while you eat. If you needed a push to finally book that bucket-list Australia trip and see Uluru for yourself, this is it.

[viator_tour destination=”22″ tours=”2230P137″]

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Cities Health & Wellness Island Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

Caribbean Update: Where to Go (and Not Go Yet) in 2018

If last year’s hurricanes are making you rethink tropical travel this year, it’s time for a Caribbean update. Although several countries suffered serious damage, a whopping 70 percent of the region—more than a million square miles and 30 countries—remains untouched. And of the hurricane-affected Caribbean islands, many have already rebounded enough to resume receiving visitors.

“We will recover,” says Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. “Guests planning their trips to those [affected] islands this year and beyond should expect to see a product that is rebuilt stronger, better and even more attractive than before.”

Caribbean Update: 2018 Islands Report

[st_content_ad]Don’t put off Caribbean travel. As Riley says, “The best way to help the Caribbean recover is to visit the Caribbean.” Read on for Caribbean updates on affected islands, plus reasons to visit six of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations untouched by the storms.

How You Can Help: The best way to help the Caribbean is to visit, of course. But if a trip isn’t in the cards, you can still donate to the official regional relief funds set up by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Caribbean Update: Unaffected Islands with New Reasons to Visit

Aruba

Best known for its beaches, casinos, and its multicultural population (90 nationalities and counting), the “Happy Island” lies beyond the Caribbean islands’ hurricane belt, so it’s a great bet year-round. But Aruba’s Soul Beach Music Festival on Memorial Day weekend (past headliners have included Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys) just might encourage you to book that getaway right now.

Book it: Get prices for Aruba hotels

Barbados

A second Sandals resort (complete with a rooftop infinity pool and a bowling alley) and a brand-new outpost of the scenester staple Nikki Beach are just two reasons to visit Barbados, the birthplace of rum, right now. But whenever you go, don’t miss Harrison’s Cave, a mile-long network of limestone caverns you can explore via electric tram.

Book it: Get prices for Barbados hotels

Grand Cayman

The newest arrival on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach is Margaritaville Beach Resort, an oasis that debuted last year that’s inspired by the laidback lifestyle and lyrics of singer Jimmy Buffett. But beyond Seven Mile’s sands are classic attractions (think Stingray City and more than 300 dive sites) that are also worth your time.

Book it: Get prices for Grand Cayman hotels

Grenada

Later this spring, the new luxury resort Silversands will be the first in 25 years to open on Grenada’s Grand Anse, the most famous beach on this island-on-the-rise. Further proof of the Spice Island’s upward trajectory: Kimpton Kawana Bay follows next year. My advice: Go now.

Book it: Get prices for Grenada hotels

Jamaica

The perennially popular Caribbean island is known for rum, reggae, and all-inclusive resorts (Excellence Oyster Bay and Spanish Court Montego Bay debut this summer). But Jamaica’s ruggedly beautiful landscape also attract runners to the Kingston City Run in March, and December’s Reggae Marathon, which ends on the sands of Negril’s seven-mile beach.

Book it: Get prices for Jamaica hotels

St. Kitts

With its first luxury resort—the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, now open on the island’s Southeast Peninsula—and increased nonstop flights from Charlotte, New York, Newark, Atlanta, and Miami, St. Kitts is clearly having a moment. When you’re not basking on the beach, consider a hike 3,000 feet up to the top of the island’s dormant volcano, Mount Liamuiga.

Book it: Get prices for St. Kitts hotels

Caribbean Update: Recovering Islands

Anguilla

Despite the pounding delivered by hurricane Irma, the 35-square-mile island of Anguilla has recovered remarkably well. Power has been restored; restaurants have been rebuilt; more than 600 rooms are available in small hotels and villas; and its six major resorts (including Malliouhana, Four Seasons Anguilla and CuisinArt Resort & Spa) will reopen between mid-February and the end of this year. Even better news: the beaches—all 33 of them—are as pristine and uncrowded as ever.

Book it: Get prices for Anguilla hotels

St. Barts

All utilities have been restored on the posh French Caribbean island, but most of St. Barts’ 16 hotels (including the first, Eden Rock) won’t reopen until summer or fall. The good news: Villa management company WIMCO reports that 182 of its 360 rental homes (545 rooms in total) are already available. The airport and Gustavia’s cruise port are both open, with ferry service from St. Martin now resumed. And several restaurants, most shops, and all the collectivity’s beaches are back in biz.

Book it: Get prices for Grenada hotels

St. Croix

With its airport open and power and water restored, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands is also bouncing back the fastest of the three. St. Croix resorts (including two of its best known, The Buccaneer and Hotel Caravelle), restaurants, and shops are back in business. Cruise ships resumed calls at Frederiksted in November, and The Fred, the island’s first new hotel in more than 30 years, had a soft opening in February and should be complete by April.

Book it: Get prices for St. Croix hotels

St. Maarten

Fair warning: You’ll arrive and depart St. Maarten from tents adjacent to the terminal building at Princess Juliana International Airport, whose waterlogged structure won’t reopen before the end of 2018. And some of the biggest resorts here—including all three Sonestas and the Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa—are closed until further notice. But 1,200 rooms in small hotels and guest houses on the Dutch side of this twin-nation island are available; all 37 beaches and most of the shops on Front Street are open; and restaurants and nightlife at Simpson Bay are up and running. Rockland Estate, a new zipline attraction, opened in November, and the cruise port at Philipsburg welcomed its first ships in December.

Book it: Get prices for St. Maarten hotels

Puerto Rico

All our airports are operational and more than 200,000 passengers have cruised to and from San Juan over the last three months,” says Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s acting executive director, Carla Campos. Although approximately 20 percent of the island is still without power and 20 percent without water, Campos notes that “there are currently more than 100 hotels, 4,000 restaurants and 107 major tourism attractions open. San Juan has been receiving leisure travelers since November 30, and other areas, such as Culebra, Ponce, La Parguera, Mayaguez, Cabo Rojo, Rincón, and Vieques, are also back in business.”

Book it: Get prices for Puerto Rico hotels

Caribbean Update: Severely Affected Islands

Dominica

Despite feeling the category five force of Hurricane Maria in September, more than 20 small hotels have reopened on the nature island. Amenities on Dominica, however, are limited and utilities still intermittent. Consider visiting on a cruise (ships returned in January), as natural attractions popular with passengers, such as Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Pool, have reopened and are as beautiful as ever.

St. John

Caribbean update

The smallest U.S. Virgin Island took a big hit, losing 70 percent of its hotel rooms to the storm, including those at marquee resorts Caneel Bay and the Westin St. John Resort & Villas, which will remain closed for the rest of the year. But most of St. John is back on the grid, and several small hotels, including Gallows Point Resort and Estate Lindholm, are welcoming guests. Most restaurants and shops in Cruz Bay are open, as are all the Caribbean island’s beaches, including Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay. Consider a day trip from Red Hook in St. Thomas, via the hourly ferry service.

St. Thomas

Although St. Thomas’ airport is open, several large resorts—including the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas and Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort—are closed through the rest of the year. Cruise passengers will find many shops and restaurants in Charlotte Amalie open; attractions such as the Paradise Point Skyride are operating; and the island’s most famous beach, Magens Bay, is restored.

St. Martin

The French side of the twin-nation island is in rebuilding mode, so for now, facilities for visitors on St. Martin are limited. However, officials say that there are about 400 rooms available in villas and small hotels; all the beaches are groomed; and attractions including Loterie Farm have reopened.

British Virgin Islands

These 30-something islands famously comprise one of the Caribbean’s sailing capitals. And post-hurricanes, with major resorts such as Peter Island, Bitter End Yacht Club, and Rosewood Little Dix Bay closed for most or all of 2018, sailing remains one of the best ways to explore the archipelago—in fact, there are more than 100 vessels available for charter from yacht companies The Moorings and Sunsail. Conditions vary by island in the British Virgin Islands, but Tortola’s airport, cruise pier, and about 50 restaurants and bars are open; and interisland ferries are operating.

Caribbean Update: Off the Table (For Now) Islands

Barbuda

Only 2,000 people lived on this 62-square-mile island, and after evacuating to sister island Antigua, very few have returned. Water and electricity on Barbuda is limited and there’s no lodging available for visitors. But actor Robert De Niro is still forging ahead with his ambitious Paradise Found resort project, scheduled to break ground later this year, so keep your eyes peeled.

For the latest Caribbean updates, go to CaribbeanTravelUpdate.

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Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon is a Caribbean travel expert, award-winning travel journalist, and self-described “Carivangelist,” who goes to the beach and beyond to share the world’s favorite warm-weather destination with brands including Travel + Leisure and The Telegraph. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and on JetSetSarah.com.

Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Budget Travel Experiential Travel Food & Drink Health & Wellness Travel Etiquette

9 Ways to Find Cheap Eats Anywhere You Travel

After lodging and airfare—and sometimes even ahead of it—food is one of the biggest expenses for travelers. Eating out two or three times a day, every day, for an extended period can be cost-prohibitive for the average would-be traveler, especially when the budget has to stretch to feed multiple people. Fortunately, there are ways to find cheap eats no matter where you’re headed—even in some of the world’s biggest, most expensive cities.

[st_content_ad]And no, I’m not talking about cooking all or even some of your own meals, but rather budget-saving tips that will allow you to experience the local cuisine to the fullest. The nine tips below will help you discover cheap places to eat on your next vacation.

Use Discount Apps to Find Cheap Eats

A few weeks or even months before you embark on a trip, add your destination to all of your flash-sale and e-commerce apps, like Groupon and Living Social. Whenever you see a good dining deal, purchase it and save it to use during your trip. Many sites allow you to view these vouchers offline or even print them ahead of time, so even if you’re somewhere without Wi-Fi or a cell signal, you can still use them. These sites regularly offer deals that can save you anywhere from 10 to 50 percent or even more.

Choose the Right Hotel

I’m not suggesting you dine in your hotel’s in-house restaurant—those are usually expensive and subpar. What I do suggest is booking a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast and/or dining credits or coupons for local restaurants. Many hotels, hostels, and even vacation rentals include either a continental or hot breakfast in their nightly rates without charging more than other similar lodging options. And of course, bed and breakfasts, which are an affordable option in many places, always include breakfast.

Some hotels also partner with local restaurants to offer dining credits as part of package lodging deals. Don’t pass these up if they’re available.

Bonus tip: If the included breakfast is buffet-style, grab a few pieces of fruit or an extra yogurt for snacking on later in the day, and fill up your travel mug or water bottle before heading out.

[st_related]How to Save Money on Food When You Travel[/st_related]

Look for Local Bakeries

Once you arrive and get settled in, take a walk around the neighborhood and take note of any bakeries that look inviting. Local bakeries usually offer a variety of breads, pastries, sandwiches, wraps, tea, and coffee at affordable prices. A hot coffee and a croissant or small sandwich can go a long way in fueling you up for a day of exploring—whether for breakfast or lunch—and usually won’t cost you much. Plus, if you visit the same place a few days in a row throughout your visit, you’ll notice the same local regulars—and maybe even start to feel like one yourself.

Explore Residential Areas

For good, cheap eats, ditch the pricey downtown restaurants and head to the outskirts of your destination city. Here, in more residential neighborhoods, you’ll often find excellent restaurants and bars that charge a fraction of what you’ll pay near the big tourist attractions. This may require you to walk an extra mile or spend a few bucks on public transportation, but the savings are usually well worth it. Chances are, you’ll also enjoy a much better meal than what’s typically peddled to famished tourists in the more bustling areas.

[st_related]5 Coolest Neighborhoods You Haven’t Heard of Yet[/st_related]

Ask the Locals

There’s no better way to find cheap eats in your destination than to ask someone who lives there. If you’re too shy to strike up a conversation with someone on the subway or at a bar, you can ask a tour guide or hotel worker. Just be sure to tell them that you don’t want to go where they usually send tourists, since they often give stock answers or suggest places their hotel or tour company is affiliated with. Instead, ask where they eat when they go out. Let them know you’re looking for cheap eats and you want to see where the locals like to dine.

Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food

Every traveler has heard horror stories about food poisoning and the dreaded traveler’s tummy, but the vast majority of street vendors feed hundreds of people every day without a problem. Street food is notoriously cheap and offers some of the most authentic food you’ll find in just about every locale.

To protect yourself, queue up at the busiest cart, since locals won’t wait in line for food that doesn’t have a great reputation and a busy vendor’s food isn’t likely to sit around long enough to go bad. Pack some tummy meds just in case—but chances are, you won’t need them at all, and you may even score an amazing meal for just a couple of bucks.

[st_related]Food Safety: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling[/st_related]

Visit Farmers’ Markets

In some destinations you’ll have to take to the streets to locate a good farmers’ market, while in others there are markets so famous you’ll come across them when you’re researching sights to visit on your trip. From breads and cheeses to locally grown produce and prepared foods, farmers’ markets offer any number of choices to fill your belly without breaking the bank. Grab your purchases and find a local park or town square to enjoy them in while you people watch.

Stop at a Grocery Store

You probably don’t like the idea of cooking on vacation, but grocery stores are an affordable place to pick up things like coffee, soups, sandwiches, pastries, and other grab-and-go options for a quick, cheap vacation meal. Of course, you’ll also get a peek at how the locals do their shopping, and you’ll likely find a few authentic treats and regional specialties to try out for yourself that you might not otherwise have stumbled across.

[st_related]12 International Foods to Try Before You Die[/st_related]

Try New Things

Lastly, always be willing to try something new. You don’t have to relegate yourself to eating at the local Mickey D’s outpost every day in order to save money. Armed with an open mind and an adventurous palate, you’ll be able to find plenty of cheap places to eat when you’re traveling, no matter your destination. Just be willing to eat like the locals wherever in the world you end up.

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Shayne Rodriguez Thompson is the founder of FitMamiLife.com and a freelance writer with expertise in all things travel, food, and parenting.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Experiential Travel Family Travel Island Outdoors Road Trip Sustainable Travel

10 Secret Places to Visit in British Columbia

Thanks to Canada’s 150th-anniversary celebrations, U.S. tourists are finally starting to take note of the spectacular offerings from the North. British Columbia (or BC) is no exception, with most visitors flocking to its main city of Vancouver.

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But the province’s greatest charms are found in its less crowded spots, as I discovered on a recent trip to the archipelago of Haida Gwaii.

Secret Places to Visit in British Columbia

To learn more, I talked to local resident Sabrina Robson of Destination British Columbia (the province’s tourism board) to uncover her favorite little-known places to visit in British Columbia.

The Sunshine Coast

This coastal retreat is just a 40-minute ferry ride from Vancouver and is one of the best places to visit in British Columbia for water activities like fishing, sailing, and kayaking. The inlets even have a white sandy beach located on Savary Island.

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Port Renfrew

port renfrew waterfall on beach

You’ll find this hidden gem two hours south of Victoria, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Robson loves Port Renfrew for its essential BC features: “Think big trees, beautiful beaches, surfing, and friendly locals!” Similar to better-known Tofino, Port Renfrew also has awesome storm watching.

Nelson

Located along Kootenay Lake and the Selkirk Mountains in BC’s southern interior, Nelson is known for its outdoor offerings. But Robson notes it also has a trendy culinary scene, with more restaurants per capita than Manhattan.

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Salt Spring Island

Tucked in between mainland BC and Vancouver Island, Salt Spring is home to mountain vistas, beaches, and forested trails. Here you can kayak, hike, golf, swim, and cycle all in one day. Plus, don’t miss the farmers’ market and coffee shops!

Osoyoos

Did you know there’s a desert in Canada? Located in the Okanagan Valley, known for its bold red wine, Osoyoos is surrounded by desert, vineyards, and mountains. It’s also one of the best places to visit in British Columbia with kids; Osoyoos Lake is known for its warm water, as well as beaches and an abundance of water activities. 

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Haida Gwaii

This remote archipelago is an off-the-grid experience. Come to learn about the indigenous Haida people, explore mossy rainforests, and become one with the ocean. The island chain just south of Alaska is about a two-hour flight from Vancouver. Often referred to as the “Canadian Galapagos,” the region is home to an array of wildlife, from orcas to puffins.

The Great Bear Rainforest

As its name suggests, the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest coastal rainforests in the world and is home to a black bear species called the Kermode (or “spirit”) bear. This type of black bear has a recessive gene which actually gives it a white fur coat.

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The Skeena Train

For an offbeat experience, take a ride on “The Skeena”—a rail journey that travels between Prince Rupert in BC and Jasper in Alberta. You’ll get a chance to see quaint mountain towns like Smithers, which has a trendy craft beer, music, and arts scene. The trip takes two days, with an overnight stop at Prince George. Book the Touring Class service for access to the Panoramic Dome Car, with jaw-dropping views.

Squamish

Also known as the “Outdoor Adventure Capital of Canada,” Squamish offers kiteboarding, hiking, backcountry skiing, and mountain biking. It’s just 45 minutes north of Vancouver, making it one of the best places to visit in British Columbia for its accessibility.

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Fly-In Lodges

According to Robinson, fly-in lodges are a true BC experience. The province offers “a robust collection [of luxury fly-in lodges], where you can be in the heart of the wilderness without compromising any comforts,” says Robson. She recommends Sonora Resort, Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, and Great Bear Lodge.

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Ashley traveled to Haida Gwaii courtesy of Destination BC. Follow all of her adventures (big and small) on Instagram and Twitter.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors Road Trip Sustainable Travel

The 10 Biggest Benefits of Nature Travel

We have all felt it: the uncanny sensation of clear-headedness and relief that comes from a long walk in the woods, a climb to a mountain overlook, or a stroll on the beach. Even a quick dive into cool ocean surf can do it; you emerge feeling somehow cleaner despite being covered in salt water and brine. It turns out there is a heap of science behind that sensation, enough to encourage the use of our precious vacation time to immerse ourselves in nature travel for extended periods.

[st_content_ad]As John Muir said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” Below is what the experts have to say on the extensive benefits of getting out into nature in your everyday life, and especially when traveling.

Nature Travel Increases Your Attention Span

The constant barrage of information and images that characterizes modern life is thought by many to have a negative effect on our ability to control our attention—but time in nature has the capacity to correct it, according to this study. It turns out that even viewing photos of nature can have a positive effect; while I’m not much for armchair travel, it actually seems to work when it comes to exposure to nature.

These benefits seem especially important for kids, so get started early on the nature trips and hikes.

Nature Travel Boosts Creativity

Heading out into nature has been found not only to assist attention span, but to boost creativity considerably as well—by up to 50 percent, according to a University of Kansas study. The study emphasizes that these benefits accrue “after living for a few days steeped in nature,” much as you would on a nature trip to the mountains or the woods.

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Awe Is Good for You

Looking out over the planet’s most spectacular natural landscapes isn’t just good for your Instagram account; the awe these places inspire is also good for you. A Stanford study linked awe to improved patience, increased interest in helping other people, and greater life satisfaction.

Nature Travel Encourages Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness may be a bit of a fad at the moment, but the underlying concepts are as old as human history. Deliberately turning your attention to sounds, smells, changing light, and other details of your environment is a favorite type of mindfulness training for many, and is fun and easy—and almost unavoidable—when you travel in nature.

Nature Travel Offers a Reset

One important benefit many of us seek from a trip is a reset, an increase in our enthusiasm and overall liveliness that doesn’t evaporate when we get back to the grind. It turns out that travel in nature offers just this; this study by researchers at the University of Rochester found a direct link between time in nature and increased energy and vitality, even when controlling for the benefits of exercise.

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The Air Is Healthier

According to the EPA, Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants can be two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Go deep into a natural landscape, and the relative air quality improves even more.

Sunlight Is Good for You, Too

While it is well known that UV radiation from the sun can cause health problems, it is also essential to good health; in fact, the benefits of UV rays may be much greater than the risks. A study by the World Health Organization found that adequate sunlight exposure lowers the incidence of major musculoskeletal disorders, autoimmune diseases, and some types of cancers.

Take care not to get a sunburn, and the benefits of sunlight are free for the taking on your next nature trip.

Nature Travel Can Help Your Mood

According to the USDA, Duke University researchers found that walking regularly was more effective than Zoloft in reducing depression symptoms. And it’s not just the walking that does it. The Duke study quantified the effects of walking three times per week, which are considerable but significantly amplified when done in nature, according to a study at the University of Rochester.

It’s not just the exercise with your friends that makes you feel “more alive,” as the study notes; it is the immersion in nature. Do this on a weeklong nature trip, and the benefits continue to pile up.

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It Can Also Help with Other Difficult Emotional Conditions

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appear to be helped by time outdoors and in the wilderness, according to U.S. News & World Report. Experiencing nature helps them recover from their experience and offers a slow and more natural reintegration into civilian life. These findings suggest that anyone with PTSD could benefit from nature travel, whether or not they’ve served in the military.

It’s an Easy Way to Jump-Start a Fitness Routine

In addition to all of the science above, I have found no better way to jump-start a workout regimen than nature travel. A trip that puts you in natural surroundings typically requires walking, climbing, carrying your stuff, and other relatively low-impact but high-payoff activities.

Compared to a half-hour or so in the gym every other day, an entire week of carrying even a 10- to 15-pound backpack all day leads to greater and gentler fitness gains every time, in my experience. Weight loss becomes easier, too; when you are moving around burning calories 12 hours each day, “dieting” becomes less critical to creating the calorie deficit that weight loss requires.

Sure, you can get fit walking around Rome all day long, but the temptation to Uber it home from dinner can be almost irresistible; not so much at the campfire.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.

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Cities Sustainable Travel

9 Places to See Before They Disappear

Some of the world’s most beloved tourist destinations are in danger. Many are threatened by climate change, which has caused rising seas, melting glaciers and bleached coral. Others are being infringed upon by local industry or “loved to death” by too many tourists.

We’ve gathered nine such places to see before they disappear or are irrevocably altered. (To make sure you’re not adding to the problem with your presence, take care to travel responsibly.)

1. Glacier National Park, U.S.A.

In just a couple of decades, the name of Montana’s famous park may be a misnomer; according to the National Park Service, some scientists believe the glaciers here may be gone by 2030. They have already receded so visibly that scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey are using the park as a major site for research on climate change.

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2. The Seychelles

These idyllic islands off the coast of East Africa are a haven for honeymooners and divers, but they face an uncertain future. The coral reefs fringing the islands have suffered several recent bleaching events due to warming ocean temperatures, and if sea levels continue to rise at their current rate, many parts of the islands could be completely underwater within the next century. Similar fates could be in store for other low-lying islands such as the Maldives, Kiribati and the Cook Islands.

3. Venice, Italy

This most beautiful and fragile of Italian cities is no stranger to floods; thanks to its location on the shifting sediments of a lagoon, Venice has been sinking for centuries, and tides have long ebbed and flowed through the city’s stately squares. However, the flooding has accelerated in recent years, prompting the Italian government to construct steel gates at the entrances to the Venetian lagoon, designed to block tidal surges from flooding the city.

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4. Machu Picchu and Chan Chan, Peru

Few visitors to Peru would skip a trip to its most heralded attraction, the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, all those tourists are having a harmful impact on the site — particularly those who don’t stick to marked paths and instead climb over the fragile ruins. A much less famous Peruvian archeological site is also in trouble; the Chimu city of Chan Chan, which dates back to the year 850, is made up of thousands of adobe buildings that are slowly being dissolved by increasing El Nino rainfall.

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5. Alaska, U.S.A.

Alaska is warming more than twice as quickly as the rest of the country, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, jeopardizing its famous glaciers and frozen tundra. That’s bad news not only for travelers seeking snowy scenery but also for Alaskans living in remote coastal villages, where rising sea levels are literally eroding the ground out from under their feet.

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6. Borneo and Sumatra, Indonesia

Animal lovers flock to these regions of Southeast Asia, the only places where you can view orangutans in the wild. (You might also spot tigers, elephants and rhinos.) But the World Wildlife Fund reports that the animals and plants in this incredibly biodiverse part of the world are under siege due to poaching, rapid deforestation and unsustainable agriculture.

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7. Petra, Jordan

The spectacular rock city of Petra, Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction, is currently on the watch list of the World Monuments Fund (which seeks to preserve the world’s cultural treasures). The WMF notes that Petra faces both natural and human threats, including earthquakes, flash floods and overtourism, all of which endanger the distinctive architecture of this ancient site.

8. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef encompasses one of the world’s most fascinating ecosystems, but it’s also one of the most vulnerable. Rising water temperatures and other factors such as overfishing and water pollution have wreaked stress on delicate corals, leading to several mass bleaching events in the past 20 years. Some scientists postulate that the reef’s corals could die out within the next four decades.

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9. The Alps, Europe

Glaciers around the world are receding rapidly, and those in the Alps are no exception. The region’s annual snowfall has also been declining. Many local ski resorts have had to produce more snow (which, ironically, contributes to the problem of global warming by using more energy), while others have closed up shop altogether. And a few places have taken a more drastic step: wrapping their glaciers in blankets to prevent further melting.

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Arts & Culture Historical Travel Travel Etiquette

10 Things to Expect at a Traditional Japanese Ryokan

When you walk into a Japanese ryokan—or traditional Japanese inn—you should be tired and dirty. Your back should ache and your feet should be sore. The best way to experience a ryokan is the way the people they were built for did. Along Japan’s old highways, innkeepers welcomed weary travelers who had walked long distances—and who likely still had a long journey ahead of them. When travelers arrived at the inn, exhausted and dusty, the innkeepers knew just what to do with them.

Always in the same order, guests were welcomed in, served hot tea, and offered fresh robes to change into before dinner. When you follow this order and respect the rules of a traditional ryokan, you are doing more than just being culturally polite. You are taking part in a ritual of relaxation and hospitality that has been in practice for centuries. Though these customs can be tricky for Western visitors to navigate at first, they’re well worth the experience. By the time you walk out of the door the next morning, you’ll be clean, well-fed, and ready to take on a brand new day.

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What to Expect at a Japanese Ryokan

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Jamie Ditaranto traveled to Japan and experienced many different styles of ryokan as a guest of Walk Japan. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Island Outdoors Sustainable Travel

10 Coolest Animals in the Galapagos

The sheer variety of animals in the Galapagos is what separates a trip there from any other type of vacation. About 80 percent of its land birds, 97 percent of its reptiles and land mammals, 20 percent of its marine species, and 30 percent of its plants are only found in the Galapagos. I was blown away by the different species I saw on my recent trip—here are 10 you won’t want to miss if you go.

The Unique Animals of the Galapagos

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Editor’s Note: Tourism is one of Ecuador’s main sources of income and is instrumental in helping the country recover from the earthquake in April 2016, which devastated a large part of its coast. Traveling through a sustainable tour company is a great way to donate to the country and communities affected. Or, consider making a donation here.

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley traveled to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of G Adventures. Follow all of her adventures (big and small) on Instagram and Twitter.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Outdoors Sustainable Travel

Galapagos: An Island-by-Island Guide

The Galapagos Islands are the definition of a bucket-list destination. They’re like no other place on Earth, and you’re basically vacationing in an open zoo with some of the world’s rarest and most interesting animals. But getting to the Galapagos can be a challenge, and the tour options are overwhelming—so, how do you plan this dream trip?

I recently explored this rich archipelago on a G Adventures island-hopping tour. Here’s my island-by-island guide to both popular and lesser-known Galapagos isles.

You’ll also find other useful information, including how to get to the Galapagos, what to expect, how to pick a tour, and other advice that will help you make the most out of your Galapagos trip.

When to Go to the Galapagos

As my tour guide, Jose Valdivieso, put it, “The best time to go to Galapagos is when you decide to go.” There really is no bad time to go, because the islands’ position on the equator leads to a steady climate of sunshine and high temps.

The warm(er) and wet(ish) season lasts from January to June, with December and January seeing the highest number of tourists. The “cold” (by that I mean 80 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny) and dry season is from July to December. The biggest difference between the two seasons is the water temperature, with cooler ocean in the dry season. You’ll still be able to snorkel, swim, and dive, but you might want to bring or rent a wet suit if you’re going during these months and want to be in the water for longer periods.

Picking a Galapagos Tour

While you can technically go to the islands without a being on a tour group, I recommend going through a tour operator. You have to be accompanied by a naturalist guide certified by the Galapagos National Park Department to enter any area designated as a national park. A guide is typically included on all Galapagos tours, but make sure your tour option specifies it before you book.

In choosing a tour, look at the company’s sustainability practices. This is particularly important when traveling to the Galapagos, where the ecosystems and communities are fragile. National park rules limit the number of passengers on a cruise ship to 100 (although most boats hold under 20 people) and on-land tours to 16 people per group, so make sure your tour fits these guidelines.

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Most tour companies offer marine-based trips because many of the islands are uninhabited and require snorkel sessions and offshore excursions to visit. Alternatively, you can go on an island-hopping tour where you stay at a hotel or guest house on land and focus more on hikes and guided land tours.

Both tour options have their pros and cons. Cruises allow you to travel to more islands in a shorter period of time, but when you stay on land you’re contributing more money to the local community. If you’re looking to spend more time in and on the water, a marine tour is the way to go. But if you want to do more hiking, wildlife observing, and experience Ecuadorian culture, you should go with an island-hopping tour option.

It can be tough to narrow down both the tour company and type of tour—G Adventures alone offers more than 40 different tours (28 being live-aboard marine trips) that visit the archipelago—but it’s worth the research and effort to choose the one that best fits your travel preferences and expectations.

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Getting to the Galapagos

The Galapagos islands are located on both sides of the equator about 600 miles from mainland Ecuador. You can fly into Baltra or San Cristobal Island from Guayaquil or Quito. The flight is about 1.5 hours from Guayaquil and two hours from Quito. Unless you plan on touring Quito, it makes the most sense to fly directly into Guayaquil. There are direct international flights from both New York and Miami.

If you’re flying into Baltra, you board a public bus to the ferry terminal where you take a short trip across a channel to Santa Cruz Island. There you get on either a bus, private bus, or car, and head to the main town, Puerto Ayora, which is about 45 minutes away.

What to Expect in the Galapagos

Entry Requirements for the Galapagos

In order to enter the Galapagos, you will need a transit card that you purchase at either the Quito or Guayaquil airport. This costs $20 USD (U.S. dollars are the currency in Ecuador). You also need $100 in cash to pay the national park entrance fee once you arrive to the islands. This fee goes to the Ecuadorian government and the protection of the national park. As a U.S. citizen, you do not need any special visas to visit Ecuador or the islands.

Money in the Galapagos

The Galapagos are expensive in comparison to mainland Ecuador, so you will need to budget. Many tours include meals, but since ATMs are only found on three of the islands (and credit cards aren’t readily accepted), you’ll want to make sure you keep enough cash on hand for snacks or souvenirs.

If all your meals aren’t included on your tour, plan on spending $15 to $20 per meal, and more if you want an alcoholic beverage. Breakfast is included at most hotels or guest houses, and there are some markets and grocery stores that sell food for less. Most souvenirs range from $15 to $30.

Environmental Policies in the Galapagos

Since the Galapagos Islands are both a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national park, you are expected to follow environmental policies and “leave no trace.” This means using biodegradable toiletries (many hotels provide these), not flushing toilet paper down the toilet, reducing waste by carrying a water bottle, and not taking any sort of natural element (i.e. sand, coral, rocks) from any of the islands.

Your bag is checked upon entry and exit of every island, and larger bags are zip-tied closed so park rangers know they have been checked. You can read more about the national park rules here.

It is recommended that you don’t drink the tap water on the islands, but you will find filtered water tanks at most hotels and restaurants on the inhabited islands as well as aboard your ship. The islands have limited sources of freshwater, so you’ll be expected to use water wisely.

The Islands

Only four of the 13 major islands have full-time residents, so many of the smaller islands are only accessible via cruise tours or as a day trip from one of the inhabited islands. Here’s an overview of nine of the most popular islands.

Editor’s Note: Tourism is one of Ecuador’s main sources of income and is instrumental in helping the country recover from the earthquake in April 2016, which devastated a large part of its coast. Traveling through a sustainable tour company is a great way to donate to the country and communities affected. Or, consider making a donation here.

More from SmarterTravel:

 Ashley traveled to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of G Adventures. Follow all of her adventures (big and small) on Instagram and Twitter.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Experiential Travel Island Sustainable Travel

How This Tiny Island Could Change Sustainable Tourism

On a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands on G AdventuresIsland Hopping Tour, I was humbled to experience one of the world’s most environmentally protected areas of land first hand. Even though it sees upwards of 220,000 visitors per year, you don’t see stray dogs or homelessness, or worry about pick-pocketing or hotel-room theft. This was refreshing after traveling to Thailand, Indonesia, and most of Europe, which has left me concerned about the negative effects tourism has not only on developing countries, but developed ones.

After traveling to more populated Galapagos islands like Santa Cruz and Isabela in the archipelago, I began to question if this utopian idea of “Leave No Trace” was just a myth. While still beautiful and environmentally conscious, small cruise ships took up the majority of Santa Cruz’s harbor and trash blew around the unfinished streets of Isabela.

“Galapagos needs to remain being Galapagos so that it doesn’t get destroyed like other places in the world have been because of tourism.” – Lelia Cruz, of Lelia’s Guest House, member of Project Floreana

While there’s certainly not one universal model for successful and sustainable tourism, Floreana, a tiny, 150-population island to the south in the Galapagos, brings a sliver of hope to what a small, susceptible community can do to manage the double-edged sword that is tourism. The 67-square mile island’s community development project is supported by G Adventures and its non-profit, Planeterra. The project is part of G Adventures’ 50-in-5 campaign, which is committed to integrating Planeterra projects into 50 of its trips by 2020.

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When you step off the water taxi onto the concrete pier in Floreana you are surrounded by sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, Sally Lightfoot crabs, and another dozen species that you can’t even see. This land is truly untouched—the first tourists started coming only eight years ago. Straight ahead you see a satellite tower in the foreground of the island’s highlands, and to your right, a rocky coastline dotted with black and white sand beaches and inlets—I quickly began to realize that it was very different than the other islands on our tour.

My small tour group and I hopped into an open truck and traveled less than three minutes on the gravel road to our community guesthouse. We split up and stayed in two separate, neighboring abodes. Both are run by the same family, the Cruz’s, a family of 12 brothers and sisters, all born on Floreana after their parents settled on the island in 1939, and many are involved in the community tourism project.

1

What Is Community Tourism?

In front of one of the homes were multicolored woven hammocks enclosing dozens of empty tables, making it look like a closed restaurant. The community guest houses only open themselves to tour groups on a rotating basis, so you can stay on the island only if you are with a tour company. Right now only G Adventures and Tropic Ecuador visit the island overnight.

“Tourism can be a curse or a blessing, so hopefully for Floreana it will become a blessing if it’s properly managed.”Felipe Cruz, member of Project Floreana

I learned that dining works the same way. Each group rotates through the island’s five restaurants—eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a different one each meal. It was then that I began to understand what community tourism was. Instead of competing with each other, the community guest houses and restaurants share the responsibility of hosting the tour groups that stay on the island.

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Because it’s farther away from the main tourist islands, Floreana wasn’t benefiting from hosting tourists. Instead, cruise ships have been coming to the northern tip of the island, allowing travelers to snorkel offshore briefly before leaving, which doesn’t benefit the community located miles away. G Adventures and Planeterra noticed this unfortunate trend and the potential of the island, and decided to support this community tourism project, initiated in 2015.

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The Island of Floreana

The small island offers most everything the rest of the Galapagos archipelago does—a black sand beach, snorkel spots, beachside cabins, a tortoise enclosure, highlands with trails, native species like flamingos, rays, and sea turtles, two volcanoes, and on top of its natural offerings, an entertaining history. Think Pirate’s of the Caribbean meets murder mystery. Clearly there is no reason why Floreana shouldn’t be competing for visitors.

“Floreana is the only island that still has the island style, which has been lost on the other islands due to tourism.” – Felipe Cruz, member of Project Floreana

In its current state, the community wouldn’t be able to handle an influx of tourists without some preparation, training, and infrastructure. There is only one source of water on the island, limited electricity, Internet is not easily accessible (although the community guest houses and restaurants do have Wi-Fi areas), and there isn’t a reliable way to get around if you’re traveling without a group or guide. The project can’t support hundreds of overnight visitors, but they would still rather have 30 people staying for one or two days versus 150 people coming into town just for a day trip.

The Future of the Galapagos and Community Tourism

In speaking with members of the Cruz family, I have no doubt that they and this community will be successful in transforming and preserving the island’s beauty—especially as the other islands become more tourist-ridden. While right now there are only seven community guesthouses and five restaurants, a camping site is in the works (supported by Planeterra), and final steps are in place to make Floreana Community Tours a legal tour operator. In the future they hope to manage hikes, snorkeling, kayaking, and diving, and to eventually connect the northern part of the island (where cruises anchor) to the main town. Offering more expensive and higher end hospitality and dining options are also a priority, and could create more job opportunities for the island’s residents.

“If the community gets involved, then perhaps the larger operations might not find it easy to come into the island in order to protect the lifestyle that they have here.” – Felipe Cruz, member of Project Floreana

Our tour leader, Jose, emphasized the importance of the island hopping tour style. Since most Galapagos tours are marine-based, visitors only see the islands on day excursions and stay on small to mid-sized cruise ships. He thanked us for choosing the island hopping tour, and allowing the communities on the islands to directly benefit through nightly rates, meals, shopping, and tips. While there are government restrictions on the size and quantity of cruise ships, in particular for Floreana, the islands reap little to no benefit if visitors don’t actually come into the main town.

Only time will tell how Floreana develops and protects its lifestyle with community tourism. I hope the concept of community tourism can be extrapolated to other developing communities around the world, to offer a more genuine and responsible experience for both visitors and locals so they can truly experience an exchange of culture as I did.

Editor’s Note: Tourism is one of Ecuador’s main sources of income and is instrumental in helping the country recover from the earthquake in April, which devastated a large part of its coast. Traveling through a sustainable tour company is a great way to donate to the country and communities affected, or consider making a donation here.

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley traveled to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of G Adventures. Follow all of her adventures (big and small) on Instagram and Twitter.

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