“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experiened” 

– David Attenborough

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Sustainable travel and the sustainability of many destinations worldwide was fast becoming a significant issue before the 2020 pandemic drew a halt to most international travel.

Many of the world’s cities and some small towns were so overwhelmed by the tens of millions of visitors annually, offering little or no benefit to local communities, that authorities and some governments were looking at restrictions across the tourist sector.

Here I provide some insight into how I choose to travel sustainably. There are many websites offering great advice, so before your next trip think about your impact on the planet. Offset your carbon credits, choose companies who align with your beliefs, contribute to local economies, consider animal welfare and always leave only footprints.

When I travel, I avoid large groups at all costs. This type of travel may be less expensive, however the destination is usually worse for it, with little or no benefit to the local communities either physically, socially and economically.

Being mindful of my choices will have a positive impact on the physical, social and economic environment of a destination.

Being Australian makes it difficult to travel the world without taking a long flight for 1000’s of kilometres, for upwards of 24 hours.

To ensure I'm flying as sustainably as possible I make choices to:

    • use with a carrier with modern, fuel-efficient aircraft
    • select the option to offset my carbon credits. 

Making these choices means I don’t always select the cheapest airfare. Instead, I spend a little more money, to spend less time in the air and this means my smaller carbon footprint will contribute to a cleaner world environment.

Where and when I can, I like to travel by train, especially in the United Kingdom, Europe and Japan. The fast trains are clean, comfortable, incredibly efficient and are the most sustainable form of transport.

In most cases, train stations are located in the centre of major cities. There is nothing better than arriving into the centre of a city by train and if possible walking to your accommodation to stretch your legs and immediately get the feel of your surroundings. Also, not having to take a taxi or car to and from the airport, often located on the city outskirts, is a welcome saving in time and money.

Ferries are another great way to travel. Using an overnight ferry can save time as you leave one city or country and arrive at a different one following a good nights sleep.

I usually travel outside the peak summer season!

I guess living in Australia means summertime is the best time to stay home! The benefits of travelling outside peak season can be fewer crowds, less expensive accommodation and less crowded sight-seeing.

Spring can provide the best of two seasons! You may experience snow-capped mountains as well as a swim by the seaside. With sunny days and cool evenings travelling in spring is my favourite time of year.

Autumn delivers a display of riotous beautiful colours however, be mindful some places are closed following the busy summer season – always check before booking!

Winter might be peak season in the ski fields, however the large cities are far less busy during winter and you may be lucky to experience Paris, Rome or even Tokyo covered in snow!

 

Countries located in the Tropics experience only two seasons, the wet or the dry.

The wet season with its high heat, oppressive humidity and heavy monsoon rains can, at times, cause severe flooding, hampering the best-laid travel plans.

The dry season has high temperatures of up to 40º+C but lower humidity. The best time to travel is either in the early part of the day or late afternoon out of the direct sun and heat.

When booking accommodation, I mostly choose locally owned apartments or guesthouses that are standalone and not share accommodation.

I love the option of a kitchen to cook up a meal using fresh ingredients sourced from the local shops or market as well as those extra personal details found staying somewhere owned by a local.

I do admit to occasionally staying at a luxury hotel, as they can be wonderfully decadent, yet I find I am always drawn back to the authenticity of staying somewhere loved and shared by its owner.

Seeking out unique accommodation can mean a fur-lined igloo in the Arctic Circle, a Bedouin tent in the Sahara desert or sailing the seas on a Turkish Gulet - there is so much to discover!

Some of the best meals I have enjoyed came with a recommendation from my accommodation hosts. Choosing local cafés, restaurants or street food markets directly supports staff, suppliers and the local economy.

Most towns and large cities have a central food market. You can purchase all kinds of fresh food as an inexpensive meal on the run or the freshest ingredients to prepare later at your accommodation.

If you're not sure about how safe eating local is, a good indication is to observe whether restaurants or cafes are busy with locals or does it seem to be more geared to the tourist trade, where new food experiences will rarely happen? 

If fresh drinking water is available, drink it to avoid unnecessarily purchasing water in plastic bottles.

If you know the country you're visiting doesn't have a supply of fresh drinking water, before leaving home, look into options to purify the water rather than relying on purchasing water in plastic bottles.

Plastic pollution is an enormous worldwide environmental disaster, especially in developing countries without a supply of fresh water.

If your destination requires a guide and/or driver seek out a reliable company who employs local citizens. The same goes for tour and activity operators. Visiting a destination with the knowledge of a local can so enrich your experience when seen through their eyes and experience.

Our wonderful driver and guide Mouhssine (bottom images) spent 15 days with us in Morocco. Our trip, booked through By Prior Arrangement, was so incredible owing to him. His personal insights and fabulous sense of humour were priceless.

Ask about local co-operatives where you may be able to contribute by making a purchase or volunteering at a community kitchen. A cooking school run at a local café goes towards their income and provides a meal for you too!

Some cities offer 'free' guides. They are usually local students studying history or tourism and offer their time to show travellers their hometown. At the end of the tour it is optional to offer a tip for their service and I've seen guides earn great money in tips from providing an enthusiastic and authentic experience.

I love to collect items along the way when I'm travelling. Upon returning home they remind me of a time or place and reignite all those special memories.

When purchasing handicrafts, souvenirs and keepsakes ensure the local artisans have created them. Sadly, many souvenirs are mass produced and imported with no real connection to the destination.

Ask if possible where they are made or look carefully for country of origin (COO) labelling if possible.

One of my favourite travel experiences is watching the skill of a local artisan create something beautiful and their joy when it's purchased.

We think of our world as a wonderful place to explore where everyone is treated equally. Unfortunately, this is not true and there are places where children and women are abused, traded or worked in situations that does not benefit their welfare.

As a traveller, we can help minimise some suffering with being mindful of our actions.

Rather than giving food, money or gifts to a begging child that will continue this behaviour, ask your tour operator where to make a donation of school supplies, clothes or food for distribution.

Rather than donating your time caring for children at an orphanage or home, donate, goods, money or skill. The children living in these places need consistent carers who identify with them culturally, they don’t need a new group of well-meaning travellers every other week.

If you feel anyone is being exploited or abused report it to a protection organisation or the local police.

Animal welfare can be difficult to measure as many developing countries still use animals, ie donkeys, for labour which can be seen as exploitation.

In most cases, these animals are well cared for as it is in their owners' best interest.

Animal welfare shelters operate to rescue and home reported animals. You can donate time or money to help the work of these organisations.

In recent times there has been a worldwide effort to ban tourists riding elephants.

Some organisations see the riding of any animal as cruel yet there is also some evidence to suggest that, for instance, due to changes in nomadic herding communities, camels once used as working animals, are now repurposed for tourism and provide an alternate source of income to the owner and his family.

I feel a measured approach is usually best – if an animal looks healthy, well fed, is well treated and its owner is making a living to support a family and community, the balance seems appropriate.

What is not appropriate is any animal being abused or performing outside of its natural abilities like performing bears or monkeys or circus animals.

If an animal is abused or suffering, report it to an animal protection organisation who will enable its rescue.