Something’s in the air. It might have started with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2. It certainly continued with Channel 4’s Orangutan Jungle School. And suddenly it’s the talk of the school playground.

If you’ve been aware of an increased environmental and social militancy amongst your children; suddenly find that Palm Oil has overtaken sugar as Enemy Ingredient Number One or have the Plastic Police in your house too, you are not alone! With this in mind, we thought we’d take the opportunity to have a think about ‘how we travel’ and how in this day and age, it’s every bit as important as ‘where we travel.’

Welcome to the rise and rise of the ‘conscious traveller.’

How to travel in 2019: The Attenborough Effect

This time last year, just how many people were aware of the devastating impact that plastics were having on our oceans and on the creatures which lived in them?

As the nation collectively tunes in to the latest David Attenborough masterpiece, Dynasties, it gives us pause to reflect on how his last television outing, Blue Planet 2, was a game changer. Not only exquisitely shot and phenomenally successful, the series was also immensely hard hitting.

One year on, the response to his programme has gone far beyond what he could have dared dream or hope. The issue of plastic in the oceans has been debated in parliament. It has impacted business policy. It has prompted more and more of us to be aware of plastic usage per se. And, it has impacted on the travel industry, from hotels and other accommodation providers, to tour operators and airlines.

But it’s not just about the big players. Everyone can do their bit. One of the greatest issues facing travellers is the necessity for safe drinking water. In one trip it’s possible to get through dozens and dozens of plastic bottles in the quest to stay hydrated. But increased pressure from travellers means that hoteliers and restaurateurs are starting to think about alternatives. They are starting to provide safe drinking water either in large water dispensers (still plastic but better than small bottles) or better still, purified water in glass containers.

For those times when it’s not possible to refill with fresh water, travellers can also consider a ‘Water To Go’ bottle which has its own built-in filter and can be filled from the tap or even from lakes and rivers as you travel (note: not salt water). This means you can refill any time from hotel taps, airport taps, restaurant taps, and be confident you are drinking clean water. The bottles come in 750ml and 500ml sizes and if you drank 2L a day through the larger one you wouldn’t need to replace the filter for around 3 months.

(If interested, please note that Stubborn Mule clients can get a 15% discount on all purchases with the code SMT15.)

Supporting these initiatives and asking for them when not provided all helps. It may not be the only answer, but it’s a great step in the right direction.

Conscious traveller blog - child collecting up plastic on the beach

Children have been some of the most inspired by the ‘plastic’ message

Don’t be palmed off by palm oil

If David Attenborough has raised the profile of plastic pollution, then congratulations to frozen foods supermarket chain Iceland (who knew?!) and Greenpeace for doing the same for Palm Oil production.

Whilst the TV ‘advert’ (watch here) was never actually ‘banned’ for its political content, it’s deservedly well on the way to becoming the most watched Christmas ad of all time, becoming a viral sensation and demonstrating that if an issue is important enough (and we’d argue that highlighting the Orangutan’s plight is infinitely more deserving than highlighting Elton John’s career), we as consumers will sit up and take note.

Certainly here in the Stubborn Mule office, our children are suddenly all talking about Palm Oil. It’s being discussed in school and the ‘ingredients’ section of food and cosmetic packaging is being scrutinised like never before. The orangutan is to the millennial, what the panda was to those of us growing up in the 80s and 90s. Its habitat is disappearing, its very existence is threatened and it’s creating a burgeoning protective instinct in our children.

At Stubborn Mule we are proud to support the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in northern Borneo and encourage travellers on our Borneo itineraries to visit the sanctuary and learn conservation in action.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - Conscious traveller

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is a Borneo highlight for many families

Walking the walk, talking the talk

Like the words in a stick of Blackpool rock, Stubborn Mule’s commitment to ethical travel runs through our core – and always has done.

From the accommodation we use to the travel guides we employ, we are always conscious of our impact on the people and places we travel to. Here’s how.

The simple fact is that some hotels across the world are much more pro-active about sustainability than others. Realistically, this is a work in progress and we are strong believers that hotels will change when they are pressured by their guests to do so. So do ask for purified water. Do question the use of individual bars of soap. Do ignore the single-use plastic toothbrush and discourage the children from secreting these into their bag!

Some hotels, however, just ‘get it’, and we enthusiastically support them and try to include them in our itineraries. For example, we’ve just added a tented camp in Cambodia’s Cardamom mountains whose tagline is, ‘Your stay keeps the forest standing.’ Quite literally, the presence of the camp deters illegal logging and helps preserve the pristine local habitat. What’s more, during your stay your family can assist wildlife rangers in setting up camera traps to keep an eye on the rare species that make Botum Sakor National Park their home, including the critically endangered Indochinese Tiger.

Other eco-lodges with similar conservation credentials include Gal Oya Lodge in Sri Lanka, Pu Luong Retreat in Vietnam, El Karama Eco-lodge in Kenya (where all single-use plastics are banned, soap is locally-made and you dine on organic home-grown produce) and an untouristy-homestay on Lake Titicaca, Peru.

Milking cow on Peru Home-stay

Let the kids experience everyday life on a homestay – breakfast will never be the same again!

The hard truth is that flying internationally already entails a fairly hefty carbon footprint. But for those wanting to offset this, we offer every local transport method available should you choose it. Take a bamboo raft downstream in Thailand’s mountainous north or use your own power on a cycling excursion through the Sacred Valley in Peru. Eschew a large motorised cruise ship on the Nile and plump for a wind powered felucca to navigate down the Nile. Take to your own two feet in the Himalayas or make the most of paddle-power on a kayaking adventure off Namibia’s coast. It’s all a step in the right direction.

This is our moment! This is where we (and you) really can make a conscious difference, choosing activities that are not only hugely fun but also sustainably run. This might mean helping to map animal movements in a private game reserve in South Africa or monitoring panda poo consistency (oh yes…) at a panda reserve in China. You might be visiting a recycling plant in a remote part of Costa Rica (so very much more interesting than it sounds) or enjoying dinner at a ‘grow local, eat local’ eaterie in Cambodia.

We are constantly scouring our destinations to find exciting new family travel experiences that are genuinely sustainable whilst at the same time contributing towards providing you with an unforgettable holiday.

Find out more about Stubborn Mule’s Commitment to Responsible Travel or call us to discuss how we can make your trip more responsible.