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Special Feature: Sustainable Travel

A Quick Guide to Sustainable Travel

by Matt Thomas

My aim in putting this article together is not to preach about what travellers should and shouldn’t do. Similarly please do not think for a moment that I practise all of these things when I travel. Probably far from it. That said, my hope is even if one or two suggestions that I make here are enacted upon then we have made a small difference and  that is certainly something worthwhile. So in no particular order here a few ideas as to what travelling sustainable and perhaps smartly may look like in 2021, into 2022 and beyond.

Benefit Local Communities

Think about your impact. For example could you perhaps stay at homestays or independent guesthouses rather than chain hotels. Visiting out of peak season, where, ok, the weather may not be quite as good, but your patronage will be more appreciated and it means that the well beaten tracks may get a little respite.

If cooking for yourself perhaps shop at local markets or if eating out try local restaurants and delicacies that use locally sourced materials. Similarly, perhaps utilise local guides and booking agents on arrival for local tours. Admittedly this takes a little more time (who has any these days), effort and research, therefore the below links may be of assistance.

Global Sustainable Tourism Council –  – information on travelling sustainably and responsibly.

Responsible Travel – – Brighton based TO specialising in responsible tourism that benefits local communities. – a great resource for arranging homestays and linking up with local people.


Flying accounts for around 20% of global carbon emissions, so anything than can be done to offset this will benefit the planet in a small way.  For example donating to a tree planting or other conservation project.

If you do fly – make it count! Similarly more weight burns more fuel and economy class carries more people for the same amount of fuel.

Atmosfair  –  ranks airlines by fuel efficiency and also offers options in how to to offset carbon emissions from your flight.

travel writing matt thomas, nepal photo, pokara photo, annupurnas photo, travel and talkHiking (an alternative way to get around) in Nepal back in 2005


Great green goods to carry include: a solar charger, reusable water bottle, water purifier, and water purification tablets. Think of all those plastic water bottles you may save on.

Sustainable Travel – is a great resource of pertinent items.


This may be obvious however just to mention here that if you touch a wild animal the likelihood is it has been mistreated at some stage and likely been drugged and subjected to cruelty. Try and find genuine sanctuaries, walking and vehicle safaris using local, experienced guides and try to resist the temptation to feed animals.

I should mention here in my much younger years I rode an elephant in Thailand and visited a zoo in Singapore so am far from guilt free on this subject.

You can report cruelty and illegal trade at


ethiopia photo, travel and talk, travel writing, baboons photo, africa photo

On Safari in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains with

Accommodation Tips

Do you really need clean towels every day?

Turn everything off where you can.

Use vouchers for local restaurants and bars.

Indigenous Tourism

I visited a school in Kenya. It sounded like a great idea – but children are not an attraction and interrupting their class to have them sing for us was a terrible experience.

Pay for things fairly – yes haggling is part of the game but be aware of the disparity in wealth and the power dynamic at play when buying handicrafts. If you aren’t interested maybe don’t indicate that you might be.

In terms of “authentic” ethnic visits doing one’s research is advisable.

Photos and Souvenirs

I feel quite strongly that taking photos of people, even with their permission is for the most part undesirable – unless you perhaps plan to promote their services. Buy something, have a conversation, ask questions, establish a connection, that is perhaps a better story to tell

Try and focus on sustainably made souvenirs at local markets and social enterprises and charity shops wherever possible.

There is a long list of things to avoid so to mention a few: animal goods, novelty t shirts and key rings, coral, precious stones, anything sold by a child, chinese medicine, foie gras, civet coffee and snake wine. Please feel free to research the reasons behind this advice.

Pens in Africa – Does it create a begging economy to give pens to local children? Perhaps it does but in Ethiopia I gave out numerous pens, while there are perhaps arguments not to do so I personally saw no or very little harm in this.

Diving and Snorkelling

Leave things as you find them! Don’t stand on reefs (again, I have done this). Be careful with your fins and try and look beyond popular spots and activities.

take only memories leave only footprints, chief seattle quote

And finally…

A little etiquette goes a long way and while it is not perhaps always expected (the British in particular do not have a great reputation for some of these things) learning the local words for hello, goodbye, please and thank you takes very little and will enhance your stay. Adhering to local dress codes and tipping practices will also keep you out of trouble.

Researching local religious periods also is advisable – walking in the city of Ramallah on the West Bank in 2007, I wondered why people were looking at me strangely as I ate a snickers in the street. Later on I bought a smoothie and the gentleman wouldn’t let me take it out of the shop because it was Ramadan!

For a more in depth guide I would recommend Lonely Planet’s The Sustainable Travel Handbook –

I hope the above came across in a palatable way and that some of it resonated. Best travel wishes for 2021 and beyond. Get out there people (when it is safe to do) the tourism industry needs you.