Responsible travel, eco-travel, sustainable travel - there are slightly different meanings to each of these travel phrases, but they do overlap.
The eco-tourist is concerned about how travel affects the environment. You might buy carbon offsets to compensate for your flight or make sure your hotel offers the chance to reuse towels. If you're hiking, you stay on trails and "pack it in, pack it out". You respect wildlife you encounter.
For sustainable travel, you want to make sure that your tour operator gives back to the community... that your travel helps to sustain the local culture, not destroy it. You use local guides, try to eat in locally owned restaurants so that the people in that area profit.
If you want them to protect animals in a national park, for instance, it has to be worth something to them... not just to some international tour operator.
If you're really motivated to do good when you travel, you can participate in volunteer vacations and build shelters for people who have suffered natural disasters. You can travel with medical organizations to take health clinics to remote locations that have no medical facilities.
To give you our definition, we think responsible travel means what it says.... you should be responsible for your impact on the environment, and responsible for the way your travel affects local people and their way of life.
We say over and over again that we think everyone can be an ambassador when they travel. You can show the people you visit that you care about their culture, that you understand them.... and by letting them get to know you, they'll learn something about your country that they can't learn from TV or newspaper or propaganda. That kind of responsible travel promotes understanding and understanding promotes peace.
When we went to a wedding in Pakistan, years ago, I remember talking with the father of the groom... the groom had gone to live abroad for many years, including several years close to us in the U.S. His parents were worried about the influence that our "foreign culture" might have had on him.
When they met us, they told us that they were so happy because, in spite of all of our differences, we were really just like them... not like some of those TV shows that they saw from the U.S.
Many small acts of responsible travel can add up and eventually, if we all work at it, they can have a positive affect on the way people understand each other... and might even start making the world a more peaceful place.
We rejoice in the differences we find when we visit new places. Responsible travel can infuse money into an economy and help people modernize, but maintain their cultures. We want to travel as gently and responsibly as possible so that the differences remain for the benefit of everyone for a long, long time.