If you find yourself looking for a walking holiday, you are most likely already committed to responsible rambling. Most of you will have also discovered the healing powers of putting one foot in front of the other, and agree with Shane O’Mara, author of the excellent book, In Praise of Walking, that science has proved “moving is medicine“. Medicine can have side effects, however, which is why we sometimes need to be reminded of some necessary precautions to keep in mind before partaking. Whether you are a committed outdoor adventurer or a newbie in our worldwide web of walking, here are a few ways to proceed with caution and respect.
Leave No Trace
The Leave No Trace (LNT) organisation promotes internationally recognised practices of protecting the environment while enjoying outdoor adventures. They have seven principles all of which seem like common sense, but they are still worth highlighting as a quick reminder: Prepare in advance; travel and camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste responsibly; leave what you find; minimise campfire impact; respect wildlife; and be considerate of others.
The first two are less applicable to our customers, as we do a lot of the preparation for you, but you always need to check weather forecasts of course. We don’t have many trips that have camping, except on some of our tough expeditions where you have a guide to lead the way and follow all the LNT principles. For the others, some of the points worth remembering are – don’t pick wildflowers, do pick your poo spot properly, and don’t upset others by making excess noise or being an irresponsible dog owner.
Keep on course
Do please stick to the waymarked trails. They have been carefully crafted by local experts, they respect local access laws, and they are selected in a way that avoids damage by erosion or important precious habitats. Our routes are checked regularly and, if a diversion is necessary, our local representative will advise you in advance but is also available 24/7 to reassure or redirect you.
Pants to plastic
Although many of us may be recycling experts, and know our polyethylenes from our polypropylene, in some parts of the world recycling still needs to be supported by government or understood. In short, avoid bringing single-use plastic into a country you are travelling to, remember to bring a reusable bag with you for shopping trips, and try not to buy anything with plastic while you are there, especially if it can’t be recycled. You can read more about the forward-thinking initiatives against the use of single-use plastic on Eryri, or Snowdonia in Wales here.
Many of our accommodations provide picnic lunches too, paid for locally, and we work closely with them to avoid single-use plastics when packaging them. We also recommend that you bring your own reusable sealable lunch box and backpack cutlery set. If you’re walking, get sporking.
On our small group tours, it’s important to trust, take notice of and tip your mountain leaders and support teams. They are superbly trained, passionate to the core and they put your life in their hands. They are also year-round stewards of some of our planet’s most spectacular natural heritage. In Nepal, for example, tipping can be a controversial issue because sadly, some porters aren’t paid, and rely on tipping. Rest assured that all our guides, assistant guides and porters are fully insured and paid a fair wage. And we still recommend tipping them. The amount is purely a personal matter but, in Nepal for example, we suggest a tip per day of $15-20 for your guide, $8-10 for your porter and $5-6 for assistants and other staff. These apply to the whole party, not per person.
‘It’s OK to throw the orange peel in the lake, isn’t it?’, said one traveller to a guide recently and yet, having asked, seemed perplexed when he was asked to hold on to it until he got to a waste bin. ‘But it’s biodegradable’ was his defence rather than just following the expert, who knows that orange peel can take at least six months to decompose, it’s not native to the region, it may have been sprayed with chemicals which then go into the water and affect wildlife, and so on. The same goes for all food leftovers. If in doubt, take it out.
It’s strange how many people who would never normally buy bottled water at home feel a need to buy it when travelling. Always ask your local representative on arrival whether you can drink tap water. In most European countries the H20 is good to go, so bring a reusable water bottle or a hydration backpack with you. Even better, invest in a filtered water bottle such as the sugarcane, plant-based plastic Water to Go one to ensure water is free of any toxins.
Swim with care
Many of our hikers are also keen wild swimmers and enjoy a cool down dip in a mountain lake, river or at the coast along the trail. We know it’s common sense, but always swim with care. Mountain rivers can be a lot faster than you think, with snowmelt speeding up rivers in countries like Albania as late as July sometimes. There can be rip currents on the coast that you aren’t aware of, so never swim alone and always swim parallel to the shore. Some local authorities don’t allow swimming to protect biodiversity or for natural hazards. If in doubt, just dip your toes and leave your swim for when there are others about. Here are some great tips on swimming safely in the wild.
On our winter walking holidays, such as in the Dolomites, it’s even more important than ever to stick to given trails while also being avalanche aware. Check for avalanche warnings every morning, and avoid being on steep slopes after a large snowfall. Stick to east and north-facing slopes when you can, and avoid south-facing snowy hills late in the day if there has been snowfall, as this is when the snow is most likely to break into slabs. Always walk with another person in backcountry areas in winter, and make sure you have your maps, compass and GPS. It’s also important to dress wisely in winter, even if the sun is shining, and pack plenty of layers. If it’s very cold, be wary of any signs of hypothermia, such as disorientation, shivering and loss of circulation in hands or toes.
It’s common sense to let wildlife do what they do best – be wild. Never feed them or fondle them, and don’t even go near them as it’s important that they feel comfortable in their habitats. Being bear aware is also an important part of being a responsible hiker in some parts of Europe, although they are still rare. The country where you are most likely to see them on our holidays is in Romania. Although their default status is to stay well clear of humans, they must never be provoked.
When walking through dense forest, make some noise so that bears know you are about, talking loudly, singing or clapping your hands from time to time. And avoid having a teddy bear’s picnic in remote, densely forested locations. In addition, check out Romania’s mountain safety organisation, Salvamont (also worthy of donations), and have their rescue number, 112, on your phone.
Wildfires are a risk during summer and autumn months throughout many parts of Europe now. Don’t light fires at all in the wilds on our holidays and don’t drop cigarette butts.
Beware of stalkers
We mean deer stalkers and, in particular in Scotland, where there is a season of stalking allowed by law between 1 July and 20 October, with a quiet season continuing on as late as 15 February. Our Scotland tours are on very established trails where you shouldn’t be walking into stalking territory, but it’s good to be aware of it just in case you come across notices. Check out this website which gives regular updates, information and maps of stalking activities.
Donate to protect
Wherever you choose to go on a walking holiday, it’s a wonderful gesture to donate to a charity that protects the flora, fauna, tracks and trails where you are going. In some cases, our representative on the ground can give advice on a conservation organisation that you can support but do take time on your return to seek one out. A one-off donation, or mentioning them on social media means so much to people who volunteer to keep things as we love to see them.
Some of our favourite charities include Scottish Wildlife Trust, Irish Wildlife Trust, Himalayan Trust UK, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, South West Coast Path, National Trust’s coastal appeal, National Trails donations and Rewilding Europe. If you find any locally that we should know about, and that we can share with fellow adventurers, please let us know.
Be a bit camera shy
When walking in remote, rural areas, you will come across an array of local people from shepherds to vintners, farmers to families, and it may be tempting to take photos. If you are a truly responsible traveller, you never take photos of anyone without asking their permission and, in particular, of children. We live in a photo-sharing culture, and sometimes it’s hard to resist, but just think how you would feel if someone took a photo of you at work or play, without asking you.
Hiking at high-altitude
Trust the experts if you start to feel unwell. Acclimatisation days are built into our Nepal, and Pakistan trekking holidays, for example, so that you can get used to the altitude, but sometimes you can just get unlucky. Mountain leaders recognise the signs quickly, and it’s vital to let them know if you have headaches or a shortening of breath so that they can assess the situation and act accordingly. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad hiker. It may just mean you have had bad luck.
Tips on ticks
Ticks can be a problem in many UK and European hiking destinations, so you do need to take precautions. Wear long sleeves and trousers, and tuck your trousers into hiking socks when possible. Lyme disease and Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE) are both tick-borne, so always check yourself fully after hiking and carry a tick remover with you too, so that you can catch them quickly. Symptoms include fever, headache, joint pains and body aches, often with a red rash. For less dangerous bugs, take a look at our blog, How to deal with midges in Scotland.
Lecture over and now let the fun begin! Please don’t hesitate to contact us about any of our walking holidays, and for more useful information, you may enjoy our blogs on How to prepare for a hiking trip, Everything you need to know about the Tour du Mont Blanc hike and Our top dog-friendly trips. We also invite you to take a look at our own responsible tourism principles and practices, although we too are still learning.