We know that most people would like their holidays to be greener, more sustainable, and at the same time more enjoyable and meaningful after travel was put on hold during the pandemic.
But where do you start? Here are our top tips...
Over the past few years we have seen how overtourism can ruin many popular tourist destinations, from the swamped streets of Barcelona and Venice to the litter-strewn waters of numerous paradise beaches. At the same time there are hundreds of destinations that operate a more sustainable style of tourism, that use the income to help protect precious natural habitats and support local people. They will need us to return more than ever after Covid lockdowns.
Take the time to think not just about where you want to visit this year, but also where your visit might benefit the locals or help return money to crucial conservation efforts.
When it comes to sustainable tourism getting to your destination is a major conundrum, and whilst Travel Differently include carbon offsetting on all bookings, we are also clear that this does not solve the problem. We don’t hold back in saying that overall we simply need to fly less.
At the same time, stopping completely would cause huge problems to areas that need responsible tourism to survive, both for the local population and surrounding ecosystems.
As such, we encourage people to significantly cut back on flying, go direct when possible, avoiding the space-guzzling business class cabins, and choosing the most fuel-efficient aircraft. And when you do need to fly, try to go for longer and make the trip more meaningful.
Very much at the heart of everything we do here, Slow Travel is a growing trend that focuses on spending more time exploring a destination in depth, rather than flying around from city to city ticking off the highlights. It is about forging a deeper understanding of the place you are visiting, getting to know the cuisine, culture and communities, and enjoying the changing landscapes through the window of land transport rather than missing out by flying over them.
The ethical benefits of Slow Travel include reducing the carbon emissions caused by flying, and spreading the positive impact of tourism into lesser touched regions, all whilst having a significantly more enjoyable and relaxed travel experience. It’s a classic win-win.
When you are choosing activities and hotels, prioritise those that actively involve and benefit the people that live in the local area. Use companies that help provide secure and well-paid employment to the community, respect the local environment and culture, and ideally give something back directly in the form of, for example, building schools or medical centres.
Then whilst you are away try to spend some money in local stores, using hard local currency rather than credit cards (which can carry fees for them) or international currency (which they may need to exchange at a cost). If you are going to buy gifts and souvenirs, again do this in local markets rather than shopping malls or airports.
Some of the greatest travel experiences involve marvelling at animals, and responsible tourism can help protect these creatures in their natural habitat. However it doesn’t take much to step over the line and start interrupting or exploiting nature, rather than simply observing it. Whilst many of these are obvious (such as elephant riding), it is also worth considering in more natural settings whether your presence may be causing stress, or impacting an animal’s feeding or breeding patterns. Stay well back, avoid flash photography, loud noises, or loitering too long.
The strict procedures enforced for Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda, or visiting the Galapagos Islands, are great examples of how to simultaneously enjoy and protect wildlife.
The issue of plastic waste has been perhaps the biggest success story for environmentalism in recent years, helped by programmes like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. So pack your lightweight reusable water bottles, and ditch the disposables. You can also help the cause by generally packing light, as every kilo of luggage requires more fuel to transport.
And if we look wider, consuming less unnecessary 'stuff' both on holiday and at home means less products need to be produced, and fewer fossil fuels are required to create them. Always be aware that it’s not just about the waste at the end, but also the creation of the product.
One of the things that the pandemic has reminded us about, is the enjoyment of engaging with people on a basic human level. Hugs, handshakes, eye contact, smiles and laughter. We have been starved of them all, and when life returns to "normal" we will embrace them again.
This extends to the people we meet and sights we see when travelling. By all means take photos as a keepsake, but as a general rule keeping the smart phone in your pocket and engaging with your host community enriches the experience for everyone. View them on a human level, rather than in a transactional manner. Share stories and smiles. Make them feel valued as a person, not just a source of touristic interest... trust us, you’ll get more out of it as well.
Whilst the trend towards Staycations has already begun as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this needs to happen for environmental reasons also, as we cannot keep flying every time we want a holiday, and contributing to the climate crisis.
But here’s the silver lining… the UK is one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations! Just take my personal favourite, Cornwall, for example. Here you have perfect beaches, jaw-dropping walks, ancient history, world-renowned restaurants, and some of the most charming local people and pubs you’ll ever come across.
One of the reasons we decided to launch Travel Differently, rather than move into NGO or charity work, was the belief that travel can be a profound force for good. We can bring money into local communities, help preserve ecosystems, protect wildlife... but also help to open eyes and minds to many of the problems in the world, and work together to find solutions to them.
So we encourage you to think about everything you have seen on your travels, both inspiring and upsetting, and talk about them when you are home. Take action. Encourage others to travel sustainably, to see the world and leave a positive impact.
Sam Gough, Founder, Travel Differently