The age of the socially conscious traveler is officially here – a recent movement towards responsible travel has seen travelers become more conscious of their environmental and social footprint when heading abroad. People are now realizing the importance of traveling with awareness and thought.
With the idea of being conscious of our impact on both nature and culture, here are 10 easy steps for being a socially conscious traveler in Iceland.
The basics of responsible travel apply in Iceland too. Simple things like not littering, leaving places the way you found them, and respecting both nature and wildlife. In Iceland this means not walking or jumping on the moss. It might look nice and springy, but it takes forever to grow back.
Wildlife in Iceland is a huge draw, though remember that animals throughout the country are wild, and this includes the horses who roam freely by the side of the road.
Exotic seabirds like puffins arrive by the million for the breeding season between April and August, and nest on coastal cliffs all around the country in massive colonies. You can literally walk on top of these; wildlife access in Iceland is unparalleled, so be sure to treat nesting birds with respect.
Choose Tour Operators and Hotels That Focus on Eco-Friendly Initiatives
Iceland is one of most popular eco-destinations in the world. The country lives and breathes eco-tourism, so luckily for the socially conscious traveler, choosing an eco-friendly tour company or hotel incredibly easy. Whether you’re booking accommodation or an ice cave day tour, the whole country is eco-friendly.
If you’re unsure about a hotel or tour, check their website first to see what their stance is on sustainability. Most company websites will have pages dedicated to sustainable travel, and will detail the steps they take to make sure their tours or hotels don’t have a negative effect on the environment.
Always Use Official Campsites
During summer months of June and July, Iceland experiences the midnight sun – a natural phenomenon where the sun never sets. With 24 hours of daylight, and a law that allows you to camp anywhere for free, many travelers choose to pitch a tent.
Though just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean you should do it. There are over 200 official campsites in Iceland, most with fairly decent facilities. Pitching your tent where-ever you feel like it has the potential to damage the fragile environment and vegetation of the volcanic island.
Understand Your Impact
Be aware of the impact your presence has on the country, and let this guide how you behave. Even if you’re in Iceland for less than 48 hours. Understand that before travelers started arriving in mass, most Icelandic attractions had no need for infrastructure like car parks or ranger stations.
There is a delicate balance in maintaining the untouched and wild feeling of the country’s unique landscapes while making them accessible to tourists. Lava fields, volcanoes and thundering waterfalls might look super tough, but in fact they are very vulnerable.
There is a lot of work in Iceland which wouldn’t get done if it wasn’t for volunteers. Volunteers complete more than 400 weeks of work throughout Iceland every year, mainly in the area of conservation and heritage management projects.
Most volunteer projects are focused on the improvement and maintenance of hiking trails; if you’re visiting one of Iceland’s many beautiful national parks, chances are you will walk on trails built and maintained by volunteers.
Don’t Make Cairns
Cairns are carefully arranged piles of stones, and you will see these all over the place in Iceland. Though while ancient cairns are a natural part of the cultural landscape in many of Iceland’s National Parks, it has become an increasing problem that tourists are deciding to stack rocks to build their own.
These “tourist cairns” are popping up in the hundreds and thousands, and it is destroying the natural environment. Many of the ancient cairns are Viking relics and historically significant, spread out across the landscape as a way of marking trails. The addition of fake cairns throughout the country may as such misdirect hikers.
Know About Hot Tub Protocol
Iceland is a country famous for its hot tub culture, and swimming pools here are a serious business. You should be aware of swimming pool protocol before you strip off for a soak.
The main thing you need to know is that it’s mandatory to wash yourself thoroughly before you enter a hot spring or pool – and you have to use soap. There will be showers and locker rooms at every pool, and shower guards to make sure you have washed your bits. You have to shower naked. This is no better way to offend and disgust the locals than to jump in dirty.
Support the Whale Watching Industry
Supporting the whale watching industry in Iceland is the most effective method of protecting them from being hunted. And with over 24 species of whale, there aren’t many places better to see them than in Iceland.
As the whale watching industry becomes more beneficial to Iceland’s economy than whaling does, it will be harder to justify future hunts.
Don’t Drive Off Road
Never drive off road in Iceland. Even when you have a 4WD, you should always stick to marked roads. Off-roading is illegal as it is severely damaging to the natural environment. Due to Iceland’s short summers, tire tracks can leave marks in the soil for decades.
Drive With Awareness of the Conditions
Self drive tours of Iceland are a popular way to see the country, though the weather conditions here are extreme. You should always drive with awareness of the conditions, and make a habit of checking the weather forecast for the day before heading out each morning.
If you are traveling throughout the highlands, be sure you have a 4X4 – the terrain here is rough and you may need to pass through unbridged waters. Highland roads are closed during winter due to weather, and heavy snow often causes other road closures as well. If driving in winter, drive slowly. You will be tackling icy roads, and with short days are likely to find yourself driving in the dark.
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Photo credits: Pinterest image Laugavegur Trail by Alexander Hahn. Pinterest image Blue Lagoon, Ice climbing and Quad bikes by the Legendary Adventures of Anna. Camping in Iceland by Jurriaan Persyn. Girl at the Blue Lagoon by the Legendary Adventures of Anna. Blue Lagoon by Roderick Eime. Northern lights by Moyan Brenn.