The Sustainability Sessions: The Modern Traveller

In last night’s final Sustainability Sessions, Melissa Hemsley brought together Shona Vertue, Sophie Hellyer and Juliet Kinsman to discuss all things long-distance travel, carbon offsetting and staycations.

On what felt like the first wintery days of the season, following the changing of the clocks and a rather the onset of darker evenings and shorter days, dreams of summer holidays and warmer, sunnier climates were on the brain. Rather fittingly, the final edition of Melissa Hemsley’s sustainability sessions entitled ‘The Modern Traveller’ brought together Shona Vertue, Sophie Hellyer and Juliet Kinsman to discuss the importance of connecting with nature and how best we can see the world without being too detrimental to the planet. 

The conversation opened with sustainability in the broadest sense, looking at each of the panelists own perceptions of a sustainable lifestyle and how this has directly influenced their own travel practices. For personal trainer and yoga teacher Shona Vertue, growing up in Australia instilled a deep connection with nature and more specifically the ocean which, in turn, provides her with the motivation to commit to living a more sustainable lifestyle. The importance of nature was echoed by all the speakers, with wild swimmer Sophie Hellyer accrediting nature to depicting the tangible effects and need for sustainable practices: “there’s nothing like a sanitary pad hitting you in the face whilst surfing to remind you of the plastic pollution problem”.

For Juliet Kinsman, journalist and luxury travel expert, sustainability is simply “getting back to the natural system of being”. She described how waste is something that is inherently human, a concept that is not applicable within the cyclical closed loop of nature. 

Travel is escapism in its purest form, with exotic destinations, white beaches and the warmth of the sun offering a stark contrast to our nine to five lives. Escaping, or rather the idea of escape, was accredited to fueling many far flung trips to places seemingly more glamorous, relaxing and luxurious. Shona Vertue described the importance of assessing where feelings of dissatisfaction stem from and how instead we should be focusing on establishing a feeling of “contentment” in what we are doing.

Sophie Helleyer advocated for staycationning, the latest buzzword within the travel industry. For Sophie, the UK is greatly underappreciated, with her current favourite surf and swim destinations being the coasts of Ireland and the UK. Following Greta Thunberg’s decision to sail from the UK to New York over the course of 15 days, a degree of flight shaming – or rather flygskam – has led to Sophie avoiding any suggestion of flying on social media platforms. 

While carbon offsetting is a great start to reevaluating the way we travel and beginning to account for our emissions, it was noted that it is no longer enough. Juliet Kinsman emphasised the importance of connection with our destinations and most importantly locals; taking time to look at the “supply chain” of our travels and beginning to “ask more questions”. Much the same as is now being required within fast fashion, Juliet encouraged thinking about the people directly involved with each touch point within your travels, be it the hotel staff or restaurant waiters. 

Unlike Sophie’s solution of exploring closer to home, Juliet instead searches for ways in which to bring an anthropological and philanthropic focus to her travels. She described a trip to India that ended in a small, hole-in-the-wall café employing only female victims of acid attacks – a moment significantly more poignant than the earlier trip to tourist trap that is the Taj Mahal. Perhaps, rather than travel being a luxury that we can no longer environmentally afford, the means in which we experience the world should change. Juliet suggested that seeing the world as a whole can inspire people to make more conscious decisions of who and what we are investing our time and money in, noting the local effects of our tourism. 

For those of us with long distance families and homes, Shona Vertue highlighted the impossibility of avoiding travel, with her time (and heart) split between the UK and Australia. Her sustainability tip? Opt for direct flights, even if that does mean a 19 hour flight from London to Perth… More tips to travel better bounced between the panel, with Melissa highlighting the importance of not being enticed by hotel miniatures and unnecessary freebies, which are only going to encourage more plastics and more stuff. Juliet reiterated the notion of considering where you are going and both the positive and negative effects of tourism (or rather overtourism) on societies: “for every $100 spent on luxury travel, only $10 stays in the local area.” Juliet also suggest considering your “carbon foodprint” when travelling, with all you can eat buffets amounting in vast quantities of food waste. Instead, opt for local and seasonal produce, finding farmers markets or local restaurants with a focus on regional specialities. 

As per tradition, Melissa ended the discussion with each of the panelists suggested social media follows – who they follow for, in this case, eco-travel inspiration. Perhaps the most surprising suggestion came from Shona Vertue, who suggested we all follow NASA, the American space agency. Often described by astronauts as the “overview effect” there is a sense of awe and consequent responsibility that comes from seeing the planet as a whole entity. Though the sustainability credentials of space travel are few and far between…

Catch up on The Sustainability Sessions focusing on sustainable fashion, a happy career and clean beauty.

Read our ‘With Love From‘ series for travelling sustainably around the world. 

Inspired to travel more consciously? Discover some of these eco-resorts and hotels.