Category Archives: Responsible Travel:

Some thoughts about travel for Earth Day 2012

Today is Earth Day.

My personal wish for Earth Day is for transparent, understandable sustainability metrics introduced for the travel industry. It would allow me, or any other like minded consumer to assess the full ecological, cultural and socio-economic impact of our travel plans before we commit to buying. I am glad there are companies out there selling responsible travel. However, when some of these companies are pushed to supply carbon and water footprints, or the percentage of the travel spend that stays in the local community the information supplied is often lacking.
River and snow covered mountain

Some commentators, including some working in the responsible travel sector say that travel is a diverse complicated product and imply that it would be nearly impossible to produce metrics.

It would be wrong to say that it that the metrics are impossible to produce. I quote Clarke’s First and Second Laws:

Clarke’s First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Clarke’s Second Law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Arthur C Clarke

Like any scientific challenge the it is possible to calculate the figures. True, carbon and ecological footprints have not been calculated for every service and product. However, homes now have energy ratings. The apartment I am living in while on vacation in Chamonix has energy ratings displayed in traffic light format from A – G. The offset companies seem to have no problems working out carbon footprints, when they feel they can benefit financially. If one travel company set the standard, others would follow.  Why not start with some of the easily measured metrics like energy, water consumption and then move on to food? Assessing the carbon footprint of a flight is not difficult, just look at any carbon offsetting company’s websites for information. Ferry and cruise companies don’t publish their figures.  If their carbon footprint figures were good, wouldn’t they be using them to promote sales in the same was as railways and buses?

The task will be most difficult when carried out for the first time, but afterwards producing the metrics will be no more onerous than producing the annual report and accounts.

A good example of a carbon footprint study is SNCF’s study for the construction and operation of the TGV Rhin-Rhône line. It is an excellent case study that  clearly demonstrates how the carbon footprint is calculated for an extremely complex operation.  IC Hotels publish the average carbon footprint of their rooms in their CSR report. I expect to see more reporting like this in the future. Not only will it help consumers decide which travel products they will spend their money on, but it will be a massive driver for improvement across the industry.

Beware of the supermarket plastic bag distraction ploy, they make a massive show of phasing out single use plastic carrier bags.  The ecological footprint of a single use plastic bag is one thousandth of that of the goods that they carry. So millions of consumers feel they are making a big impact by using reusable carrier bags. I’m in agreement that they should be phased out, as they cause a catalogue of misery in the environment, but if we forget the other nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths, the impact is almost negligible. But the way we look at the “throwaway culture” may be changed far more significantly.  Phasing them out has benefited supermarkets financially, this was also a driver.

Likewise, some travel companies point to one aspect of their services giving it a huge significantce.  Of course it probably does make a difference, but is it just a thousandth of the total impact of that travel package?

Isn’t it about time we were all a bit more ambitious when setting our goals for the future, to make sure that we have one at least as good as the present? We need to look at the other nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths.  But to do that we need more facts we can relate to, as opposed to publicity stunts.

Food for thought.

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Discovering Evasion Mont Blanc and evasive buses

One of the added bonuses of a Chamonix Season Lift Pass, is the chance to discover three other winter resorts in Haute-Savoie. The next big winter station down the valley is  Evasion Mont Blanc, a series of linked resorts including St Gervais, Megeve, Combloux and La Giettaz. In all 445 km of pistes. This is a photo essay of Evasion Mont Blanc. The photos are all from the ski area, not the story of the journey there and back. If you are not interested in bus journeys that don’t turn out as planned, just skip the text and enjoy the photos. I will be submitting this post for #MonPics on Twitter as they were all taken this weekend.

At the booking office in Chamonix, I booked a return bus ticket to Megeve, leaving Chamonix station at 7am the following day. Unfortunately the girl who issued my ticket got a lot of things wrong, as I would find out as the discovery day progressed.

Panorama from Mont Joux
Panorama from Mont Joux

Amazingly, I managed to get up at 6am and drag myself to the station for 6h45. Boarding the bus for Chamonix, I was told that I’d have to change at Le Fayet which sounded reasonable, as the destination matrix on the bus indicated that it was bound for Geneva Airport.  The bus departed on time and 5 minutes later, stopped at the Bus Stop outside my apartment. I could have saved a 15 minute walk if only I’d asked!

Piste with Mont Blanc backdrop
Piste with Mont Blanc backdrop

Arriving at Le Fayet, the lady in the ticket office pointed out that there was no service to Megeve on Saturdays. I asked if the bus passed the Télécabine at St Gervais and was told no. She explained that I could get there though. So unconcerned, I boarded the 8h30 bus to Les Contamines. At St Gervais I caught the free ski bus to the lift. I presented my documentation at the cash desk and my  pass was activated for Evasion Mont Blanc, or so I thought.

Mont Blanc from Mont Joux
Mont Blanc from Mont Joux

I boarded the lift and started exploring the area. It was bitterly cold with tiny ice crystals floating in the air and glistening in the sun like diamonds. Certainly no hidden gems that day. Up on the top of the mountains the view over the cloud filled valleys was magnificent.

Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois
Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois

Throughout the day, I stopped more than is usual for me, to get some photos of the views. Many had Mont Blanc and the rest of the peak of the Mont Blanc Massif as a backdrop, but the Aravis and other mountain chains also figured. From here the lofty heights of the summit of Mont Blanc can be appreciated more than in Chamonix, where the closer, lower peaks look much taller  from the bottom of the Chamonix Valley.

Moguls at Megeve
Moguls at Megeve

Managing to time my lunch with my arrival at Megeve, so that I could eat it on the resort ski bus, I made my way to Jaillet.  At Jaillet Télécabine, the electronic pass reader rejected my pass and so I enquired at the cash desk about what the problem was. The cashier informed me that my pass had only been activated for the St Gervais ski area. She could do nothing about it as a different lift company operated this sector of Evasion Mont Blanc. I chose to return to Megeve and keep exploring the St Gervais area.

Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois
Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois

After a day of riding, I caught the 17h30 bus back to Le Fayet. This was exactly the time the bus to Chamonix called at Le Fayet. I managed by catching the train to Chamonix,  but had to pay 5.10 euros for a train ticket. Sometimes though, travel plans going wrong don’t spoil your day, or am I just speaking for myself?

There are more photos of Evasion Mont Blanc (minus Combloux and La Giettaz obviously) in the gallery. Some are 3D anaglyphs requiring Red / Cyan glasses to appreciate the 3D. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger photo size.

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

How will an oil crunch affect travel?

Dr Birol of the International Energy Agency (IEA) now admits that we have passed peak conventional crude oil. After saying for years, that we are nowhere near peak oil, he now says that the IEA thinks that conventional crude peaked five years ago. Dr Birol says that governments should have been planning for this ten years ago. What have they been doing?
In the UK, predicting a doubling of air passengers by 2030 and planning for a third runway for Heathrow and a second runway for Stansted. The cancelling of plans for the Heathrow third runway by the new government seems obvious in light of the predicted oil supply in 2030. Yet, I still see plans being wheeled out for concepts such as the Aerotropolis.

The travel industry will increase its fuel surcharges, but the problem extends to all of the products that rely on cheap oil but the real hard hitter will be fertilisers and food. All of these will rise in price. With the scarcity of supply driving prices up, the price of oil is hardly likely to drop unless the recession bites again. Take a look at this video where a Dr Birol is interviewed and even Richard Branson is shown discussing an impending oil crunch.

Do you think we will still be able to fly around the world for less than £1000 / $1500, in five years time?

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Delightful decimal serendipity

Florentine piazza
My most memorable travel moments were unplanned and beautifully unexpected.

1. Arriving in an Irish village, wet, hungry and thirsty after a day’s walking. Entering the first pub, to find it was Paddy Burke’s.

2. Relaxing on a balmy June day, in a Florentine Piazza, watching a man wash his clothes under the drinking fountain, then draping them on the railings to dry.

3. Giving a student a lift to his home in Chamonix, then sharing tea, meringues and Gruyère cream with his family.

4. Discovering Annecy, when my sleeper train to Chamonix was cancelled due to a strike. The rescheduled itinerary involved a wait there.

5. Staying in a Swiss family’s Martigny apartment, later enjoying a locally sourced banquet at a 50th birthday celebration.

6. Ignoring rain and fog at Chamonix to experience one of the best days of my life riding fresh powder snow high up in the mountains.

7. Climbing Scafell through snow laden clouds, following a Saturday morning working away from home. Summiting in zero visibility, the clouds parted for the sun to illuminate the magnificent Lake District vista.

8. Seeking somewhere to eat in Rauentahl, Germany when all the restaurants were closed. Invited by locals into a garage behind a house, to join the community feasting.

9. Singing along to an Oompah Band playing “Smoke on the Water”, while standing on trestle tables and benches at Oktoberfest.

10. Finding Telč a UNESCO listed town, tourist free, on a sunny July afternoon.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

OXFAM Fair Trade Breakfast

Breakfast in BrusselsEach November, in Wallonia and Brussels OXFAM Magasins du Monde host breakfasts at school canteens and cafeterias. Last Saturday and Sunday the 20th and 21st November, we were among the 39,200 diners. The event has been run for the last nineteen years now, but this was only my second OXFAM breakfast. It raises money for the charity as well as showcases the high quality range of foods the shops sell here in Belgium.

We regularly purchase their fruit juices, coffee, chocolates and the like. It was good to discover some of their breakfast cereals as well. I was very impressed by the baguettes with quinoa, unfortunately bread is not normally sold in the shops.

OXFAM Breakfast

Revised 18 February 2011, for #FriFotos on Twitter.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Car free Sunday in Brussels

Between the hours of 9am and 7pm, for one Sunday, each September, cars are banished from within the Brussels Outer Ring Road. All of the buses, trams and metro are free. The only cars allowed are those belonging to the Emergency Services and taxis. A number of events are staged around the city. Including the laying of turf and trees in large pots, on Place Royale in front of the Palace for a large picnic and farmers market and eco exhibition.
This weekend is one of the best to visit Brussels, especially if you wish to hire one of the city’s bicycles from the Villo! Bike share scheme as you will be a lot safer on the road.

I posted this video on YouTube. It gives a some idea of what the day is like.

But then found this video from the 2009 event, of longboarders enjoying a car free Avenue Tervuren, I really enjoyed watching it.

Usually, there are also some Braderies on the streets, where locals (and some traders) spread out anything they want to sell on the street.

St Boniface Braderie

Other Car Free Days are staged in cities as diverse as Amsterdam and Bogota. There is campaign to try to get a Car Free Day for London. What is the situation in your city or country?

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

10 Winter Sports safety tips

The last of my Top Ten Winter Sports Tips will look at Safety. It may not be as sexy as saving money or the environment, but nevertheless it is important.  It is a controversial subject following the untimely death of the actress Natasha Richardson earlier in 2009. However, safety is little more than common sense. Don’t read these tips as a must do list. They are advice, you are free to disagree, or ignore them, but if you do and get injured, then please don’t go claiming off your insurance and pushing up my Winter Sports Premiums!

  1. If you are a learner skier or snowboarder, then get lessons. Learn the FIS Code. You can get lessons at home on a dry ski slope or indoor ski slope. That way you will learn in your own language and be ready for action at the resort.

    Winter sports

  2. Get fit before you go. This will reduce your risk of accident by strengthening your muscles, You will also not tired so quickly on the pistes.

  3. Use correctly fitting skis and snowboards. Lots of accidents occur because people borrow equipment from friends. Skis and snowboards and boots need to be matched to the user.

  4. Wear the right clothing and and other safety gear depending upon your activity. The most obvious requirement is clothing suitable for the predicted weather conditions. Helmets, wrist protectors, impact shorts and back protectors can save some nasty injuries.

  5. Read up on the weather forecast and follow the advice at the resort regarding avalanche risk.

  6. If you intend riding off piste, then get trained in avalanche awareness and the use of transceivers, probes and shovels to locate buried riders. Take a trained guide with you.

  7. Don’t forget sunscreen for your face. The thinner atmosphere and reflections off the snow mean that it is very easy to get sunburn to exposed skin.

  8. Take plenty of water / drinks and high energy food / snacks with you, when you go riding.

  9. Try to ride with friends so that you can look out for each other. Put the number of the Piste Rescue into your mobile phone along with the number of who they should contact “In Case of Emergency ” (store as ICE).

  10. Make sure you have adequate insurance. If you are the wrong side of the marker poles, you may not be covered. A helicopter rescue can cost 20,000 Euros, so check beforehand and carry a copy of the cover with you.

There are a lot more points that I could add, but above all have fun!

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

10 tips for protecting the environment on a Winter Sports break

Following on from my Ten Tips to save money on a Winter Sports break. Here are my Top Ten Tips for protecting the environment when taking to the slopes

Avoriaz Shuttle
Avoriaz Shuttle

on skis or snowboards. Winter Sports are one form of travel most under threat from Climate Change. Lets take responsibility for our travel:

  1. Choose a resort that makes the environment a priority. Mountain Riders publish a guide that rates each resort on a number of environmental criteria. You can consult it online when making your plans.

  2. Try to avoid flying to the resort. You can go by rail, or even bus to most resorts in Europe. If you go by car, then it is best to take a fuel efficient one with 3 or more passengers.

  3. Use public transport instead of your own car at the resort. Many resorts have free shuttle buses.

  4. Don’t leave the heating on full when you are not in your apartment, chalet or hotel. Rooms will heat up fast, once you return.

  5. Short showers use less hot water and therefore less energy than long baths.

  6. Buy local, in season produce when shopping for food. The energy expended getting exotic food to a ski resort can be huge.

  7. Don’t litter use the bins provided. Get a portable ash can for cigarettes – one cigarettes stub can pollute a cubic metre of water.

  8. In many of the French Ski resorts the supermarket chain Sherpa offers to take back unused tinned and boxed food. Preventing waste and saving money.

    Recycling bins
    Recycling bins
  9. Try to purchase environmentally friendly, ski and snowboard equipment and clothes. Also use environmentally friendly waxes. Don’t throw away your gear at the end of the season. Sell it on ebay or give to others to help cut down the waste.

  10. Segregate your rubbish and use the recycling facilities provided at most resorts.

I could add some more, like; share a shower with someone sexy, but this list is a Top Ten!

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Travel and Farming in Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire Coast
Pembrokeshire Coast path

Last week in Wales, while walking parts of the Pembrokeshire Coast , I took along a 2008 edition “coast to coast” a free newspaper published by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It has the bus timetables and other very useful information for anyone walking parts or the whole of the coastal trail. Reading it one evening, I came across an article  discussing how agriculture on the path had changed over the time the Park has been in existence. It made some disturbing reading.

Twenty five years ago the path went through 33 dairy farms and 31 potato farms. Today the figure is 4 of each. Other statistical information presented included the fact that on average, in 1950 the sale of one fat lamb would provide a week’s wages. Now it takes the sale of six fat lambs to provide the same income in real terms.

I would not be at all surprised if this picture was repeated throughout the UK and Europe. Farming practices have always been subject to change and another statistic highlights this – in 1980 just 0.3% of the farms were organic, while today some 7% are.

Why do you feel farming has changed in Pembrokeshire? Do you feel that it has changed for the better?

The article suggests that we as consumers or visitors top the area can help support small family farms by:

  • buying locally grown produce
  • buying from farmers’ markets
  • returning to stay in Pembrokeshire
  • Supporting local farm enterprise

Do you have any tips to add to the above list?

Reference “coast to coast” published by the Pembrokeshire National Park Authority. Copies of the 2009 edition can be found in most Tourist Offices in Pembrokeshire.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

I did Prague?

While waiting to be served at a Cardiff Restaurant last week, I couldn’t help overhearing the large party on the adjacent table, discussing the merits of European cities they had visited. They were talking loudly, probably because they wanted the rest of the group to hear. One woman said “I did Prague”. The expression grated with me.
Prague is a wonderful city. It deserves more than to be “done”. Hearing this made me ponder why I travelled there in 2003.

It was a period of my life when everything seemed to be going wrong. I went because it had all but beckoned me through books, films and even pop videos. The experience was truly therapeutic.

I stayed in a cheap hostel with Soviet Era plumbing in the communal wash room. I walked, took the metro and trams all over the city. I ate with locals at cafés in the suburbs avoiding the tourist restaurants in the Old Town and city centre. I had many conversations with Czech locals and Russian Ex pats living in Prague. I even went to the Opera twice.

But did I do Prague?

My week in the city gave me a very small idea of what life was about in the city. The Museum of Communism gave another another insight. Inside in a display case were little lumps of lead and other heavy metals. The explanatory caption explained that the quantities shown were the average amounts breathed in over a year by a Czech inhabitant.

Shocking!

But is it any more shocking than flying out to Prague for a drunken Hen / Stag Party or flying there just to be able to say; “I did Prague”?

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.