It’s hard to avoid sustainability buzzwords in everything we purchase these days, and travel is no exception. Here Holly Tuppen, author of Sustainable Travel: The essential guide to positive impact adventures, outlines how we can sort the genuine changemakers from the greenwashers and inspires us with five top eco holiday picks.
Despite common misconceptions, sustainable travel isn’t one genre or a set of criteria. Instead, it’s a mindset that we can apply to any experience, whether looking for utter isolation on a tropical island or delving into the counterculture of an up-and-coming city. In everything we see, do, buy, and book when it comes to travel, our impact on people and places needs to be a positive one. This doesn’t mean sacrificing fun or luxury, because having a positive impact comes in all shapes and sizes. What it does mean is supporting businesses and people that are putting communities first, empowering the marginalised, protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, and making sure your travel pennies are contributing to a better, fairer, and greener planet. Below, five holidays that check these boxes while being incredibly fun, too.
Nikoi Island, Indonesia
Not all private island retreats are equal when it comes to greenwashing versus sustainable practices, but this 15-hectare pocket of rainforest, sand, and reef reachable by ferry and taxi from Singapore is a true sustainable champion. As a member of The Long Run, much of Nikoi’s business strategy revolves around the 4Cs — a holistic balance of Commerce, Community, Conservation, and Culture. Fifteen beachfront lodges were built using local materials, labour and techniques, and are designed to reduce energy-guzzling needs such as air conditioning. While creating the property, the owners challenged conventional thinking about waste, water and energy and share these innovative approaches with the community. For example, the island is zero waste, employs 250 local people, has a fixed menu to reduce food waste, and 90 percent of ingredients come from its seven-hectare permaculture farm or nearby markets.
Self-powered adventure, Costa Rica
One way to travel more sustainably is to pick destinations pioneering green energy, sustainable tourism policies, and nature preservation. One of the world leaders in all three is Costa Rica, where over six percent of the world’s biodiversity is crammed between the wild Pacific and the dazzling Caribbean Sea. More than 98 percent of its energy is renewable, and forest covers 53 percent of land following considerable efforts to reverse deforestation. A thrilling and low-carbon way to explore Costa Rica’s cloud forest, mountain villages, and virgin rainforest is Much Better Adventures’ self-powered 250km adventure from coast to coast. After waving goodbye to motorised power in the quiet fishing village of Quepos on the Pacific Coast, a group of ten or so eager adventurers’ hike, cycle, raft, and kayak up and over the continental divide to Freetown and the Caribbean coast, camping along the way.
The Green House, Bournemouth
The eco commitment of this grand, 32-bedroom villa hotel in England’s fun-filled seaside town of Bournemouth has impressed for over ten years. As the name suggests, its comprehensive list of sustainability initiatives is very much part of the appeal and experience and proof that going green can be synonymous with boutique splendour. Carpets are 100% wool and locally made, energy comes from the combined heat and power unit, solar panels heat the water, furniture is made with timber sourced from storm-fallen trees, and even the wallpaper is Forest Stewardship Council certified. What comes into the hotel is as important as what goes out; a strict waste policy ensures that everything is dealt with responsibly, even kitchen oil is recycled into fuel. However, perhaps most appealing is how fiercely it supports local suppliers. The bar and restaurant has a ‘Port to Plate’ in 24 hours seafood policy, a published list of suppliers, and top marks from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Rewilding Retreat, Scotland
“Despite its beauty and drama, Scotland has become a nature-depleted nation… It doesn’t have to be this way” rewilding tour operator Scotland: The Big Picture tells us. Worldwide, species are dying at 1000 times their natural rate due to extractive industries like large scale farming, mining, or urban sprawl. Supporting the rewilding or protection of nature is one of the best ways we can help to solve the planet’s environmental crises while travelling. This could be by staying at a lodge where funds go to conservation efforts, or a more active option is to join a Rewilding Retreat to learn more about the movement and get stuck in. Scotland: The Big Picture runs about ten trips a year to different regions of Scotland, from searching for white-tailed eagles and otters on the Isle of Mull to getting up close with Scottish wildcats on the impressive 23,000-acre Alladale Reserve.
Rail and Sail to Corsica, France
Flying is the single most carbon-intensive thing we can do as individuals, so going flight-free is a big win when it comes to sustainable travel. It also comes with the added benefits of slow travel. The journey becomes as enjoyable as the destination providing a more intimate understanding of a little chunk of the globe. A tour operator that understands this ethos better than most is By Way, which organises bespoke and fixed flight-free itineraries across the UK and Europe. New for 2021 is the island of Corsica, famed for rustic French charm, white sand beaches, and one of the world’s most challenging walking routes – the GR20. All reachable by rail and sail via Nice and an overnight ferry.