The expert guide to travelling more sustainably in 2022

To mark Earth Day on 22 April 2022, Richard Hammond, founder of Green Traveller, shares his 20-plus years of expertise on how best to explore the world sustainably.

Being a green traveller today is no longer limited to one-off gestures but, rather, it’s a state of mind. Pictured: Lake Buttermere, Lake District.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Richard Hammond
Published 22 Apr 2022, 05:00 BST

Taking an eco-conscious break was once synonymous with a weekend’s hedge-laying or a summer spent conserving wildlife in the tropics. How things have changed: being a green traveller today is no longer limited to one-off gestures but, rather, it’s a state of mind. An ongoing attitude to conscious adventure, it now influences all aspects of our travels, from what we pack and how we reach our destination to where we stay and the activities we take part in — from the romance of long-distance train journeys to swimming in natural swimming pools and feasting on local, seasonal food.

Such change has come about thanks to both a growing understanding of climate change — and tourism’s role in it — and to the pioneering efforts of many travel operators to show the joy of going green. Luxury camping specialists Featherdown Farm and Fforest, for example, paved the way for the glamping revolution. Digital platforms such as Under the Thatch and Canopy & Stars have made finding, and booking, low-impact rural idylls easier. Book publishers such as Sawdays and Bradt have stimulated the joys of slow travel. And adventure operators such as TYF, Intrepid and Much Better Adventures have set the agenda for sustainable outdoor recreation.

This isn’t to say the evolution of green travel has been plain sailing (or railing). The trend for replacing annual trips with multiple shorter breaks has seen a rise in carbon-intensive air travel. Key overland routes have been discontinued (such as ferry services to Scandinavia and overnight ‘train hotels’ through France and Spain). Cuts in local transport services have severely impacted car-free access to rural areas for those planning more sustainable staycations. And unscrupulous businesses have jumped on the ‘eco’ travel marketing bandwagon, muddying the emerald waters.

There are, though, tangible signs that we’re entering a new age of green travel. Many specialist accommodation booking sites now have a green filter, for example, Sawday’s ‘Sustainable stars’, i-escape’s ‘Eco rating’, and Cool Places’ ‘Eco Retreats’. Mainstream travel companies now provide tools to help travellers spot the difference between the genuinely green and the greenwash. and Google, for instance, are working with not-for-profit Travalyst to flag up eco-certified hotels in their search results.

There remains an overly complicated network of rail ticketing agencies, but there are now plenty of tools to help you navigate the complexities and intricacies of booking long-distance overland train travel. The seat61 website, set up by former railway man Mark Smith, provides a wealth of tips on how to find and book the best tickets — it’s especially useful if you’re planning multi-stage journeys across international borders. A welcome development has been the emergence of Trainline as a platform for booking European rail tickets. One of the handy tools it has introduced is an email ‘ticket alert’ that lets you know as soon as bookings open for your chosen route so you can snap up the cheapest tickets when they become available.

The decarbonisation of air travel is still a long way off, but there’s quite a large disparity between the carbon emissions of aircraft and the operating procedures of airlines, and there are now tools to help you find more carbon efficient flights, such as the ‘Greener Choices’ label on the search results provided by the flight search engine Skyscanner. While planes continue to burn huge amounts of fossil fuel, it’s hard to see how long-haul travel by plane can be framed as ‘green’, but there’s been the emergence of ‘positive impact adventures’ that help with biodiversity conservation, safeguard the local landscape and meaningfully contribute to local economic empowerment and global justice.

The emergence of The Long Run, a global alliance of nature-based tourism businesses that collectively conserve more than 23 million acres of biodiversity, has shown that these kinds of trips can make a palpable difference to safeguarding precious ecosystems. Members include many trailblazing retreats that are embedded in their local community, such as Borana Conservancy at the foot of Mount Kenya, Caiman ecological refuge in Brazil’s vast Pantanal wetlands, Misool in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, which protects some of the world’s most biodiverse corals reefs, and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa, which protects 790 plant species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Closer to home, there’s been a clutch of new travel companies selling green travel, including Byway and Ecosy, which focus on flight-free itineraries and specialist interest trips, such as vegan breaks, while Natural Britain offers a selection of eco-friendly accommodation and low impact activities. Long-established international tour operators, such as Intrepid and Kuoni, that have traditionally focussed on overseas travel are now selling journeys in the UK. By capitalising on the modernisation of cross-channel ferry services and the renaissance of rail (including the reintroduction of night trains across Europe) these companies are helping to make lower-carbon travel become ever more practical and, crucially, more appealing.

Three green trips to try

1. Go off-grid in Wales
Just outside Machynlleth, Eco Retreats has five off-grid yurt camps (each has fresh spring water on tap and wood-fired baths) spread over 50 acres in the Dyfi Forest. There are mountainbiking trails and walks nearby, including the route up to Cader Idris in southern Snowdonia. From £275 for two nights for two sharing (up to two children free).

2. Cycle sustainably in France
Travel as a foot passenger with your bike on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe then cycle the Véloroute du Lin between Pourville sur Mer and Fécamp. This 50-mile route is bookended by railway stations at Dieppe and Fécamp. Stay just off-route at Le Clos des Ifs, from €65 (£60), B&B. Ferries from €50 (£42) return per adult including bike. 

3. Rail and sail to Greece
Make for the Pelion peninsula, between Athens and Thessaloniki. Take the train to Bari, on Italy’s heel, then ferry to Igoumenitsa on mainland Greece to catch the bus across to Volos, the gateway to the Pelion. There are three buses a day from Volos to the village of Tsagkarada where you can stay at Amanita. From £134, two-night minimum stay.

Richard Hammond is the author of The Green Traveller: Conscious adventure that doesn’t cost the earth, published by Pavilion, £18.99.

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