How to be a better traveller
Travel writer Nina Karnikowski explains how 2020 helped her to re-evaluate her travel habits and shares her ideas for relaunching a life of exploration with a more compassionate and sustainable outlook
We stand at a unique point in travel history. With the industry severely impacted over the past year, we now find ourselves poised to pack our bags and re-enter the travel world, and to rebuild it exactly to our choosing as we do. Will we learn from our past mistakes and proceed in a way that is more sustainable, and possibly even regenerative, for our planet and its inhabitants? Will we recognise travel as the true privilege it is, remembering that only six per cent of the world’s population have ever set foot on a plane, and use our powerful travel currency to uplift communities and wild spaces? And will we use each journey as an opportunity to learn from, and feel greater empathy for, all people, all species, and the planet that support us?
As a travel writer, I used the lockdown pause to discover how to atone for the travel sins of my past – for visiting those over-touristed towns, for accepting those single-use plastics (aside from the fresh challenges we all face with PPE), for contributing to wildlife cruelty by riding elephants in faraway countries and more. In researching how to become a better traveller, and interviewing some of the world’s most inspiring eco-adventurers on the topic, I have discovered hundreds of ways we can contribute more meaningfully to an industry that accounts for one in ten jobs worldwide, empowering local communities, supporting small social enterprises and repairing the wildest parts of our planet along the way.
Slower travel serves as an antidote to our warp-speed modern world, helping to return us to a more human pace and soothing our frayed nervous systems
The first step we might take in rebuilding the way we travel is by putting nature at the centre of our journeys. By using each trip as an opportunity to reignite our relationship with the natural world, we might begin to understand how everything is intricately connected, and how we can only truly thrive when our planet does, too. Studies in Italy and Japan have shown that being immersed in nature makes our brains healthier, increases our attention span and creativity and lowers blood pressure, heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Being surrounded by thriving natural environments also inspires us to feel awe for our planet, a feeling that tends to make us kinder and more generous, and encourages us to put the interests of others and the world before our own. What better excuse could there be for weaving hiking, biking, camping or sailing into our travels? Or, better yet, getting involved with rewilding or conservation projects that repair environmental damage and bolster populations of endangered species?
Taking fewer, but longer and slower, journeys is another way to travel more consciously, giving us the time and space to more deeply understand destinations. That might mean picking one place, not four, to visit in a week; considering off-season travel when there are fewer crowds; cramming less into our itineraries so we can keep ourselves open to discovery – this is how we make our journeys more satisfying. Slower travel also serves as an antidote to our warp-speed modern world, helping to return us to a more human pace and soothing our frayed nervous systems, while giving us the opportunity to make a bigger economic impact on communities.
There’s a term the tourism industry uses – ‘leakage’ – that describes how travellers’ spending leaks out of host countries and into the pockets of multinational corporations. According to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, just five per cent of money spent by tourists actually stays in the communities they visit. One of the best ways to plug these leaks is to support small, locally owned businesses, putting money directly into the hands of locals. Prioritising, for instance, small neighbourhood eateries and hotels or homestays, native guides and tour operators, and hand-crafted goods that support indigenous artisans.
Ultimately, being a better traveller really comes down to taking responsibility for our actions
Another way to ‘lighten’ your trip is through carbon offset and voluntary donations. British Airways is working on several projects to develop low-carbon solutions for the future, such as sustainable fuels and zero-emissions aircraft. BA automatically offsets all UK domestic flight emissions, while passengers are given the option to offset international journeys when booking. The money goes towards environmental protection projects in Cambodia, Peru and Sudan.
Ultimately, being a better traveller really comes down to taking responsibility for our actions, no matter how small, in the places we visit as much as in our own homes, by thinking as citizens rather than consumers. And, perhaps more importantly, thinking of the generations ahead who will inherit the world we are creating now. When I interviewed the conservationist and filmmaker Céline Cousteau for my latest book, she said something that illustrates this point better than any words I could write. She told the story of a chief in an Amazonian village who pointed to a tree he planted and said, “Someday that tree will make a great canoe. Not for me, not for my son, not for my grandson – maybe my grandson’s son or his grandson.” “Let’s go back to that thinking,” said Cousteau. “That matters.” And it does.
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You can now change your travel dates and destination without incurring a change fee, giving you flexibility to adapt to unforeseen circumstances
The luxury properties going green
Hillside Beach Club
Book a stay at Hillside Beach Club
Set in the sublime, pine-fringed Kalemya Bay, the Hillside Beach Club is a luxurious Turkish escape that’s good for mind and body. This year, as part of its Run for Green Scheme, the resort has launched the Run for Green app, which allows you to track your run along the scenic Fethiye coastline. Keen to ramp up the miles? It also pledges to plant a tree for every kilometre you clock up on your daily jog.
Book a stay at Chablé Hotels
Chablé Yucatán and Chablé Maroma offer sustainable luxury at their finest. They strive to reduce their environmental impact through several initiatives – from beach clean-ups to eliminating single-use plastics – as well as their eco-friendly design. The properties are sustainably built using restored materials from the hotel’s 16th-century hacienda buildings and their on-site gardens provide all of the herbs and seasonal vegetables used in their kitchens and spas.
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