Top Tips for Travelling Sustainably

Fiona Bateman on 21 August 2020
The last year has been full of ups and downs and just outright unfair situations, affecting us globally. But one positive I think we have gained is a sense of collective responsibility. If we all play our part, we can change outcomes. The same way it has worked for the health of ourselves, it can work for the health of our planet.

For years I’ve worked with teams and organisations who at their core have total respect for the communities and environments they take travellers to. So, I wanted to share some of my top tips in travelling sustainably.


At the moment many of us are forced to stick to local retreats, but I hope this will become an option that becomes an annual choice for travellers. There is so much to explore, right here in the UK. Staycations will always be the greenest travel option of all, especially if you opt for a car-free holiday.


It’s not always possible, but if you can, choose to travel in low or shoulder seasons. Attractive places are always on the travel bucket list, but while the weather may be better, travelling at high season is not necessarily the best way to look after those areas. Overcrowding is one of the main causes of damage to areas of natural beauty and of historical significance. Travelling in low or shoulder seasons can be easier on the budget, help you avoid crowds and ensure the location remains in tact for future generations. It’s a win-win.


If it’s possible to choose an alternative to flying, then definitely try it. Travelling by train, bus or ship to your destination will leave a much smaller carbon footprint. And while you’re exploring on location you can choose to travel by local transport options such as coaches and trains, or even explore on foot or by bike.


As best you can, try to avoid plastic – especially the single-use kind. As part of your packing why not consider taking your water bottle with you to refill as you go. I use the Refill app to help me find where I’m able to refill my water bottle both at home and abroad.


There are some destinations where you’ll definitely need bug repellent, and on most holidays, you’ll need some sort of sun protection. What we don’t always realise is the damage these sprays and sunscreens can do to the jungles we explore and reefs we snorkel over. The eco-friendly products aren’t necessarily budget friendly, but if budget isn’t too much of a concern then it’s good to support the environments you’re exploring by choosing the products that won’t cause damage.


When many think about responsible and sustainable travel, the main focus is usually on the environment and the majestic wildlife. But equally as important is to travel with respect for the local communities and their customs. It’s worth remembering that we are the strangers in those distant lands and the local communities are not there for our amusement. Ask permission before taking someone’s photograph, take the time to engage by learning a few phrases from the local language, respect their dress codes and their way of doing life. I guarantee that you will get so much more from the holiday by putting these small gestures into practice.


Be smart about where you choose to stay. If possible, book into guest houses, hotels and lodges that are respectful of the local community, help to build up the community and protect the environment in which the accommodation is built. Small, locally-run guest houses are always my favourite as you know that you’re going to get the most authentic experience and your holiday will go a small way towards supporting a local business and family.


Whether it’s a tiger, an elephant or a monkey, wild animals are exactly that: wild. Many are put on show and photos are offered as a marketing tool or way of bringing in money for a zoo or wildlife park. Many of these animals have to be drugged for it to be a safe experience for the visitor and even then, there are no guarantees that the animals won’t be in a bad mood and not feel like being cuddled. If there is no demand for such experiences, the hope is that the practice in general will stop and animals can be left to be wild in nature reserves where they have the space and freedom to just be.


Throughout my travels both near and far, the most fabulous shopping and eating experiences have been where a local guide has shown me around all the best local spots or where I’ve chosen to get away from the touristy areas and explore where the local communities live, shop and eat. There is no better recommendation for food than a restaurant that isn’t overrun with tourists!


We can do more than just tidying up after ourselves, by leaving positive footprints. A good example of this could be picking up the litter we find on the beach. Whether you’re down at your local beach or lapping up the sun in a distant land, there is an opportunity for you to make a positive impact. This one is especially good when you have members of the younger generation with you: Grab a recyclable bag and pick up that litter. I remember visiting the BriBri tribe in Costa Rica and Panama where plastic bottles found in the river had been cleared out and used to build recycling receptacles. Ask at your accommodation whether there are any local projects that are seeking to protect their oceans, beaches, forests, rivers and local wildlife. Try and get involved for the day, and why not stay involved long after you return home?

Travel shouldn’t be difficult - after all, holidays are meant to be relaxing, right? But planning and implementing one of these ideas during your holiday takes little effort and can make a difference. If everyone committed to just one change each holiday then there is a massive impact that can be made. More respect for one another, greater openness and acceptance and perhaps a healthier planet on which viruses like the Coronavirus will struggle to thrive.