When I told a friend I was planning a swimming holiday, I anticipated an excited “Can I come, too?”
Instead, she looked at me as strangely, her expression seeming to say, “Why on earth would you do that?”
Then I remembered that she is Australian and I’m from the UK. For me, daily swimming is a delicious novelty and I’ve been improving my stroke for most of my life after being thrown in the deep end as a child with not much preparation or instruction.
Whereas she, like many Australians, has probably been swimming laps of an Olympic-size pool since the age of five. For her, a holiday dedicated to swimming initially seems strange because swimming is what you do every day during the hotter months, at the beach or the local pool.
But I’m not deterred. Not only am I convinced that a swimming holiday will be bliss, but I’m impressed with all the sustainable credentials that many swimming holiday operators proudly detail on their websites. (And curiously, many of these companies, while operating all over the world, are UK-based. So maybe swim holidays are a bit of a British thing?)
At least two of the operators, SwimQuest and SwimTrek, outline many practical ways they ensure their swimming holidays are as light as possible on the environment.
To keep energy use to a minimum, SwimQuest ensures transfer times are as short as possible so that guests are traveling less and swimming more.
On each trip, they educate their guests on sustainable practices while traveling, including discouraging single-use plastics, with all the damage this is doing to the world’s oceans and waterways.
Fostering a love of the water encourages this: “We believe swimming holidays can play a significant role in helping people to enjoy and appreciate our incredible oceans, rivers, lakes, and landscapes. It is through this appreciation we believe we can encourage our guests to embrace a more sustainable way of living.”
But even the act of swimming – using our own bodies to power us through water– is lighter than many other water activities, in that we’re using all our own energy to power us along instead of an external energy source.
It’s less intrusive to wildlife than activities involving high-powered boats or luxurious yachts. And all we need is ourselves and our swimming gear so that we’re not using many additional resources.
Of course, there is usually a small boat involved to get around at the destination and to accompany swimmers for safety or coaching.
SwimQuest focus heavily on connecting with local workers, families, and boat pilots to keep money in the local economy, and this delivers a better richer cultural experience for guests too.
“We are constantly looking for ways to strengthen our connection with the environment, the communities and the economies connected to our swim locations,” the SwimQuest website says.
Other practical ways SwimQuest promotes sustainability is to never visit during peak season, helping the environment in the busier months and the local economy in quieter months. This also makes for a better swim holiday as the location is more peaceful.
SwimTrek, which operates in multiple locations across the globe, including Hawaii, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, Belize, Cascade Lakes (Oregon), and the Italian Lakes, convey their serious focus on sustainability too, and are committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2023.
To achieve this, they follow the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessments (IEMA) strategies for emissions reductions, including eliminating operations and practices that generate greenhouse gas emissions where possible.
Where this is not achievable, they pledge to compensate for negative emissions through carbon offset schemes, ‘with the goal of not only becoming carbon neutral but carbon positive.’
One of the hardest decisions to make when choosing a swim holiday is where to go, with trips ranging from open-water swimming in the bracing waters of the English Lake District, to bath-like Caribbean seas, to the breathtaking fjords of Oman.
Of course, one of the most effective – and relatively easy – ways we can make any holiday more sustainable is by reducing our air miles to get there.
This isn’t difficult because the growing popularity of swim holidays means there are more and more varied trips to choose from all over the world and it won’t be hard to find a swim holiday on your own continent. Just doing this one thing will probably be the most effective way to minimize the overall footprint of your trip.
And don’t be put off by thinking everyone is (or needs to be) a budding Olympic swimmer. In fact, many companies will work with people to correct their strokes and improve their swimming ability.
They encourage lots of relaxation between swims and you can choose from beginner level or, even if you’re not a beginner but just want a more relaxing trip, you can opt for one of the more recreational itineraries, such as a 1-2km (.6-1.2mi) swim each day.
But if your goals are more Olympian-minded, SwimQuest has an Olympic athlete on their coaching team – former British medalist Dan Wallace coaches on ‘technique and explore’ trips to Mathraki, a remote island off Corfu. This trip includes swims between islands, coastal exploration, and an opportunity for some serious stroke improvement.
For an even bigger challenge, SwimQuest offers a challenging open-water swim to Robben Island, South Africa, 7km (4.3mi) west of Cape Town and where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned before the fall of apartheid, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you’re keen on a swimming holiday but your traveling companion is more of a landlubber, most of the operators will cater to that. You can share a room and your partner can do what they like in one of the stunning locations around the world.
So, even if your other half finds a swimming holiday strange at first, they’re bound to come around to the idea.
Getting around on foot, by bike, and other low-emission modes of transport can open your eyes to a destination in rewarding ways.
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