4 mins

9 steps to planning an eco-friendly trip

To mark Earth Day on 22 April, plan a trip that's kind to the planet with Wanderlust’s new book, How to Travel Guilt Free: Essentials Tips for Ethical Travellers

Mindo Loma, an eco lodge In Ecuador (Shutterstock)

1. Pick an eco-friendly destination

A rainforest in Costa Rica (Shutterstock)

A rainforest in Costa Rica (Shutterstock)

When it comes to sustainability, different countries have different priorities. So if responsible travel really is important to you, take a look at your destination’s eco-credentials before you book. Are its nature reserves outstanding? What’s its stance on single-use plastic? Does it provide an amazing experience without short-changing the environment? Find a place whose priorities align with yours. France, for example, was the first country in the world to announce a total ban on the sale of single-use plastic cups, cutlery, plates and takeout boxes. Meanwhile, 90 per cent of Costa Rica’s energy supply is renewable – thanks to its abundant geothermal, wind and hydroelectric resources. It aims to become entirely carbon-neutral by 2050.

2. Don’t stick to high season

Porto in spring (Shutterstock)

Porto in spring (Shutterstock)

High season means high prices, but that’s just one con of travelling at peak time. There are more crowds, more strain on resources and – in overtourism pinch points such as Venice and Paris – more tension between locals and visitors. If you stay out of season, you might sacrifice a few sunny days, but you’ll find your destination much calmer, cheaper and quieter, and you’ll be helping the local economy. Here are some low-season surprises:

- The Maldives, in October and November – the rain clouds are clearing, but prices haven’t crept up yet. A great time to grab a bargain

- Porto, Portugal, in March and April – you’ll find a city that’s in full spring swing before the summer hordes arrive

- Langkawi, Malaysia, in September and October – days are hot, but afternoons bring short tropical showers while you snooze in a hammock

3. Book with experts

Reusable water bottles (S and S Imaging/Shutterstock)

Reusable water bottles (S and S Imaging/Shutterstock)

Before you book your trip, quiz your tour operator or travel agent:

- What’s their policy on environmental issues, such as single-use plastic and carbon offsetting?

- Do they support any charities? If so, what proportion of their profits are donated?

- How do they ensure any wildlife experiences are sustainable?

A good travel company will have a strong stance on all of the above, and even go beyond expectations – by providing its customers with reusable water bottles, for example, or working closely with community outreach projects. They should be able to provide you with solid proof of their efforts, too, such as fundraising figures or industry accreditation. It’s easy to be dazzled by incredible itineraries, great reviews and amazing photography – but think of your booking as an investment. You’re not only securing a great holiday for yourself but ensuring that the people and places you visit will be looked after too. If you spend your money wisely, everybody wins.

4. Do your research

An elephant sanctuary (Shutterstock)

An elephant sanctuary (Shutterstock)

Those unplanned, impromptu travel experiences can be the stuff of magic – but it also pays to plan in advance because…

- Not everything is as it seems. Is that wildlife sanctuary really as good as it sounds? Read the reviews, check the critics – and make an informed decision

- You can find the best route. The most obvious one isn’t always the most responsible. Is a domestic flight really necessary – or can you find a lower-carbon alternative?

- It’s less faff while you’re away. You won’t be tied to the Wi-Fi, researching your next hotel/activity/destination – and missing out on the here and now

5. Take fewer trips – but stay longer

The Taj Mahal in India (Shutterstock)

The Taj Mahal in India (Shutterstock)

While it’s tempting to pack your weekends with minibreaks, keep those shorter trips close to home – and save up your annual leave for one big adventure. Not only will you minimise your carbon footprint, but you’ll have much longer to get under the skin of the country and enjoy lots more time to unwind.

6. Be picky about your hotel…

Mindo Loma, an eco lodge In Ecuador (Shutterstock)

Mindo Loma, an eco lodge In Ecuador (Shutterstock)

Where possible, always opt for an eco-conscious hotel. Check its website to see if it has a green mission statement and take a look at online reviews. Also, widen your search on sustainability focused accommodation directories, such as bookdifferent.com – which is recommended by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Its hotel partners must meet strict credentials, such as committing to recycling, reducing energy consumption and working closely with local communities. And don’t limit yourself to comparison websites – consult guidebooks, blogs and travel magazines, too.

7… or make yourself at home

Stay with a local family (Shutterstock)

Stay with a local family (Shutterstock)

What about a homestay? By staying with a family, you’ll fit right into local life – with insider advice on where to go, what to eat and how to get around. It’s usually far cheaper than other accommodation options, but your money can change the lives of your hosts. While there are homestays all over the world (check out homestay.com and homestayin.com, as well as airbnb.com), local directories are often the best-connected – such as casaparticularcuba.org in Cuba and lookafterme.co.nz in New Zealand. See if there’s one in your destination, too.

8. Is there an eco lodge?

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Eswatini (Shutterstock)

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Eswatini (Shutterstock)

In wilder locations, look out for eco lodges – they’re designed to get you close (but not too close!) to the flora and fauna that make it so special, while protecting them too. Located everywhere from the Amazon rainforest to Australia’s national parks, these sustainable dwellings tread lightly on the land – using solar energy, collecting rainwater, permaculture farming and much more. Many also work with local charities and communities to ensure that they benefit from tourism. There are thousands of eco lodges all over the world, but for a good benchmark of what to aim for check out Rewa Eco-Lodge in Guyana, Bambu Indah in Indonesia and Ecuador’s Mashpi Lodge. Also, look for local or national accreditations, such as Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism and The Rainforest Alliance’s Green Vacations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

9. Choose the right rental

Plaza Mayor in Palma de Mallorca (Shutterstock)

Plaza Mayor in Palma de Mallorca (Shutterstock)

In some destinations, rental properties have fallen from favour – and with good reason. Where accommodation demand is high, holiday lettings can drive up house prices for locals, put a strain on the economy and play into the hands of profit-grabbing landlords. To combat this, they’re closely regulated by authorities. In Mallorca, for example, airbnb hosts must have an official registration number – while in New York City short-term lets are mostly illegal. So, before you book, double-check that your hosts are above board: if they’re not, it could be a scam or you might be fined. And beware of any suspiciously cheap rentals: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

How to Travel Guilt Free: Essential tips for ethical travellers

This extract is from Wanderlust's new book, How to Travel Guilt Free: Essential tips for ethical travellers (£10/$14.95). 

Published by Welbeck, it is now on sale from all good booksellers.

Buy now

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