Do you subscribe to the ethos of being eco, ethical and responsible in your travels, but suspect that the reality is more, ahem, hessian than the type of holidays you normally plump for? Are you being badgered by your offspring to cut your carbon footprint while secretly hankering for a last-minute sunshine break before winter sets in?
As a sustainable-travel journalist I hope eventually to write myself out of a job as responsible travel choices become the norm and no longer niche. Until then conscientious travellers have a bit of cajoling and persuading to do as we try to get the majority to buy into the idea of, say, a locally owned, independent hotel in Lisbon instead of the glitzy international party type, or try to persuade friends that it could be better for the economy of the country they’re visiting to book a tour guide at the destination, rather than defaulting to one who works for an international company.
What, though, is travel planning if it’s not forcing your lesser-informed companions to bend to your will? Here’s how to get everyone in your group contentedly to eat their green travel choices, on a trip that tastes full-fat . . .
1. Travel out of season
This is an easy win for travellers who aren’t slaves to school terms, or even those who choose off-peak places during the holidays, and your family and friends won’t suspect a thing. I’m a huge fan of travelling during shoulder season, and would recommend much of the Mediterranean in April to May or September to October over July to August. I’ve also had delightful city breaks in January in Seville and Naples, where I was able to explore Pompeii without the crowds — a much more enjoyable experience for me and I didn’t feel as though I was contributing to an enormous overtourism problem. Another ethical benefit of travelling out of season is that it softens the harsh extremes of a seasonal local economy by supporting the hospitality and travel industries in their leaner months. In time this means that workers might enjoy more stable job prospects, which has a significant long-term positive impact on the community. Also, by opting out of the peak-season months, accommodation and tours are automatically cheaper and more relaxing — and you don’t have to queue up for five hours to get into the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
2. Crowd-source indie hotel and restaurant suggestions
One easy way that we can all contribute to the economy of a travel destination is by researching locally and independently owned hotels and restaurants. If you enlist the help of your companions, they’re much more likely to see this as an exercise in seeking out the coolest, under-the-radar hotspots, rather than your boring old morals affecting their holiday again. Kids are particularly brilliant at seeking out recommendations from travel experts on Instagram and TikTok, so get them involved, and crowd-source bits of your itinerary from the entire gang, rather than researching it all yourself and feeling the heavy weight of responsibility as you lead them into another vegan restaurant.
3. Get professional about packing
A few years ago I realised that one of my biggest travel blind spots was failing to pack properly before a trip, resulting in me having to spend time and money buying sunglasses, baseball caps or sarongs from overpriced airport shops or fast-fashion high street stores. I’ve now embraced the joy of the dorky packing list, and this is another sneaky way to turn your companions into responsible travellers while pretending it’s all about practicality and not squandering precious beach time. Sure, shopping for a few suitcase stuffers is very much part of the travel ritual, but these days I try to focus on the gadgets and gizmos that will help me to be a more sustainable traveller. I love Lifestraw water-filter bottles, for example, which are a real bonus in countries such as Spain and Italy where the locals favour buying bottled water over drinking tap water (from £41; eu.lifestraw.com).
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4. Skip the ‘flight shame’
If I do book a flight I refuse to get into hand-wringing about it, and guilt-tripping fellow travellers isn’t particularly productive either. Instead I gently suggest a “flight-lite” approach to travel, because I believe that a majority of people making moderate improvements to their carbon footprint will have a much greater net impact than a marginal group adopting an extreme position. Travelling flight-lite means booking rail and overland options wherever possible, and trying to extract maximum bang for buck for every carbon footstep. But, assuming you’ve done this, if you’ve also booked a flight enjoy it.
5. Go all-out
This is no year for compromised holidays, cheaper options or watered-down itineraries. Despite current economic woes, this may still be the year of showstopper, all-singing, all-dancing trips of a lifetime — the blow-the-budget splurges and multigenerational celebrations we’ve all been waiting for. And this approach to travel can be a more ethical choice. I believe in travelling further for longer, but less often (by “further” I don’t necessarily mean distance covered; it’s more about dreaming bigger). It’s a more ethical choice to go for quality over quantity, choosing a few big-hitter, big-budget, big-dream trips over a bunch of cheaper and shorter but potentially less-rewarding holidays. And, best of all, nobody will associate travel decadence with sustainability, so your decision to opt for a family trip to Bhutan or Patagonia instead of a handful of European beach holidays and city breaks won’t sound remotely worthy.