By Maria Rainier
In the spirit of giving this holiday season, don’t just consider minimizing your carbon footprint during an eco-tour. Consider what more you can do to give back. Many tours and travel experiences that encourage you to volunteer—voluntourism, as it were—are much more affordable than their lounging-on-the-beach varieties. With a carefully planned eco-tour of your own or hopping on the bandwagon with like-minded do-gooders, you can face the new year with your wallet intact, a cleaner conscience, and a cleaner planet.
Stay Local to Mind Your Carbon Footprint
Not only do air fares skyrocket during the holiday season, we leave a hefty carbon footprint every time we step on a plane. Instead, consider riding a train or even cycling to your eco-destination, depending on your location. If you call North America home, consider the Big Bend National Park in Texas. It’s got 800 acres of America’s biggest national park and it’s open year-round, although it may close on Christmas Day. Rather than driving around and pitter-pattering carbon footprints across the park, get out and enjoy the outdoors and camp in one of the three campgrounds, $14.00 a night after a $10 seven-day pass per individual.
If you’re on the east coast, consider the Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock, North Carolina, where you can bring the whole family (even the dog) and go hiking and fishing, and relax after a day spent outdoors at its gourmet restaurant with its own two acre organic garden. During the summer and fall, guests can learn how to grow, harvest, and cook assorted veggies, herbs, and flowers you might find in such a garden. A room costs $89.00 a night. If you’re planning a holiday vacation here, consider the Christmas Day Buffet Celebration Weekend Package or the Christmas Eve 4-Course Dinner Weekend Package.
Meanwhile, up north awaits the Acadia National Park, from where you can see the Atlantic coastline and the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. You can camp for between $14 and $20 a night depending on the site.
Give Back to Save Greens
If you’re feeling more industrious and a little bit like pinching pennies this holiday season or in the coming year, consider bartering your way through an eco-tour. Sierra Club’s Outings program has countless trips ranging from $400 in the U.S. to over $5,000 trips to safaris in Botswana and boat tours in Antarctica. Be prepared to volunteer your time and your muscle, however, as is the nature of true voluntourism. Similar programs include Ecovolunteer, which allows you to participate in efforts to protect nature and its inhabitants through local conservation organizations. Coral Cay Conservation is in the same vein and is also worth a look.
Perhaps the most rewarding and budget-friendly experience is World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which welcomes travelers across America to participate in their daily goings-on. The cost ranges between a $20 and $50 registration fee and transportation fees to the farm—that’s it.
WWOOF has counterparts in other countries; you can go to Tuscan wine country and pick grapes for weeks and not only enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside you’ll ever see in your life, but make good friends, eat good foods, and even pick up a little Italian, too. In this way, you can make this season and 2012 a year of win-wins—for the planet and your wallet.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education performing research surrounding online universities and their various program offerings. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.