BY Advocate.com Editors
February 02 2009 1:00 AM ET
The word ecotourism has been bandied about in a variety of ways, with many hotels, properties, and packages green-washing themselves in an attempt to come across as ecologically friendly. But what exactly is an eco-vacation? The shades of green vary, but generally anything that pays homage to nature falls under the eco umbrella, though hard-core environmentalists might argue that a genuine green vacation involves sustainable and responsible tourism (that is, staying at resorts that don’t exploit local cultures or resources) and conservation-minded practices. Renting a hybrid car and reusing your towel by hanging it on the rack, for instance, are nice eco-gestures but low in eco-merit, as opposed to lowering your carbon footprint by going car-free and staying in a hotel that uses solar power. That being said, you don’t need to live a carbon-neutral existence with howler monkeys in the Costa Rican canopy in order to have a bona fide eco-holiday. This is your vacation, after all. The first rule of eco-travel is figuring out just how green you want your trip to be.
My first eco-trip was a magazine assignment to the mecca of all green destinations -- the Galapagos -- on a boutique gay cruise. The small, 100-passenger ship wasn’t your typical party boat. The photographer and I, both in our early 30s at the time, were the youngest two lads on deck, which often made us feel like another exotic species on display as we dove among penguins and sea lions with our elders, who could more easily afford the pricey vacation. Still, we made lifelong friends during the cruise’s multiple excursions. And nobody has truly lived who hasn’t sat through a slide show presentation on reproductive evolution with 100 tipsy gay men. Surreal.
At the other extreme of eco was a kayaking and camping trip to Alaska that I booked through the Out in Alaska website (OutInAlaska.com). The excursion took me and two other gay (and very patient) campers deep into the Kenai Fjord Peninsula’s subarctic elements to observe killer whales, grizzly bears, and puffins amid calving icebergs. I thought of it as Outward Bound for grown gay men. And although the gentle and lovely tour organizer fluffed my pillow, hauled my kayak when we went aground near a whirling eddy, and prepared fantastic meals (blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, curried veggies, and roast salmon), the trip was a tad out of my comfort zone and was perhaps a bit too “eco” for me. Here I discovered rule number 2 of eco-travel: Know your comfort level. There’s nothing worse than realizing on day 1 of a two-week sojourn that maybe you do need iPhone access and hot water.