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News Responsible travel 101: how to travel with purpose

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Responsible travel 101: how to travel with purpose

Céline Cousteau has big shoes to fill. The filmmaker and socio-environmental advocate descends from two legends of filmmaking, who gave her a privileged insight into the world of travel from a young age.

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Céline’s grandfather Jacques Cousteau was the famed French naval officer, explorer, and co-developer of the Aqua-Lung. His son – her father – is the oceanographic explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau.

But Céline didn’t just learn from her forefathers the art of documentary film (although she learnt that well, having founded CauseCentric Productions, a film company that profiles cause-focused content, as well as The Outdoor Film Fellowship). Responsible travel, which keeps communities and the environment in mind, was ingrained from young age.

“The ethos of travel that I inherited from my family is to always travel with purpose,” she says. “Whenever I get on a plane, it’s to go somewhere where I will be sharing purposeful stories of people, ecosystems and species. My travel has to have the intent of giving back somehow.”

Céline Cousteau is now an ambassador for the TreadRight foundation, a socially minded travel operator and the not-for-profit arm of TTC, with the tagline ‘Make Travel Matter’. Who better to grill for responsible travel tips?

Engage with the issues

Céline says: “In the past decade I’ve seen a growing interest in sustainability, environmental protection, social justice and women’s rights. I believe this will influence the entire travel industry because people are looking for the added benefit when they travel – they don’t want to go to a country and have the same experience as everybody else. And hopefully they want to use their experience to give back.”

We say: Get a first-hand viewpoint of women’s experiences via new, female-only itineraries around the world – we’re into Intrepid Travel’s Women’s Experiences in India, Nepal, Iran, Morocco and more. Then there are tours of women’s weaving cooperatives in Peru, or the Women on Wheels project that employs female professional drivers in New Delhi – both run by the Planeterra Foundation, a travel company that invests in community-run social enterprises. Then there’s the opportunity to visit the Iraq al-Amir Women’s Cooperative on Contiki, Insight Vacations and Trafalgar trips to Jordan. Run by local women, it employs over 150 women from the region’s villages to make handicrafts.

Do something life-changing

Céline says: “Tour operators must give customers a transformational experience. An opportunity to do something that has meaning and intent. Even if it’s an afternoon washing elephants at Wildlife SOS in India, a project I visited in my capacity as TreadRight ambassador last year. You will forever be changed by having that interaction with an animal that has been rescued and is now being cared for.”

We say: Follow our guide to ethical animal tourism to make sure you’re investing your tourism dollars in projects that actively help conservation efforts. If you’re travelling through sub-Saharan Africa, look out for safaris supported by conservation non-profit African Parks – and check out our guide to ethical animal tourism in South Africa if you’re headed for the Cape.

Ditch single-use plastic

Céline says: “It seems like a basic idea, but get rid of single-use plastics. There’s no place for them in the world anymore. Give credit to the people that are phasing it out and if you’re going to give any gifts to travellers, give them a bamboo cutlery set and metal straw.”

We say: A quirky way to get to know a city – and its green-minded citizens – can be through a volunteer litter pickup. Combine stand up paddle boarding with litter picking in London or go fishing for plastic in Amsterdam’s canals. Even on Mount Everest, trekkers are being encouraged to pick up litter as they climb. It’s a good idea to invest in a reusable plastic bottle, too. This collapsible one from Contiki filters out 99.95% of bacteria to make for clean drinking water all over the world.

Use your buying power

Céline says: “Tour companies should make it easy for travellers to do things right, by employing local people as much as possible and giving visitors the opportunity to visit the projects they are supporting. Then, as a traveller, only choose the travel companies that are going the extra mile. All of us are responsible for the betterment of the planet.​”

We say: The small-group, adventure travel specialists behind G Adventures are a safe pair of hands for choosing experiences that benefit their immediate environment. The company works with small, local businesses; prioritises child and animal welfare; supports disaster relief; and works with partners to eliminate plastic waste. Then there’s Plastic Whale, an Amsterdam initiative that takes you fishing in the canal… for plastic.

For Céline Cousteau, the compulsion to do good is a part of human nature – and as one of the world’s largest industries, travel should respond to that. “If we choose to make our travel matter, we will have an additional depth to what travel actually means,” she says. “You can still go on holiday, and relax, while doing something good.”