A Travellers’ Guide to Treading Lightly

Now more than ever, we’re made explicitly aware of our roles in the fight against climate change, whether that’s buying an electric car, ensuring we recycle our rubbish properly, going vegan, or simply turning the light off when we leave a room. But we find many travellers aren’t fully aware of how they can tread lightly when they visit the further flung corners of the globe, or simply set off on a short holiday.

For that reason, we’ve put together a handbook for travellers that will help to guide you in making sustainable choices when you travel, so that we can protect the planet we love to explore for future generations to come.

1. Flying Alternatives
2. Flying responsibly
3. Eat Local
4. Eco Accommodation
5. Single Use Plastic
6. Slow Travel
7. Captive animals
8. Souvenirs


1.     Find flying alternatives

person smiling on moving train in green trees

It’s now common knowledge that flying is one of the most harmful activities that we, as consumers, can undertake when it comes to carbon emissions. The global aviation industry is responsible for around 2.4% of all the carbon we produce. When you combine this carbon with water vapour trails left by aeroplanes, it is thought that flying contributes towards 5% of all global warming.

With air travel expected to grow exponentially in the next decade or so, and with sustainable flying still very much a work in progress, for now the best option seems to be to reduce the amount of flying we do, or look for alternatives in the way we travel.

By far the most environmentally way to travel is by train or coach, and often travelling by train can be just as efficient and timely as flying. Studies have shown that when travelling up to 700km, train travel is just as fast a way to travel door to door, as you cut out the maddening rush of check-in, the seemingly endless wait at the departure lounge and the hassle of getting to and from an out of town airport.

In countries or continents with better rail service, rail can even be a faster way to travel as far as 1500km. At Not In The Guidebooks, we have a wide variety of holidays where the journey is just as attractive as the destination – whether that’s exploring the magnificent NC500 in Scotland, or an all-encompassing adventure across the south of France, there is a huge amount to explore to that doesn’t require getting to 30,000 feet.

2.     When you do fly – choose responsibly

aeroplane flying in a sunset

Whilst no-fly holidays are the most sustainable option, we’re pragmatic in the knowledge that travellers will always fly. And this is realistically no bad thing. To completely halt aviation as a form of travel for tourism would be detrimental to communities all over the world.

Whilst it’s true that the tourism industry is responsible for a significant proportion of climate change, it also makes up 8% of global GDP. To all immediately stop flying would be to cut off regions and economies that rely on money from travellers. Tourism has also proved, when done right, to be an extremely useful tool when it comes to combating climate change.

So, the question we’re left with is – how can we fly in the most sustainable fashion? To reduce the carbon footprint of your flight, select journeys with the lowest number of transfers, put some time into researching airlines that have sustainability policies, and consider purchasing carbon credits or carbon offsetting your flight.

Carbon offsetting is far from the perfect solution, and at worst is a tool for greenwashing, but by purchasing carbon credits that invest in green or renewable energy schemes, you can help to reduce the impact of your flight.

3.     Eat local

people eating and drinking in corfu

As we’ve mentioned, tourism is hugely important to economies and communities around the world. Done right, travel can help some of the poorest and most isolated towns and villages in the world into a thriving, service-led economy as tourists arrive to spend money on food, accommodation and activities.

Sustainable travel is not simply about the environment. For travel to be sustainable, you must also ensure it benefits everyone, not simply the traveller. To be sustainable when you visit a community you need to travel mindfully, and consider where you spend your money carefully, in order to avoid tourism leakage.

It’s thought that in some places as much as 95% of the money spent by tourists leaves the local area. By eating at large chains that cater to western tastes or never leaving an all-inclusive resort, you would be contributing nothing to the local community.

Seek out small, independent restaurants and cafes, owned and run by locals, and you’ll find far more of your money stays in the local community and can go towards improving the standard of life in the area. You’ll also benefit yourself, by experiencing local flavours and unique dishes you wouldn’t be able to find at home.

4.     Select accommodation carefully

yoga shala exterior

Continuing with the local theme, wherever possible you should stay in accommodation that is independent and owned locally. Rather than staying in a hotel chain, where the staff will be paid but the majority of your money will end up in a central office elsewhere, seek out accommodation where, to the best of your knowledge, your money will stay in the area.

Another issue with many large chain hotels is that they can often put enormous strain on local resource, such as water and waste disposal, which not only results in negative consequences for the locals, but also damages the immediate environment.

Eco-retreats and green accommodation can be an excellent way to avoid these types of hotels, and while many hotels may advertise themselves as ‘green’, it’s a good idea to verify how eco-friendly these accommodations are by checking for any certification.

It’s always worth doing your research to get sustainable, locally owned accommodation, as it won’t only benefit the community and the environment, but will also enhance your own experience as you enjoy a more authentic holiday.

Popular Sustainable Holidays


Eco Barn Retreat in Pembrokeshire

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Northern Vietnam

Local Trail Walking and Eco Retreat – North Vietnam

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Luxury Icelandic Eco Retreat

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Private: Eco Whale Watching Experience

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5.     Reduce your single use plastics

plastic pollution in the ocean

The world produces 381 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, and it acts as an incredibly damaging pollutant that poses a threat to wildlife and their habitats, for centuries to come. It’s up to all of us to reduce our reliance on single use plastics, particularly in travel as we visit pristine natural environments where plastic pollution is even more damaging.

The issue of plastic pollution is often exacerbated during travel and within tourism. When at home, we may have proper facilities, guidance, and be able to find the time and effort to recycle and make sustainable choices. When on holiday, that ability is often taken out of our hands, or the local area may not have the knowledge or means to dispose of or reduce plastic properly.

When travelling, keep an eye out for things like miniature shampoos and shower gels in hotels, single use plastics on flights, and make conscious choices about the sun cream or holiday clothing that you buy, as many contain micro plastics that can prove extremely harmful to environments like coral reefs.

To help you tread lightly while you travel, we’ve put together a guide that includes more tips on where to reduce your plastic usage whilst on holiday.

6.     Consider slow travel

family cycling in tulum mexico

When we have limited time in the year to explore the world, it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of rushing from one destination to the next, grabbing a few pictures and packing as many cities, activities and excursions into your trip as possible.

Whilst we’re all for packing in great experiences when you travel, this dashing from one place to the next, without spending much time in each town, city, or village that you visit, can be a pretty unsustainable way to travel.

Tourists who travel like this often end up spending very little money in each area that they visit, and utilise a lot of different types of transport as they travel, contributing to the carbon footprint of their holiday. Another common theme is the overwhelming of small communities who don’t have the infrastructure to deal with busloads of tourists, with those travellers then simply moving to the next honeypot location, leaving litter and disenfranchised locals in their wake.

Slow travel consists of spending more time in a location, really getting to know the people and the culture of a travel destination. This not only ensures more of your money stays in the local economy that you visit, but will also give you, as the traveller, a new appreciation of a unique culture as you relax into the rhythms of another way of life.

7.     Avoid activities with captive animals

elephant in thailand

At Not In The Guidebooks, we are extremely careful when it comes to offering any activities that involve live animals. There are some amazing conservation and wildlife protection schemes out there, and we will make sure that whenever animals are involved in your holiday, they are being well-treated.

Unfortunately, there are many instances where animals are exploited for the benefit of tourists. Avoid elephant rides, circuses that use live animals, bull fighting/bull runs, horse races, and (most) zoos,  as the sad truth when it comes to these attractions are that the animals involved are subject to abuse.

That being said, you can still enjoy activities with wild animals such as safaris, or experiences at wildlife sanctuaries where captive animals are treated respectfully, before being released back into the wild.

We find that our travellers return from these types of experiences having had a far more fulfilling time, and are enthused at the thought of protecting the wildlife they have come into contact with on their experiences.

8.     Buy souvenirs with care and always respect the locals

female tourist shopping in Moroccan souvenir shop

Souvenirs that are made locally can provide a great source of income, and can help keep traditional crafting traditions alive as artisans sell their wares to travellers. However, you need to be aware that many souvenirs can be made using illegal, or at least unsustainable materials, and that the purchasing of these souvenirs can encourage people to manufacture them.

In some parts of the world, you’ll find souvenirs made with ivory, animal skins or other animal products, supporting the poaching trade. You may also come across souvenirs made from wood or bark that has been taken from deforested trees, harming the local ecosystem. Refrain from buying souvenirs unless you can be certain you know where they have come from, a local guide is the best way to judge this.

With this in mind, we would also encourage you not to visit orphanages as a part of your holiday, or give money to begging children, as it is the sad truth that children can also be exploited and kept out of school in order to earn money from tourists.

The same goes for school visits. Consider how you would feel if a group of tourists decided to take a tour of your child’s school for the day, visiting their classroom to take photos. You’d probably feel unnerved, and not exactly appreciate the distraction when your child is trying to learn. A general rule of thumb is, if an activity would not be suitable in your own country, it probably isn’t suitable elsewhere.

Here at Not In The Guidebooks, we believe that travel should benefit everyone. By travelling sustainably, mindfully, and by treading lightly, you can help protect the planet and combat climate change, support economies around the globe and improve the standard of living in small, local communities, and enjoy a more rewarding travel experience that truly broadens your horizons.

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