Travel is amazing, and we are all so lucky that we are able to experience so much travel in our lives. Travelling across the globe is so accessible now (ok, not right now in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, but I'm sure it will go back to being like this again not too far in the future).
What is sustainable travel?
With travel on the rise massively over the past decade, I think it is more important than ever that we all become aware of the impacts that we are having on people, animals, and the environment each time we travel, and how we can influence this depending on the choices we make when we travel. Conscious travelling, where you are limiting these negative impacts is called sustainable travel.
Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia.
When I talk about sustainable and responsible travel and impacts, what exactly do I mean?
I am referring to many different aspects of travel that can have a negative effect on either local people who live in the places we travel to, the environment, and also wildlife and animals that can suffer.
By any means, I am not a perfect sustainable traveller. I still use airplanes, and I usually drink plastic bottled water when I am in third world countries, I am not here to preach.
I don’t believe that by having a few people being perfect 100% sustainable travellers (if this is even possible), will be enough to make a difference. I believe that we need everybody to learn about sustainability, and try to all make some changes in order to have a positive effect. I feel this is the same when it comes to global warming and sustainability in general. I still have lots to learn, and can definitely still reduce my carbon footprint when travelling. I have also come a long way in the past few years and have learnt so much, so I want to help spread this to others where possible.
Below I will give you some keys ways in which I think we can have a positive impact towards a more sustainable future of travel.
Would you prefer to visit this beach.....
Look familiar? I've seen too many beaches like this in my lifetime.
Or this beach...?
The tip of Borneo - We saw less than 10 tourists on the beaches here in 3 days when we visited in 2017
What is the problem with travel?
In my opinion, the main issues with travel are: overtourism (too many people visiting the same place), too much fuel being used (too many airplanes, cars etc), and local people and animals being disturbed or mistreated through tourism. I will talk more about these below, and steps you can take to help these issues.
What are some key ways to help travel more sustainably?
The Taj Mahal in India has up to 70,000 visitors on busier days.
Where to travel
OverTourism is now a term in the Oxford and Collins dictionary. It is being talked about a lot more in the past few years. If you haven’t heard the term before, here is the exact meaning in the Collins dictionary.
“Overtourism: the situation when too many people visit a place on holiday, so that the place is spoiled and life is made difficult for the people who live there” Source : Collins Dictionary
Some examples Collins give for places where overtourism is a problem are: Venice, Barcelona, and the Taj Mahal. If you have visited any of these 3 places in the last 5 years, I think you will understand what overtourism looks like and how unpleasant it can be. I personally really dislike going places where there are more tourists than locals. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for some locals in these places.
Remember in the news last year the reports of Mount Everest, people were dying in line to wait to reach the peak of the mountain? This is a perfect, but awful example of overtourism. If you don't remember, look it up to see the shocking photograph of people queuing up to get to the top.
Wouldn't you rather visit an empty mosque like this one in Lahore, where you are possibly the only foreign tourist day?
So one great way of helping to reduce this is by visiting less touristy places. Here are a few good swaps I have listed that I think you should consider.These are great ways to see new places that you haven't seen flooded as much on Instagram, and also an awesome way to travel more sustainably.
Ljubljana, the beautiful capital of Slovenia is definitely worth a visit and gives Venice a run for it's money.
Instead of Here → Visit Here Instead
Venice, Italy → Ljubljana, Slovenia
Prague, Czech Republic → Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Barcelona, Spain → Porto, Portugal
Taj Mahal, India → Badshahi Mosque, Pakistan
Santorini, Greece → Bodrum, Turkey
Bali, Indonesia → Dahab, Egypt
Dubai, UAE → Manama, Bahrian.
Boracay, Philippines → Siquijor, Philippines
Mount Everest, Nepal → Peak Lenin, Tajikistan
Paris, France → Warsaw, Poland
Rome, Italy →Thessaloniki, Greece
Zanzibar, Tanzania → Vilankulos, Mozambique
Phuket, Thailand → Kudat, Borneo, Malaysia
Hanoi, Vietnam → Yangon, Myanmar
Petra, Jordan → Baalbek, Lebanon
Cancun, Mexico → Mancora, Peru
Dubrovnik, Croatia → Kotor, Montenegro
Korfu, Greece → Himare, Albania
Serengeti, Kenya → South Luangwa NP, Zambia
You don't need to go to the Serengeti to see amazing wildlife - we done safaris for a fraction of the price in Zambia, Namibia, South Africa and Western Kenya.
There are just a few ideas, but of course the whole point is that there is so much to see in this world, let’s not all go to the same places at the same time to see them. Often if you head to less touristy places, you will get a lot more for your money too! On top of that, you will also get a much better experience with locals.
Dahab in Egypt feels like the Bali of Africa, with everything a traveler would ask for. Rich in culture with lots of conscious and sustainable businesses and locals, beautiful beaches, instagrammable senes and incredible diving.
I can usually rate my favourite countries to visit from the interactions I’ve had with local people there, to me there is a definite coloration between how much I enjoy my time somewhere, and how friendly the people are.
3 of my favourite countries to visit are Iraqi Kurdistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Why? Because the people were so welcoming and hospitable.
Why? Because they don't see many tourists, so are super interested when they meet foreigners, and are grateful for you visiting their country.
A Yazidi family dressing me up in local clothes at Lalish, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Timing / When to travel
If it has always been a dream for you to visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, of course i’m not telling you not to visit there. Even if I did I wouldn’t expect you to listen, understandably. But you can think about when you will visit - go to these popular destinations out of season. Any time during the school holiday, or possibly Christmas time will be high season. If you visit during the low season you will benefit and so will the local businesses, and it is a much more sustainable way to travel to these places.
Local businesses often suffer during quiet months, and would really appreciate getting business in their hotels, restaurants or on their tour groups in these quieter times. Not only that, but the prices will be lower for you, and you won’t have to deal with the huge crowds of people - win, win!
These ruins at Baalbek, Lebanon were some of the most impressive ancient ruins we've seen.
Taking a bus with the locals, somewhere in South East Turkey. The buses were always very comfortable and safe.
Transport - In and out of countries
Transport is always a good one to talk about for sustainability. People are starting to become more conscious about their impacts on the environment through taking airplanes. Airplanes are pretty bad for the environment, there is no denying. Of course in an ideal world, it would be great to not use airplanes at all, but unfortunately for most people this is not an option. If you are living in Australia and you want to visit Europe or the America, you’ll probably need to take an airplane. In saying that, once you get to one place it’s pretty amazing how far overland you can travel through continents. You can also read my blog on 3 awesome overlanding trips to do without flying. Over the past 2 years I travelled over 25,000km overland on public transport.
Getting on a long, and fun train ride in Uzbekistan.
If you are planning on a trip to Europe, consider visiting multiple places or countries in one trip, and taking a longer break, rather than multiple short trips. This way you can reduce the amount of planes you have to take to get there (also good for your bank!), and you can take the train around, even through the borders rather than flying. Taking public transport is a great way to travel sustainably.
Particularly for domestic travel, always look at trains, buses or car pooling (shared transfer) before booking a flight.
Transport - From A to B within a city.
If you’re visiting Rome, how often are you taking private taxis around the city to get to the tourist attractions?
You can walk around Rome, hire bikes, or even take the local bus instead. Many countries are perfectly safe to take public buses. If you are not comfortable going around on your own, think about hiring a local guide, which also gives back to the community too. Free walking Tours are also a great way to get around a city and sightsee, getting information and tips from a local - just make sure you give them a generous tip at the end - that is how these people make a living.
Tip- Get the Maps.me App before you visit a new place, there are lots of tips for bus stations etc on these maps. If you download it before you go - it is always available offline, and it is totally free.
Hire bikes where you can to get around and sightsee. This was in Luxor, Egypt, we cycles around for a day seeing all the amazing ancient tombs
When arranging a tour, try to find a local tour guide / group. You can often find local guides on places like Tripadvisor where people will have left reviews so you can be sure of their solid reputation before committing to hire someone. There are also a lot more companies out there now helping local guides to get online, so try and find these rather than the big names you think of in tourism, as you will also be supporting small businesses.
There are also many tours now which are dedicated to sustainable travel tours, so look out for these too!
A jungle trek and camping with 2 local men in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia through the jungle. We found them through our local hotel when we arrived. We checked their reviews out on Tripadvisor before agreeing on a tour. This was one of my favourite tours i've ever done.
Eat where the locals eat! A rough rule of thumb for where to eat is to follow the locals - simple! They know all the best genuine, local, affordable cuisine. I always eat in local restaurants, not in any chain restaurants or Western restaurants. This helps ensure that money you are spending goes into the pockets of the local people, and again support small business.
A local lady at her food stall in Hanoi, Vietnam. She is serving us our desert, beans, nuts and well, we weren't really sure what else but it was tasty!
Stay with local hotel businesses. Use the same idea as the restaurants above. There are so many Western chain hotels in popular tourist destinations, and they will employ local staff so that is still beneficial, but all of the profit from the hotels are usually going into the wealthy Western owner's pockets.
An eco-lodge in the mountains in Livingstonia, Malawai.
There are many great eco-homes now available also, and these aren't only luxury, super expensive hotels - they range in price. We stayed in some awesome ones across Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe. They all focus on different things, but here are some of the things they usually do to help be more eco friendly accommodation option:
Use no electric, only service vegan foods, have policies to ensure quieter times, employ local staff- paying them fair wages, give back to local communities, use no plastic, compost and recycle everything used in the accommodation, and some even offer activities such as yoga or meditation. Eco-homes are brilliant ways to help sustainable travel!
Or you could even camp like us if you can carry a tent and sleeping matt/bag around with you. (Photos in Simien Mountains Ethiopia)
I’ve talked a bit about locals, and how it’s important that we support them by spending our money with local businesses. This could also be on a small scale. For example, when travelling we often get invited into people's homes and offered lunch and tea. We would always offer to give them some money as a way of saying thank you and paying for your cost of food at the least. Of course, just use your judgement on this, as in some countries people would almost get offended at us offering to pay for things, or to contribute money, so use your discretion but also try to at least pay back for the cost. Many of these people who offer so much are really quite poor.
Also with locals, a very important thing is to respect their culture. Culture changes so much between every country you visit, and that's what makes travel so addictive and fascinating. We live to travel to see new culture, and meet new people, and we love to learn about these cultures through the people. We always, however, do a bit of research before going to a new country, to ensure we understand a bit about their culture and the expectations of us as visitors. This can be across many things such as behaviours, diet, and dress code. We have made a few mistakes before, and we find it highly embarrassing.
Having some tea with these Pashtun men in their hat shop, Peshawar Pakistan. I am wearing headscarf because this area of Pakistan is very conservative, and it is expected for women to be covered up.
I recall visiting Lalish in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is the holiest temple for the Yazidi people. We were welcomed with open arms, and invited to make several tea stops with people, followed by a picnic lunch with a big family who we sat with all afternoon. They dressed us up, took photos, ate lots, drank lots of tea, and had lots of fun.
They showed us into one of their temples, but we didn't realise that it is forbidden to step on to the doorstep as you enter the temple. I did so without realising and the cute little grandma quickly told me what I had done - not that I could understand what she said as she didn't speak any English, but I got the gist of it! The family laughed it off and said it was fine, but I knew that I had upset her and accidentally disrespected her place of worship. She was all good after, and all was forgotten quickly, but I still remember it like it was yesterday, it's very embarrassing and I wish I had known this before I visited. I guess when you travel so much to new places, it is probably going to happen at some point, and luckily it wasn't a big deal but I felt so bad after - Try not to make the same mistake as me!
Getting some photos with A group of ladies at Amber Fort, India.
Be careful about volunteering projects I don’t want to go into too much detail here as it can be a very controversial subject, but just be aware of the darker side of volunteering. Of course, in many cases, volunteering abroad is brilliant, and anyone who signs up has the best interest at heart, but some volunteering programs are not what they seem. I am no expert here, so I won’t pretend to be, but please make sure you do really thorough research before attending a volunteering scheme, and be confident that you are doing what you intend to do - to help.
Some volunteering has now become a money making business for many people, it has even been reported of people taking children away from families so that tourists will pay to come and spend time with them as orphans. There are endless examples of this online, and some are much worse than others, you can read up online further if you wish.
Just be careful, there is unfortunately a fine line between helping and just putting money in someone's pocket and potentially making things worse for vulnerable people.
Paying to do anything which involves an animal being out of their normal habitat, not being free, or being touched by humans is going to be bad for the animal 99.9% of the time.
Popular things I see tourists doing whilst abroad, or photos I see on instagram are:
Petting or holding monkeys
Playing with baby tigers
Photos with exotic birds and animals
Bathing or riding elephants
Holding a sloth
Feeding / touching sea life
We saw some horrific treatment of camels and horses in Egypt, the poor things - Which is why we could easily make the decision not to participate in any activity such as riding them.
If you go to Africa, you will see these amazing exotic, beautiful animals walking across the road even when you are not on safari sometimes!
If you don’t think it’s fair to keep the animal at your home as a pet, why is it fair that this person does, and keeps them in a cage their whole life?
Be aware that most ‘elephant sanctuaries’ are just called ‘sanctuaries’, and still keep these large exotic animals chained up or in pens their whole life purely to make money from tourists. They may not be taking people for rides, and they may not be physically abused, but they deserve to be free.
If you are planning to go to an elephant sanctuary to bathe and feed an elephant - Ask yourself this first - Are you going because:
A - You think the elephant needs help bathing?
B - Because you thought it was a cool thing to do, and to get an awesome pic for instagram?
C - Because you genuinely think this sanctuary needs money to help support the cause.
I think most people that go to these places are genuinely thinking they are doing the right thing for the animals, but if you really think about it logically - Why are you there? Is there any evidence that you are helping these animals? Is there any evidence that shows that these elephants have been rescued, and can’t be released to live a normal natural life of freedom?
The more people that keep paying to go and touch and bathe elephants, the more elephants that will spend their lives, in captivity pleasing humans, so we can take a shameless selfie with them. I’m sure there are some genuine sanctuaries out there, but O think it is avery small percentage. Most of these animals could be free, living in a natural habitat and look after themselves.
Elephants are meant to be wild, and you can't beat the feeling of watching them play in their natural habitat (Photo in Yala NP, Sri Lanka).
What to Pack
You can even have a positive environmental impact when you decide what to take with you on your trip. Think about taking things like reusable cups and straws, so that you don't buy any single use plastic along the way. Also, make sure you pack clothes that will last so you don’t need to throw away any cheap clothes you took with you when they break. When you are packing your bag - think sustainable travel!
Make sure you pack clothes that are made to endure long trips, click here to check out our new range of shirts.
Buying souvenirs from a country is a great way to give back to the community, many countries will have lots of souvenir stalls around any tourist attraction. Always see if you can find any authentic local gifts. Local handmade souvenirs can be surprisingly hard to find these days. Most of the cheap little souvenirs you see (including most scarves and knitted items) are usually mass produced in China and sold around the world as souvenirs. If you can find local manufactured items, they may cost a bit more but all the money will be given back to the community you are visiting, and I bet the people selling them make more money too. You will also generally find the quality to be much better.
Looking through the local markets in Peru.
So these are my top tips for ways to help travel more sustainably. If we all make a few better decisions it will contribute to a much healthier industry for people, animals, and the planet.
Let me know what else you guys do to travel more sustainably :)
I think the pictures on my phone are about 80% street cats...anyone else the same??