It’s that time of year! The time when our summer schedules fill up fast with friends and family coming in from out of town. They come to see us of course, but mostly they come for the great weather, the beaches, and our beautiful and historic city.
It’s no secret that Charleston is an amazing place to visit – that’s part of what drew us here in the first place! Between all the sights to see and all the restaurants to eat at, it’s a popular place to be this time of year.
But, the longer I live here the more problems I see in our tourism industry…
I recently released an episode dedicated specifically to being a more mindful traveler. Erin from the Alpaca My Bags Podcast taught me 10 key ways that we can be more responsible in our travels whether they are domestic or abroad. This interview still sticks in my mind and has my wheels turning as to how I can practice her tips even at home. You can check out that interview here if you missed it!
For those of you thinking about planning a trip this way, I wanted to create a quick guide for how you can see and experience all that Charleston has to offer but do it in a more mindful way. Here are my best tips for visiting the Holy City and keeping it ethical!
When you’re packing for your trip, BYOB!
No, I’m not talking about booze – we have plenty of that down here! Instead, bring your own reusable bag!
One thing you may be privy to see while you’re here is some of our sea life – that includes oysters, crabs, dolphins, and sea turtles.
Fun fact: sea turtles help to keep our oceans a little safer for swimmers because their diet consists mainly of jelly fish! But, what looks exactly like a jelly fish when it’s floating in the water?
You guessed it – plastic bags. Some of the cities in the Charleston area have already passed laws banning single-use plastics like straws and bags. Still, we have a ways to go. You can help to keep our sea turtles healthy and our oceans clean by skipping the plastic bags while shopping and bringing your own instead. If you forget, make sure to ask for paper when you do go to the store! (And bring your own straw while you’re at it!)
Now, speaking of sea turtles…
Check out the South Carolina Aquarium.
Located in the heart of downtown, the Aquarium is popular for kids and adults alike. They offer interactive experiences where you can touch the sting rays and learn about all kinds of aquatic life. But my favorite part about the Aquarium is the Sea Turtle Care Center where experts are rehabbing sick and injured turtles.
You can buy your tickets with confidence when you visit the Aquarium knowing that a large part of your money will be going towards conservation efforts like caring for wildlife and reducing plastic pollution.
If you’re looking for more wildlife experience while visiting, make sure to check out the Charles Towne Landing Zoo in West Ashley where you can observe animals native to this region of the U.S. in their natural habitats.
Next, while speaking of wild animals…
Skip the carriage ride and opt for a walking tour instead.
While you’re walking around downtown, you’ll see plenty of folks enjoying a carriage ride pulled by some beautiful horses. Tempting – especially in this heat and humidity!
But, once you learn about the exploitation of these working horses you will see why these tours just aren’t worth it.
According to the Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates, a non-profit organization working for better treatment for these animals, the horses working in downtown Charleston have some of the most hazardous conditions in the country. Between the Carolina heat and the large loads they are forced to carry, there have been countless accidents and injuries to these wild creatures.
The organization accepts donations if you want to help do something about it, but the best thing you can do is opt out of one of these tours and spread the word when you hear of people considering them!
Instead, check out one of our many walking tours. You can find day time and evening tours of all kinds, even haunted ones if that’s your sort of thing! Personally, our favorite tour guide is Steve with Lowcountry Walking Tours because he is a native Charlestonian. Whatever company you pick, make sure to ask if it’s locally owned and operated.
And on that note…
Choose local restaurants and shops!
You’re in one of the greatest cities in the world when it comes to food options, so why would you pick Starbucks when you could support a local coffee shop instead?!
Any time you travel, you can help to boost local economies and support small businesses by choosing the local shop over the big business. This is especially true when it comes to our restaurants and shopping options!
There are quite literally hundreds of restaurants to choose from here. If you’re wanting seafood, it’s even more important to choose local to ensure that you’re getting the most sustainably caught (and most delicious) fresh fish.
Some apps, like Uber, now even have filters to help identify local Black-owned restaurants.
Finding local eateries is pretty easy, but shopping can be a different story. Beware of the big name stores located in the tourist areas, like King Street, that will lure in any travelers. Instead, opt for the small boutiques or the shops in the City Market for your souvenirs!
After you’ve gotten your fill of eating and shopping (if that’s even possible), it’s time to get outside…
Leave the beach cleaner than you found it.
Our favorite outdoor activity here is sticking our toes in the sand at one of our beautiful beaches. Folly and Isle of Palms are both great options, but Sullivan’s is our personal favorite!
Recent years have proven successful in efforts to keep our beaches clean, which is especially important for our turtles as we know. When you visit the beach, be diligent in cleaning up all your trash and not letting things get blown away in the sea breeze.
Even better, bring an extra bag to collect other trash you find! Then, it’s time to really get out on the water…
Kayaking > Speed Boating
If boating is more your thing, might I suggest skipping the fuel-powered boats?
It’s no secret that boats guzzle up a lot of gasoline. Not only that, but marine scientists have even found that boats with motors on them cause noise pollution in the ocean that is detrimental to sea life communication.
If you’re wanting to spend some time on the water, there are plenty of outfitters who will rent you kayaks to explore and even go fishing. Our favorite is in Shem Creek.
Looking for something requiring a little less physical labor? Check out a sailboat cruise off the harbor. Of course, you could always skip the sea and stay on the dry land instead…
Bypass the plantations.
Another popular activity in Charleston is visiting many of the beautiful grounds on former plantations. These plantation sites hold a lot of history as well as gorgeous gardens.
While they make for a pretty view, it’s worth considering where you’re putting your money when you pay the entrance fees at these sites…
Some of the plantations, such as Magnolia, have been passed down through generations of families and are still owned by the descendants of former slave owners. A critical eye may look at this and think that these families are still profiting off of slavery, even if it is just through a historical lens.
If you want to check out some gardens that are guilt-free, visit Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner! With over 3 miles of walking paths and boat rentals available, this county-owned nature preserve is a great way to get outdoors and experience some of the beautiful nature the Lowcountry has to offer.
There you have it – a few tips for reducing your footprint when you come to visit Charleston!
Been to Chucktown before? Comment below with other ways to see the sites ethically!
For even more mindful traveling ideas, make sure to check out my episodes with Erin before you take your next vacay, wherever it may be.