City travelers, here’s our latest interview with world’s most inspiring travel bloggers, sharing their favorite city destination and travel experiences. Meet Ellie Cleary of award-winning Soul Travel Blog.
Ellie, tell us a bit about yourself and your blog: why did you decide to focus your professional career on travel blogging? How did it all start?
I got my first taste of experiential travel through voluntourism – ironically enough – through paying to volunteer as an English teacher back in 2005 in Cambodia. I saw first hand the less than good impact that travel can have, despite the best of intentions. From that point I became very aware of the impact of my actions as a traveller.
Travel has always been part of my work: I spent 10 years working on the more ‘corporate’ side of tourism: 4 years in hotels and 6 years with the world’s largest online travel agency, managing their relationships with the big hotel chains.
I started Soul Travel Blog as a part-time initiative, out of a frustration that not enough was being done to promote responsible, sustainable ways of travelling – certainly not in the mainstream. Since summer 2016 I am a full-time blogger and freelance writer in the sustainable travel space.
What makes Soul Travel Blog special? What is it about?
Soul Travel Blog is born from the belief that travel is good, and that it offers incredible opportunities for our own personal growth. It also offers opportunities to connect with different cultures, to understand them better, and to bring social and economic benefits to countries that need it.
The trouble is, travel often does not deliver on these promises. Mass tourism has become the norm and the experience is no more enriching for the traveller than it is for the majority of people at the destination.
With a projected growth of travellers to up to 1.8bn internationally by the year 2030, the current environmental (and social) impact of travel is not sustainable.
So the aim of Soul Travel Blog is to help spread awareness of what responsible travel is – how everyone can do it – and how to turn travel back into a win-win situation, where tourism has a positive impact on destinations as much as it does for the traveller. I believe in straight-forward, solution-oriented tips and recommendations to make responsible travel easy, and that’s what you’ll find on the blog: no vague/idealistic concepts or “greenwashing”.
Your best city trip so far? Why?
Amsterdam is like a second home for me. I lived there for 6 years but still see the city in the eyes of a foreigner and visitor. What I love most about it is that sustainability and sustainable innovation are second nature to the Dutch.
Once you get away from the overcrowded area around Dam square and Amsterdam central station, you’ll find many options for staying in eco-friendly hotels that are doing much to reduce their environmental impact. You can even take part in clean-up activities, fishing for plastic in the canals, to do your bit!
Your tips for city travelers heading the same way?
Head away from the city centre and the touristy canal cruises. Go for a canal trip with a difference with Plastic Whale instead. Conscious Hotels are, well… as conscious as they come and are doing more than their bit to be sustainable. Their three properties are Vondelpark, Museum Square and The Tire Station.
For a true glimpse into sustainable living, take a trip to the other side of the River Ij, to visit De Ceuvel – a sustainable living experiment and cafe.
As a professional travel blogger, what makes a city worth visiting for you?
There are two types of trips for me. One is travelling to well-known, established destinations and showing how visiting them can be done in a sustainable, responsible way. For instance: it is possible to travel to Venice in a way which is positive for the city as well as for us travellers. It’s a question of knowing where to go (and what to avoid).
The second is going far off the beaten track to places which struggle to attract tourists, suffer from prejudices against them (Iran is a recent example), and to show what travel in these places feels like, and how tourism can be done in a way that benefits locals there.
Five ingredients for the perfect city trip?
Authenticity, people, culture, Eco-friendliness, and sunshine!
Which gadgets or apps are essential companions for a modern city traveler?
I wouldn’t be without my Klean Kanteen refillable water bottle. Bottled water is one of the biggest rip offs ever created, not to mention the plastic waste. It’s amazing how often you can get tap water or filtered water for free.
I love visit.org, a platform showcasing responsible travel experiences. I’ve used them in London and in Asia, and been able to immerse myself in parts of a destination I never would have heard about otherwise.
BookDifferent.com is a great site for booking hotels. They have handy filters where you can choose hotels with eco-labels only, and also show the carbon footprint of your trip and where you stay.
Would you consider yourself a responsible traveler? And do you have advice on how to travel responsibly and environmentally friendly?
I try my best to travel in a way which brings benefit. I’m not perfect – nobody is – but the effort to travel more responsibly goes a long way. Some of the tips I have written about on the Soul Travel Blog:
- Use a refillable water bottle and avoid plastic.
- Take the train (or bus) instead of flying, if you possibly can. The journeys make for great stories too. One of my favourite trips from last year was Amsterdam to Lisbon by train.
- Read up on a destination before going. Forewarned is really forearmed, and a basic understanding of the culture plus a smattering of the local lingo will help connect you to the country you’re visiting. I always use Lonely Planet guides, which now also include recommendations on sustainability.
Your key insights from traveling the world?
Travel is still a luxury and let’s not forget it. It’s easy to think that everyone can travel, but that is far from true. “Bad Passport” countries make it very hard for their citizens to travel internationally – having to apply for expensive visas and present references for everywhere they want to go. Not to mention cost.
For those of us lucky enough to be able to travel, we have a duty to appreciate it, make the most of it and make sure our impact is a good one.
Your advice for city travelers on a tight budget?
Travel during off season or shoulder season and avoid weekends, if you can. In popular, established destinations book well in advance for the best deals.
Travel slow by using local transport. Travel to cheaper parts of the world, and give CouchSurfing a try: have a local show you a different side to your destination!
Thank you, Ellie – and safe travels!
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