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Go wild, not crazy – how to swim responsibly on your travels

Go wild, not crazy - how to swim responsibly on your travels

Some people make fun of the term ‘wild swimming’ saying that ‘back in the day’ this is what we just called swimming. However, when you’re on one of our walking or cycling holidays and decide to dig out your swimming gear from your pannier or daypack, the chances are you’re dipping into some pretty wild waters. You may be tempted to immerse yourself into the cold waters of Loch Lomond on our West Highland Way walking holiday. Or strip off in the Salzkammergut Lake District in Austria, and even slip into the glacial waters of Xhemes Lake in Albania’s Valbona National Park. For warmer wading, our Greek Islands’ holidays are laden with secret coves, as is the Lycian Way in Turkey. Whether you’re swimming in 12C or 20C, you do need to follow a strict set of rules. Some are obvious and others may be new to you, especially if you’re a pool swimmer for most of the year. On our adventure holidays, we want you to go wild, but we really don’t want you to go crazy. 

Floating on your back is not only bliss in the big blue, it’a also the best way to swim if you get into difficulty.

Swim responsibly on the coast

Find a lifeguarded beach

Ask your accommodation providers or our representative on the ground for details of safe swimming beaches. Or, as you have your itinerary well in advance, you can do some research and plan your swims before you go. 

Tides and times

Always check beaches for swimming safety information and check a tide app, such as My Tide Times, which covers 9,000 tidal stations across 40 countries. It’s best to avoid a high tide if you don’t know a location well, as there may be concealed rocks, strong currents and the water gets deep quickly, which can be more risky for less experienced swimmers. 

Check for rip tides

Take a look at the shoreline and assess it before swimming. Rips are strong currents that tuck themselves into the waves, and can be faster than champion swimmers, so you need to be aware of them. They often occur in strong surf, but also in estuaries and around groynes or piers. Always swim parallel to shore to avoid them and, if you get stuck in one, swim to either side of it to escape its pull. There is excellent information on rip currents at RNLI

It’s just not cool to break the rules.

Invest in a tow-float

If you like to swim a distance and not just dip, it’s really worth investing in a tow-float, especially one with an internal pocket to put your phone in, so you can call for help if you or your swimming buddy get into difficulties. This is especially important if you are travelling solo, although you are always wise to swim with a buddy. It also makes you visible to other water users, as does a brightly coloured bathing hat. 

Join a community swim

If you are staying around an area for a couple of days and want to swim, look online to see if there’s a community swimming group that you can join for a local swim. They are always welcoming to visitors and encourage safe swimming at all times. You’ll also enjoy a good local community experience on your travels. 

Swim parallel to the shore

If you don’t know the area, and have no local people to gain information from, swimming within your depth, parallel and close to the shore, and with a swimming buddy, is always going to be the best option. 

Swimming shoes

As well as being more comfortable on stony beaches if you’re doing a coastal swim, they can also give you a better grip if getting in and out of lake and river edges. So if you’re contemplating regular dips on holiday, pop a pair in your backpack. For sea swimming, they also protect you from sea urchins of course. 

Cold water techniques

Never underestimate the impact of cold water (less than 15C) and always enter the water slowly while breathing deeply, letting your body adjust gently to the temperature change. Some people even start their breathing before they get to the water’s edge, breathing in for a count of four and out for six to eight counts. If you have a heart condition, always seek the advice of a medical practitioner in advance. Be sure to warm up your core immediately afterwards, getting changed quickly, having a warm drink and wearing more layers than you think you might need. Serious cold water swimmers don’t go anywhere without their hot water bottles to warm up with after their swims, and they know their stuff. 

Seal encounters

If you are lucky enough to have the magical experience of coming close to a seal while swimming, breathe deeply, remain calm and remember that they will just be curious. Always keep your distance in order to reduce your impact on them, and staying a minimum of 100m but 200m is ideal. Then swim away slowly and quietly. 

Swim parallel to the shore and in a way that you can be seen.

Swim responsibly in lakes and rivers

Many of the same rules apply with lakes and rivers, especially with cold water, however there are a few additional points to take on board in order to swim responsibly. 

Avoid deep and cold bodies of water

Unless they are supervised, quarries and reservoirs are often deep and cold all year round, and best avoided. If you are swimming in a lake, then stay close to the shore, as it may get deeper and a lot colder as you go further in. If you think the river is too fast-flowing, always trust your instincts and resist the urge to dive in. You may not be able to get out of the water further downstream, but if you are confident, make sure you assess the river banks to ensure that an exit point is possible. 

Find a swimming beach

Many of our walking or cycling holidays take you along river fronts or to lakelands, whether it’s Cycling down the Danube or the Rhône, or walking along the Rhine or the Douro. However, these long, fast-flowing rivers are seldom places to swim safely, as being pulled under is also a serious risk, unless you’re using a well-established public infrastructure. Such as floating downstream in Basel on the Rhine, which you could combine with this cycling holiday, between Basel and Strasbourg. Or the Rhine lido, Rheinstrandbad, in Konstanz, which features on most of our Lake Constance tours

With lakelands such as Austria’s Salzkammergut, there are supervised swimming beaches at Gosauseen, Hallstättersee, Wolfgangsee and Mondsee. Or in Denmark’s Silkeborg Lake District (Søhøjlandet), there is a good swimming infrastructure at Julsø, Brassø and Sminge. In Rila National Park, famous for its seven stunning lakes, swimming is not allowed by the national park authorities, and the same applies to Plitviče Lakes National Park in Croatia in order to protect its biodiversity. 

If you like river swimming, Basel may just float your boat.

Step by step

When entering a lake or river, always put one foot on the river bed slowly, only placing the next foot down when you’re sure you have a good foothold. And don’t cross on logs as they can have dangerous currents flowing underneath them. Don’t swim near weirs or where there is a fast-flowing stretch of water in a river. And never jump in from a height, such as from a bridge or a boat. 

Stay away from fishing areas

Apart from the fact that fishers often aren’t a fan of swimmers, you don’t want to get hurt by a hook while swimming, so it’s best to leave fishers in peace, especially as they are usually established members of a local community who value their quiet space. 

Water-friendly sunscreen

It may be a bit of a pain to source a marine-friendly sunscreen, but if you like to don a mask and see what delights lie under the surface, then you might also like to look under the lid of your sunscreen and other cosmetics. Why? Because some of the chemicals in sun lotions can have a seriously negative impact on coral reefs. In particular, they cause bleaching, and ultimately, the killing of the reefs. Hawaii are changemakers in this regard and have banned sunscreens containing reef-wrecker chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Unfortunately you may not be able to buy a marine-safe product locally, so this is one you may have to get before you go. See our sunscreen blog for more details. 


For more articles that ensure you travel safely and responsibly, you may like to dip into the following blogs: Hiking safety tips in mountain landscapes, Tips on walking responsibly and Responsible travel photography tips. If swimming is an all important part of any natural adventure, check out our blogs on Our best coastal cycling tours, Our best coastal walking tours, Wild swimming spots in Scotland and Idyllic island walking holidays.