6 Ways to Travel the World Without Leaving a Trace

Getting around on foot, by bike, and other low-emission modes of transport can open your eyes to a destination in rewarding ways.


woman on train Photo © Getty Images / Jeremy Woodhouse

For those committed to becoming a more responsible traveler, the days of flitting from country to country by plane are well behind us. Enter the era of slow travel, where immersing yourself in a destination is the order of the day. Taking in the sights and connecting with a desination's people, food and culture is all the more possible when you get around under your own steam – and the destination will come to life in unique and surprising ways. Here are six ideas to get inspire your own low-impact journey planning.

1. Cycling in Europe

Europe’s stunning scenery makes it one of the most appealing cycling destinations, but for those seeking to cycle along a road less traveled, wind your way along the Istrian Coast, from Italy to Croatia – it’s a route steeped in history, abundant in natural beauty and isn’t too taxing. Start in Trieste and follow the short stretch of Italian coastline into the tiny country of Slovenia. Here you can marvel at medieval towns with their Venetian gothic architecture, and pass the beautiful beaches of the Adriatic, all in a few hours.

Another day, you can escape the beach crowds and detour into the hinterland of the Istrian peninsula for wine tasting or to behold the famous limestone karst hills and caves of Slovenia. As you cycle into Croatia, you will find Roman ruins, such as the amphitheater in Pula, or the impressive 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Join a tour or plan the route yourself and book accommodation along the way. Allow seven days but take longer if you can and relax into the journey. Iin the summer months, this is a trip for spring or autumn when the weather is cooler and the crowds lighter.

2. India by train

A dream trip for the adventurous eco-traveler, traversing parts of India by train is an exciting way to absorb one of the world’s most fascinating countries, and all its spectacular color. India’s railway is the second busiest (after China) in the world, but don’t let the busy-ness (and unreliable timetable) put you off. There are myriad ways to see India by train, depending on how much you want to spend, how comfortable you want to be, where you want to go, and for how long.

Choose a high-end tour by train if you must, but you’ll miss out on the mayhem and fun to be had on the public network, which offers eight or nine classes.

A good middle ground, for comfort, affordability and seeing more of authentic Indian life is second-class (AC2) on the public network. This class is air-conditioned, as the name suggests, and features two-tier bunks divided by a curtain, with blanket, sheet and pillow provided.

There are numerous routes, so take a longer ride if you have time. One option is to start at Delhi in the north, wind your way through Rajasthan – with a stop at the scenic city of Udaipur – and continue your way down the west coast, with stops at India’s second busiest city, Mumbai, and on to the beach destination of Goa.

Or, there’s the epic 82-hour, 2,600-mile (4,184km) trip on the Vivek Express, India’s longest train journey, starting in the tea-planting town of Dibrugarh in the north east, to Kanyakumari at its southern tip.

Remember to book in advance, expect delays, and keep a close eye on your luggage – theft is a real risk here. And bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer, just in case.

3. Japan on foot

When we think of Japan, we often conjure images of crowded Tokyo streets, super-fast bullet trains or powder skiing. But one of the best ways to see Japan is on a hike. With its mountainous terrain, Japan has numerous tracks to choose from, no matter what your fitness level.

A stand-out hike for the reasonably fit walker is the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimage routes (the other is Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago). This walk on the remote and mountainous Kii Peninsula is steeped in Buddhist history.

Staying in Ryokans (Japanese inn) along the way, many of which are small and intimate, offers a glimpse of traditional customs and food. Between rigorous walking on stable paths, there are stops at temples and shrines, including the distinctive orange and white Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, high on Mount Nachi. This hike can be done in five days but could easily stretch to more than 10, according to how much walking you do each day.

Another option, and a slightly easier walk, is the Nakasendo trail that linked Kyoto to Tokyo during Japan’s feudal period. This ancient route takes between five and 10 days, winding through traditional villages, ancient forests and castle towns. Stay in Ryokans along the way to savor the local food and hospitality and enjoy hot spring baths after a satisfying day’s trekking.

4. Kayaking in Canada

The west coast of Vancouver Island is famed for its natural beauty, with its dense forests and mountains and its unspoiled waters that attract kayakers from all over the world.

As it’s become more popular recently, there are numerous tours on offer of varying lengths and ranging from fully to self-guided, depending on your kayaking experience. Accommodation can range from camping out under the stars (where you might hear whales in the night) to ultra-comfortable eco lodges.

The Broughton Archipelago is the place to go if you’d like to paddle alongside wild orcas, or navigate your kayak through the cool waters of Nootka Island where you might spot sea otters or humpback whales returning to their summer breeding grounds.

You can find rest at sheltered coves, sea caves, creeks and beaches or rinse the surf away in freshwater waterfalls. Many of these areas are rich in the history of Indigenous peoples, such as Yuquot or ‘Friendly Cove’, thought to be the site of first contact between Europeans and First Nations People in British Columbia.

5. Boating in Central America

Central America is the nature-lover’s dream with its dense jungles and wildlife-rich waters of the Pacific to the west, and the Caribbean on its east. Several operators offer low-impact motor cruising or sailboat trips for small groups.

Costa Rica has long been known for environmentally conscious adventures and eco-lodges. There are endless ways to get around lightly, including cycling and trekking, but a boat trip along the Pacific coast from Costa Rica to Panama offers a fresh perspective on this stunning part of the world.

National parks line the route, including Manuel Antonio National Park and the forests of Corcovado National Park, with the chance to see sloths, monkeys and tropical birds.

Along Panama’s Pacific coast, stop at Granito de Oro, a small volcanic island where you can see manta rays or hammerhead sharks while snorkeling. Tours from your boat can include guided walks through the rainforest and excursions into Indigenous villages.

At Panama City, an entirely different world awaits in this vibrant trading hub, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic via the Panama Canal.

6. A walking safari in Africa

Walking in the wilds of Africa might sound a little terrifying, but a guided walk could be just the thing for the adventurer looking to travel lightly.

In Tanzania, you can hike in grasslands of Serengeti National Park in wilderness zones where vehicles can’t go. Light mobile camps accompany visitors on three to four-day hikes with prime wildlife-viewing opportunities from rocky kopjes.

In Kenya’s Laikipia County, some walking safaris are supported by camels. Wildlife abounds, including endangered species such as Grevy’s Zebra. Well-cared-for camels carry much of the gear between each campsite or there are daily walking safaris from a base camp.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park hosts short walking safaris and includes cultural experiences en route. Much has been done to advance the causes of wildlife conservation at Kruger, and there are a variety of eco-lodges and conservation-minded camps in which to stay.

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