11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

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In this era of armchair slacktivism, thinking about where we go, how we travel and what we leave in our wake is an essential way of making our journeys inspire the change we want to see in the world, says Juliet Kinsman.

To quote Ray Mears, ‘it’s so important to step outside your comfort zone because that’s usually when you learn best.’

There’s being greener by leaving that cutesy teddy bear on the bed as a signal not to change our sheets, and then there’s signing up for hands-on workshops, which equip us with the knowledge to live more ecologically. To really work for that gold star, improve your sustainability credentials, spend time with permaculture pros and conservationists and learn from eco crusaders around the world. Then use your voice to promote positive impact.

11 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO BE MORE ECO-FRIENDLY WHILE TRAVELLING

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    1. Seek out on-the-ground experiences

    Conservation isn’t just about safeguarding biodiversity. On a wider level, it needs to empower people to take responsibility for their resources and educate them about the dynamic between humans and nature. ‘We love working with community-based organisations such as the Milgis Trust, which protects not only thousands of acres but also the way of life of northern Kenya’s pastoral people,’ says Henry Comyn, co-founder of Joro Experiences. The company is applying for B Corp’s rigorous certification for its social and environmental practices. ‘Walking with the Samburu and their camels along ancient nomadic herding paths provides a rare chance to see this land in a way that few visitors ever do. We make sure every penny spent stays in the area.’

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    2. Have meaningful engagement

    Touring Sri Lanka’s smartest stays can go hand in hand with supporting the island’s communities. ‘Private safaris to see wild elephants in a national park are more enjoyable when you know the local guide is being paid properly,’ says Amy Welfare of AW Private Travel. She prides herself on plotting routes that honour a circular economy and provide income through meaningful cultural experiences. Her trips work with Ayu in the Wild, which runs a classrooms outreach scheme. So through a farm-to-table visit with a Sri Lankan grower on his smallholding, you might also be contributing to the education of his children. It’s about having a commitment to human sustainability, too.

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    3. Educating the next generation

    Katie Terrington’s Colombian itineraries focus on a number of causes: reforestation in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains; youth work in Cartagena; healthcare in the Andes. She recommends Corocora, a camp in the wildlife-rich savannahs of Los Llanos, because of its work with a nearby nature reserve. ‘As well as helping to protect this highly vulnerable ecosystem in the Orinoco floodplains, it educates local children about the flora and fauna to impart the importance of conservation and encourage them to consider careers as specialised guides, biologists or naturalists,’ says Terrington. Encounters with llaneros, meanwhile, give travellers a taste of the life of these traditional cowboys, who are also coached into being agents for change in their communities.

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    4. Keep it local

    As an alternative to bespoke trips planned by companies such as those above that are part of the Conscious Travel Foundation, Responsible Travel is excellent for affordable, family-friendly, charity-funding breaks across the world. It follows sustainable tourism policies for all its itineraries, with a focus on supporting locals. Book its dolphin conservation holiday in Greece, for example, and you’ll join marine biologists collecting data to help protect the National Marine Park of Alonissos and its population of rare seabirds, dolphins and the endangered Mediterranean monk seal.

    What is sustainable travel? All the terms you need to know

    What is sustainable travel? All the terms you need to know

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    5. Cultivate new habits

    Taking home more sensitive ways of being is a powerful legacy from any holiday. The Earth Labs at Six Senses properties are all about engagement and education. They share information on the work they’re doing to reduce consumption and support local communities, their data on water, energy and waste, and their news on marine conservation and forest restoration, then aim to give visitors simple life hacks to take home, such as how to make compost or chemical-free detergent. At Inhabit in London’s Paddington, they get guests thinking about issues such as leftovers by partnering with food waste-fighting apps Karma and Too Good to Go – at ‘happy hour’ perfectly edible bargains from the hotel’s Yeotown Kitchen, which would otherwise have been thrown out at the end of the day, can be picked up for a snip.

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    6. Soak up permaculture wisdom

    Nature has things figured out, and permaculture is when an ecosystem is designed so that humans can work entirely in rhythm with nature, as opposed to against it – from growing food to planning a garden, producing rich soil or achieving zero-waste status. Tune into this way of being at Green Camp in Bali, where you can learn the principles of alchemising waste into wealth, achieving eco-warrior black-belt status. Another pioneer is The Datai in Malaysia. See permaculture in action at its outdoor classroom and learn about how saplings and seeds are saved and stored, and hear about how the hotel manages its zero-waste organic-food production line – self-guided walks give further insight. Or you could choose to spend time in the new workshop for a hands-on upcycling session. The Datai has also partnered with local educators to create a Youth for the Future initiative – school programmes, activities and events to educate local young people on sustainability and conservation.

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    7. Encourage junior conservationists

    Keen to enlist kids in the cause so that they’re not only nature lovers but active protectors? The author of The Blue Economy, Gunter Pauli, once told me that if you really want to have a positive impact, you should tell a surprising and inspiring story to a child every single day for the rest of your life. Have them pick up ranger skills on a safari from African Bush Camps. The family-friendly Ngwana camps (ngwana is a Setswana word for ‘explorer’) teach children about the importance of conservation, with an emphasis on fun, and at the end they can even qualify for a junior guide certificate (kids up to age 15 stay free at any of their camps from December until the end of March 2021). At Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in Australia’s Greater Blue Mountains, meanwhile, they run a Junior Rangers programme in their 6,900 living, breathing acres of bush, with bugs, fossil-hunting and gathering yabbies (freshwater crayfish) on the activities list.

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    8. Learn bushcraft survival skills

    Those who learn how to survive in the wild are likely to intuitively be kinder to it. Alladale is a vast sprawl of rewilding and reforestation in the Scottish Highlands, and the location for Bear Grylls Survival Academy, a gruelling five-day course in how to live off the land. Wild Spirit Bushcraft courses in South Wales impart knowledge by instilling age-old skills through hands-on experience in a woodland setting. The courses have you trying your hand, Bear Grylls style, at everything from shelter building to water purification. Another place you can brush up on your survival skills is Home Farm Glamping in Hertfordshire, five minutes from the end of the Jubilee and Northern Tube lines. Scout leader Justin Blacklaws teaches fire lighting, knife craft and more in half- or full-day experiences for everyone aged 10 and up.

    9. Build with better bricks

    If you’d rather be the piggy that makes a more solid, wolf-proof construction while helping save traditional Cornish masonry skills, head to Brickfield near St Austell. By hosting free brick-making workshops in Blackpool China Clay Pit, this experimental community enterprise is conserving a centuries-old local craft and putting together a sustainably built community centre. Take part in a two-and-a-half-hour workshop in September and then again in 2021.

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    10. Get involved with some citizen science

    Working holidays hosted by conservation charities, such as The Wildlife Trusts or the National Trust, invite participants to contribute to citizen-science projects while getting close to nature. Data collection can be the most time-consuming part of conservation, so helping makes you green as can be. One straightforward way to be an active volunteer whenever you’re out and about in forest or field is to download the iNaturalist app. Snap to add photographs of animals and plants, and as well as learning to identify species you’ll be helping map out biodiversity for Forestry England, who’ve partnered with the app to allow volunteers to add to national records.

    How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    How to travel more sustainably in 2020

  • 11 ways to be more eco-friendly when travelling

    11. TALKING OUR WALK

    Often we can feel helpless in the face of global change but individually what we do, however small it feels, can help make a big difference. When we’re on the move, it’s not about packing our placards, ready to march – simply asking more questions and giving friendly feedback to businesses along the way is meaningful activism.


    It’s not often we come across a plastic straw any more, but a little more pester power could see us getting even more of the stuff out of sight. Gently mentioning to a manager how their hotel’s imported Polynesian mineral water in plastic bottles is really not what you’d like to see might result in them ditching the shipped stuff and replacing it with a local alternative in refillable glass containers. (It’s always worth a try – I’ve had this happen after saying something at an outpost of an elegant Japanese restaurant.)

    Social media has been a powerful tool for amplifying voices and disseminating messages, but beyond retweeting motivational ditties or advocating reform through your Instagram feeds, engage in real human-to-human chinwags. When I’m away, I love chatting to local business owners about issues on their minds. In Upstate New York, a local innkeeper alerted me to the perils of fracking almost 15 years ago. At a Hampshire hotel, a chance conversation with an arborist made me aware that ashes and elms are among the more than half of Europe’s native trees threatened with extinction, yet not much is said about how disease, pests, pollution and development are putting so many of our trees in danger. You can help by signing up to the Conservation Foundation’s Great British Elm Projects and logging leaves through their app, as well as planting seedlings yourself. Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers Travel recalls speaking with a member of the Kalash indigenous people in Pakistan, who revealed he’d had attempts made on his life for trying to stop the illegal logging trade: ‘It taught me how delicate the balance is between humans and their environment in these remote parts of the world. Logging not only deprives this, the last pagan tribe to inhabit the region, of its ancient ancestral heritage, it also causes soil erosion and leads to flooding and problems growing crops.’ It inspired Jonny to always speak up about deforestation in the Hindu Kush so that more people might challenge the few unscrupulous businessmen cutting down trees to make a quick buck.

    It’s a reminder that instead of spending precious time away poking at our smartphones, one of the best things we can do is have meaningful exchanges that leave us truly enlightened.

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