Holiday destinations are changing – are you up to date? asks Eloise Barker
Global heating is changing our world at an unprecedented rate. For tourists, travel advice is fast falling out of date as weather systems and seasons shift.
The World Meteorological Organisation has called extreme weather events the “new normal” in many holiday destinations. How does the average holidaymaker equate that to having a relaxing break?
Thinking about climate change doesn’t exactly put you in a holiday mood. But knowing how to “climate-proof” your next trip with updated advice is increasingly necessary.
Get up-to-date weather advice
Long-held knowledge about weather is being challenged by global heating. Last year, some European countries barely experienced autumn or spring – as summer weather prevailed for much of the year.
Monsoons in Asia are starting earlier and finishing later. Experienced Nepal trekking company Swotah Travel reported a shorter hiking season and incidents where travellers had had to wait out heavy rain in hotels, rather than walk.
Climate awareness has rocketed in recent years. Partly thanks to the Covid-19 epidemic, people are more attuned to their environment. If you want to know how weather patterns have been changing, speak to someone who’s living through them. Which brings us to:
Book with a local tour operator
Not only will local operators know the weather on their doorstep, they’ll also be adaptable. If there’s no snow, but you want to ski, they might have a friend in the next valley where the conditions are better. If a cycling route is blocked, they’ll know a better one.
Holiday operator Undiscovered Mountains, in the French Alps, drives its guests further afield when needed to find good snow for snowshoeing. Although based in the UK, Tasmanian Odyssey attributes its long list of local connections to being able to help out travellers in the country when a local bridge was washed away.
Research issues – and act on them
Water scarcity is an increasingly common problem, affecting everywhere from the Greek Islands to South Africa (Cape Town nearly ran out of water in 2018). In these places, it’s not enough to wash towels slightly less frequently. Reconsider that hotel with a pool.
Levendis Estate, an eco-conscious estate on Ithaca in the Ionion Sea, Greece, has a saltwater pool, harvests rainwater and recycles its grey water. South African reserves often harvest rainwater – but on a volunteer ranger holiday with Oyster Worldwide, you could also go and help dig watering holes for the animals.
Be flexible about your itinerary and activities
As the climate crisis builds, holidays with adaptable itineraries are likely to be a better bet. Some operators already adapt their tours to the weather. WearActive, which operates multi-activity winter holidays from high in Austria’s East Tyrol, changes its weekly programme according to the snow and the weather.
Be a witness to climate change
“Solastalgia”, a word coined in the early 2000s, describes the emotional distress that comes from environmental change. Lots of us are lucky enough not to see the worst of climate change in our day-to-day lives. It means that holidays can be eye-opening.
Secret Paradise, a Maldives holiday company, works with local marine charities, to explain to guests what they’re seeing below the water.
Be candid when you come home about what you see: whether that’s the bleached coral reefs in the Maldives or the reinforced coastline that shores up Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Get the right insurance
As far back as 2018, Squaremouth, a US travel insurer, noted that for its American customers, extreme weather concerns were set to surpass terrorism concerns.
Not all insurance providers will provide cancellation cover for the kind of natural catastrophes exacerbated by climate change, such as hurricanes, floods or landslides.
If you are planning on staying in a destination for longer, consider cancellation cover. This pays out if you booked before the disaster occurred, and if government advice, such as advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, advises against travel. “Cancel for Any Reason” cover provides even more flexibility.
Support holiday spots after weather events
It can be tempting to cancel a holiday if there’s been a weather event. But there’s a good argument for returning to destinations as soon as it’s safe.
Australian walking company Auswalk operates on the principle of trying to return to walking destinations as soon as they can to help local communities recover.
If all travel advice, including government advice, allows, reconsider your cancellation. Don’t expect airbrushed perfection after a wildfire or a flood and know that you’re getting a destination back on its feet at a time when it most needs tourism income.
Leave a low carbon footprint
You can minimise your contribution to climate change by reducing your holiday’s carbon dioxide emissions. When you fly, try to fly direct, and once you’re in your country of choice, avoid taking additional internal flights.
Travelling on the most modern planes and packing lightly also helps. And consider choosing an airline that uses a proportion of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).
One of the best carbon-lowering tactics is to eat less meat and dairy on your trip. There are plenty of hotels that run on sustainable energy.
El Geco Verde, an eco-lodge in Andalucia, Southern Spain, has a biomass heater that runs on discarded almond shells and olive stones. In Kerala, Southern India, you’ll find homestays using solar power for water heating, and transforming cattle dung into cooking gas.
While you bury your toes in the sand, don’t bury your head – a little more climate awareness can make a world of difference on your next trip.
Eloise Barker is a writer for Responsible Travel