When it comes to ethical tourism, sustainability, and responsible adventure, what may first come to mind for many of us is the notion that we'll be staying in chic hotels or "green" buildings with expensive water-saving technology and vegan restaurant offerings. And, for the most part, luxury eco-travel often offers those amenities and features where other unsustainable enterprises don't. But there's something to be said for foregoing the warm comfort of a hotel room for an eco-lodge or cabin that offers nothing more than a rustic living experience; preferably in seclusion.
Recently, some members of the OOW team had the opportunity to explore our own "backyards" through an eco-cabin experience; something we've done before and try to do on a regular basis. Because greenwashing is quite rampant in the travel and tourism industry, having adventures outside of the traditional 5-star hotel setting is something of import to us and many other people in the outdoors/conservation communities. According to a 2015 report from the Centre for Responsible Travel, 21% of travelers (or one in every five people) say they are prepared to forego traditional holidays and travel arrangements in favor of exploring with companies which have better environmental and social records.
Further, a 2012 report from The Travel Foundation and Forum for the Future found that 66% of consumers who travel regularly claim that they would like to be able to more easily identify greener travel options. Combine this with the increasing popularity of traveling outdoors in eco-lodges, eco-cabins, and green hotels, and the opportunity to travel and adventure more ethically is only growing.
If you're interested in roughing it, eco-cabin style, you may be wondering how you can have a rustic outdoors experience or green adventure in nature without leaving a negative trace on the environment around you. We've got some tips that will help you choose the right eco-cabin or eco-accommodation for your next great adventure outdoors.
But hold up: what the heck is an eco-cabin?
Unlike sustainable or "green" hotels, eco cabins and lodges differ in their settings and locales. With green hotels, the accommodations are typically set in larger cities or towns with access and close proximity to amenities, restaurants, shopping, and more. Eco cabins and lodges, on the other hand, are more likely to be set in rural, remote locations, such as forests, agricultural properties, beaches, woods, etc. Most dreamy eco cabins you see on Instagram are far from cities or towns, or may be located on remote properties where they are secluded from industrialization.
Are eco-cabins safe for the environment?
This boils down to how dependent your eco-cabin is on the environment itself. Green hotels typically have access to electricity, running water, and other modern amenities that eco-cabins often don't. Most eco-cabins we have stayed in, for example, do not feature running water, modern shower or toilet amenities, or electricity. Eco-cabins rely on features such as compost toilets, rain-water showers, solar-powered light, and other characteristics which minimize their impact on the environment. You may notice that most eco-cabins which are truly considerate of the environment forego features like air conditioning and heating units or large kitchens and bathrooms, for instance. This does not mean that all eco-cabins will exclude these features, but the purpose of "most" eco-cabins is to offer a more rustic, off-the-beaten-path living experience.
What to look for in an eco-cabin
Sustainably-sourced water - many eco-cabins will use rain water or local spring water for showering and cooking purposes, with systems which help to recycle the water and purify it for continued use so as to avoid the unnecessary waste of water
Electricity - solar powered lighting is a popular choice for eco-cabins, as it requires no electricity and can still be provide enough light throughout the early evening and night. Similarly, some eco-cabins with electricity may use timers which limit the use of electricity
Amenities - one of the most important aspects of staying in an eco-cabin is where you'll go to the bathroom and bathe yourself. Compost toilets are very common in eco-cabins and can significantly reduce waste, especially when contents are properly recycled. Rain-water showers (or now showers at all) are also popular choices and feature rain barrels which store rain water for future use
Cooking - you may be surprised to learn that most eco-cabins do not feature kitchens or cooking areas, but may offer small hot plates or stove-top appliances that require only minimal amounts of propane or electricity to work; this cuts down on the unnecessary use of electricity, but bringing a cooler with ice packs and non-perishable food items still allows you to cook meals without needing appliances. You may also consider making salads, wraps, sandwiches, and other meals that are easy and appliance-free!
Materials - though not always the case, eco-cabins can be constructed using recycled materials and may also feature wood-burning stoves or fireplaces to generate natural heat
Power and generators - whether you own an eco-cabin or are visiting one, a great option for powering your own small appliances or technological devices is to invest in portable, wireless batteries or generators which are travel friendly
Eco-friendly products - if near a lake or other body of water, you may be able to bathe or swim but it is important to ensure you do not pollute natural water ways or systems; most eco-cabins can supply you with eco-friendly products which do not leave harsh impacts on flora or fauna around you and/or the cabin
The eco-cabin rulebook we follow
Though not an "official" rulebook, these are the general "rules" we follow when traveling and adventuring with eco-cabins
- Limit your use of electricity (you're trying to enjoy nature, after all!)
- Conserve water by foregoing daily showers and multiple toilet flushes; reuse boiled water for tea or cooking whenever possible
- Use eco-friendly sanitary, cleaning, and personal hygiene products
- Close all doors and windows at night to conserve heat
- Similarly, leave screen doors and/or windows open during the day for better airflow (this replaces electrical appliances like fans)
- Properly dispose of waste and recycle all food/hygiene products - find a local recycling outlet or bring your garbage with you
~ All photography in this article is property of Out of Wilderness Magazine