10 August 2019


A low impact holiday

Going on holiday doesn’t mean we have to (or should) press pause on our efforts to live more sustainably. 

For our family holiday this year, we chose to spend a week visiting family in Bristol and North Devon. It’s the longest we’ve been away from home since Sophie was born. That posed a few challenges but I was determined to try have a low impact holiday.

Our decision to stay in the UK and visit family, rather than fly to sunnier climes, was just as much about budget and convenience as it was about reducing our impact on the planet. 

Now we have a kid, going on holiday is not as straightforward as it used to be. We wanted to make this trip as stress-free as possible. Also, because I’m not working (I quit my job to be a stay-at-home-mum), we needed to keep costs down.

Planning a low impact holiday

There are 3 main decisions we make when planning a holiday:

  • where to go (location)
  • how to get there
  • where to stay (accommodation)

These choices hold far more weight when you’re trying to plan a low impact holiday.

For us, deciding to go to Devon for our holiday was a no brainer. It’s a beautiful county with a stunning coastline. We’re lucky that I’ve got family down there, so we were able to stay with my aunt. This not only kept the cost down but meant we’d get to spend some quality time with family we don’t get to see as often as we’d like. My aunt has a beautiful house in a quiet village, so we were looking forward to getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Sustainable travel

How to get there was the trickiest decision to make. Neither of us drive, so our ‘go to’ mode of long-distance transport is the train. Sustainability aside, there are so many benefits to travelling by train over car. Such as the freedom to get up and walk about, and go to the toilet, whenever you need to.

It’s not necessarily the easy option though, especially when you have a lot of stuff to lug around with you. We’ve pretty much got travelling by train with a toddler and loads of stuff down to a fine art. I know from experience that travelling with a baby/toddler on your own is more challenging (but do-able). I can only imagine how much harder it would be with more than one dependant (even with 2 adults).

On top of that, rail fares in this country are some of the highest in Europe. Even with a Two Together railcard, which gives the bearers a third off all rail fares, getting the train all the way to Devon and back was going to cost over £200. More than our budget could allow.

Charlie looked into flights and found we could have saved at least £50 by flying. However, that didn’t take into account getting from the airport to my aunt’s, which is not a short distance. Besides, it would have to be a much bigger saving to make me take an internal flight. One of the biggest things we can do to reduce our impact on the planet is to fly less. Flying when there’s another option (and you can afford to), doesn’t make for a low impact holiday, in my book.

We chose to get return train tickets to Bristol and spend the first night at my cousin’s house. My aunt works in Bristol, so we planned to travel the rest of the way with her the next day. Another cousin decided to visit my aunt the same weekend we were there. She offered us a lift back to Bristol (as she lives nearby), which we gladly accepted. We then spent 2 nights in self-catering accommodation in Bristol city centre before getting the train home.

Travelling by car is not a sustainable option (unless it’s an electric/hybrid vehicle). However, when you’re on a budget, sometimes you do have to compromise. Car sharing is one way to minimise the impact.

One tired little girl after a long day of travelling by train and car
One tired little girl after a long day of travelling by train and car

Preparing and packing

I remember when we could go on holiday with just a rucksack each. We once went on a 2 week Interrail trip around part of Europe with just that. By the way, if you want to see lots of different places but also want a low impact holiday, I highly recommend this.

Having a baby changed things. 

Though we still try to travel as light as possible, there were two bulky items we needed to take. The travel cot and the car seat. If staying in paid accommodation, it’s fairly easy to find somewhere that provides a cot these days. As my aunt doesn’t have one, we didn’t bother looking for accommodation in Bristol that provided one. You can rent a car seat but, as we were trying to keep costs down, this wasn’t an option for us. 

We managed to fit a weeks worth of clothes for all 3 of us into 2 rucksacks. The car seat and travel cot were strapped to a camping trolley. Asides from that, we had a few carrier bags hanging on the pushchair and a few bits in the compartment underneath. 

We hoped that we’d be lucky and be able to leave the trolley and pushchair up in a vestibule area on the train – and we were (phew!). On previous journeys, we’ve had to take them down and stow them in the luggage racks. This does make the journey a bit more difficult (but not impossible).

Reusable nappies on holiday

Besides travel, the biggest thing for me was taking Sophie’s reusable wipes and nappies. We use cloth nappies during the day and disposables at night. The easy thing to do when going away would be to just take disposables but I didn’t want to compromise on this.

I’ve been away with Sophie quite a few times since we switched to cloth nappies but only for a few days at a time, so I was able to take enough cloth nappies to last the whole trip. This time, as we were going away for a week, we’d run out of nappies even if we took all of them with us. Luckily we were staying somewhere with a washing machine. I checked with my aunt that she’d be happy for me to wash the nappies in it – and she was. Problem solved! We took enough disposable nappies for night times, plus a few extra just in case.

Because we were staying with family, I was confident that we’d be able to keep our waste to a minimum. The same goes for self-catering holidays, depending on what the shops in the area are like. If you drive to your destination you can take a lot of food with you. Less so if travelling by train but you could still take a few staples.

On the first day of our trip, we took a packed lunch and snacks for the train journey, as well as reusable water bottles (filled) and my reusable coffee cup. We did the same on our journey home to Sheffield. We took cutlery and a bowl for Sophie, food containers and bags, and 2 plastic forks from a recent festival. I kept them to use at future festivals or when travelling.

Sophie playing in the sand at beautiful Welcombe beach in Devon
Sophie playing in the sand at beautiful Welcombe beach in Devon

So, how did it actually go?

Overall, I’m pleased with how the holiday went. Sure, we could have done some things better – same as with our everyday life – but as far as holidays go, it was relatively eco-friendly. 

While we kept our impact low through staying in Britain and doing most of our travelling by train, one significant thing we didn’t do was use public transport while we were away. Instead we got taxis to and from train stations, we drove to and from beaches, and also to Ilfracombe and back on another day.

There’s no way we could have got to the beaches without a car. Cycling could have been an option for some but we wouldn’t have been able to afford the bike hire. We could have got to Ilfracombe by bus but there would still have been some car travel involved, as there’s only one bus a week (yes, a week!) that goes through my aunt’s village. We could have done at least some of the taxi journeys by bus but with the amount of stuff we had to lug about – not to mention dealing with a tired toddler who’s had enough of travelling – we went for the quickest, easiest option. In truth, I’m fine with all of this. It’s about finding a balance that works for you.

Reducing waste

In terms of food waste, things were even better than at home because my aunt has a compost heap and her local authority collects food waste. If only every council did the same. She also gets cow’s milk from a refill vending machine at a nearby farm, with a deposit scheme on their glass bottles. I drink oat milk these days but if you’re going to have cow’s milk, that’s surely the best way to get it (if you can).

We ate in on 3 nights, enjoying some fabulous cooking by my aunt and cousin. On other days we had a bbq on the beach, dined in restaurants and had street food at a festival in Ilfracombe. 

At the street food festival, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of single-use plastic containers and cutlery being used, though there were some. The bar used disposable plastic cups, so we opted for cans and I used my reusable coffee cup to get a half of keg beer. It’s these actions, as small as they seem, that can make a huge difference, as they’re something everyone can do. It just requires a little bit of forethought and being mindful of the consequences of our choices.

I did relax my ‘rules’ a little and we ended up buying a few packs of crisps, nuts and biscuits over the course of the week. We do buy them from time to time at home but very rarely. I did stick to buying chocolate in card and foil packaging though.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I ended up doing a bit of litter picking on the beaches. One was very clean – I only took home a couple of small pieces of plastic (it was fairly remote and there were no bins). The other beach was much busier and there was quite a lot of plastic waste scattered about, despite there being plenty of bins around. Sadly – no, infuriatingly – some people just don’t care, so those of us who do care end up cleaning up after them. It sucks, but I’m prepared to do it.

Ethical activities

On our last day in Bristol, we were originally planning to just wander around and see the sights. However, as the weather was miserable, we took Sophie to the aquarium. I’m not a huge fan of keeping animals in containment but I appreciate the conservation work done by many zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums. I always research a place before I go there. Bristol Aquarium seems to have a good reputation, as far as I could tell. They only have small species – no dolphins etc – and don’t allow any contact with the animals. That’s a thumbs up from me. Sophie loved it and I hope encounters like this nurture a real love and respect for all creatures as she grows up.

We also went to a new brewpub by local independent brewery Left Handed Giant. Both at home and when we’re on holiday, we like to support local businesses. They’ve renovated a huge, 250 year old building through crowd funding. It has great beer, wood-fired vegan and vegetarian pizzas, and a large sheltered outdoor area with a fab view of the river. I highly recommend it (though sadly we didn’t try the pizza, as we’d already eaten).

Sophie loved seeing all the fish and other marine life at Bristol Aquarium
Sophie loved seeing all the fish and other marine life at Bristol Aquarium

The verdict

We had a wonderful week and I doubt we’d have enjoyed it any more if we were abroad. I didn’t enjoy the torrential downpour we got caught in on our last day in Bristol so much, but that has also happened to me in France, Spain, Germany… the list goes on. C’est la vie. Skin’s waterproof!

If there’s one thing we’d do differently, it’s more to do with making it easier for ourselves. We thought that breaking up the journeys by stopping over in Bristol – 1 night on the way down and 2 nights on the way back – would be better for Sophie. However, it meant more getting on and off trains, getting in and out of cars, and putting up/taking down the travel cot. Next time we have a family holiday, we’ll try to get the travelling done in one go and just stay in one place.

We definitely want to do another Interrail trip in Europe at some point but we’ll leave that until Sophie’s a bit older and we don’t need to bring the travel cot.

There are so many places in the UK that we’re yet to see, I reckon we’ll be staycationing as a family for years to come. Am I ruling out going abroad ever again? No. There might even be a sneaky child-free trip to Barcelona on the cards later this year. But I’ll always consider where we’re going, how we get there and what impact we have while we’re there. 

How about you? Have you gone for a staycation this year or are you going abroad? I’d love to hear how you planned or are planning your low impact holiday. Likewise, if you have any questions about my experience, pop them below or contact me.


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