Lisa Kjellsson interviews Juliet Kinsman, about her new book on sustainable travel
Most people know you as a sustainable travel expert and founder of Bouteco, a platform that leads conscious luxury-hotel lovers to the best holidays. Tell us about your journey so far – when did you first take an interest in sustainability?
It’s something I’ve always been aware of as an empathetic person who cares about people and the planet. I was brought up by my grandparents who were very conscious about no waste, grew their own vegetables and were just very sensible, as their generation is, having lived through the war. In terms of my education, I did a degree in anthropology which makes you care about humankind and culture, a big part of sustainability. And as someone who lived through the consumerist era of the 1980s and was definitely an avid consumer, I began to feel very guilty about the excess. I took steps to live more consciously, and got rid of my car and downsized my home a few years ago. I still have a terrible shoe habit – but many of my shoes are second hand. In Notting Hill, where I live, I recommend shops like Trinity Hospice, Fara, and Mary’s Living and Giving for great second-hand shopping.
Professionally, I was the founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith so I visited lots of lovely luxury hotels around the world and got to speak to inspiring hoteliers like Wilbert Das, the founder of Uxua in Brazil, who championed artisanal crafts and community engagement. I realised how the big international chains often exploit their local communities and it made me feel a bit sick. I created Bouteco to shine a light on amazing design boutique hotels with outstanding sustainability credentials, as well as the travel partners I believe in – those that have sustainability at the heart of their business – because I want travel to be a force for good.
You had a fascinating and very international upbringing – did that spark your passion for travel?
It’s not even about passion, it’s all I’ve ever known. We lived in Algeria when I was very young, then we moved to New York and I went to the United Nations International School. I loved it, and being around people from so many different cultures – like my best friend at the time, who was from Samoa – exposed me to different perspectives. That’s what travel does, and it’s what we need, now more than ever.
The pandemic has affected most aspects of our lives. How do you predict we’ll travel differently from now on?
I hope we’ll travel less but better. Travel is going to become more complicated and expensive, but instead of lamenting that, embrace it – go away for longer and take time to really explore and enjoy the destination. Also, increasingly I think we’ll consider how we can have a positive impact on the communities and destinations we visit – socially, economically and environmentally.
You just launched your book, The Green Edit: Travel. Tell us a bit about it.
I wrote it because I want people to know that it is possible to travel sustainably and it doesn’t have to mean giving up flying. The book takes you through every step of planning your trip, from booking to boarding, and arms you with everything you need to know for a lower impact getaway. Ultimately it’s about how to explore the world and satisfy your wanderlust in the most eco-friendly way.
So what are your top tips on how to travel more sustainably?
We can choose a flight with lower emissions and we can fly direct, because the most amount of carbon is released during take-off and landing. We can also do our best to ensure as much of our money as possible stays in the hands of the local community. Don’t just stay at an all-inclusive resort – do a bit of research and find a family-run hotel. Maybe stay somewhere like Alladale in the Scottish Highlands which runs amazing rewilding projects – the most important thing right now is boosting biodiversity. One of the best things you can do if you have children is to engage them through travel in nature – if you take your child swimming with manta rays, for example, they’re going to care so much more about the ocean. If you don’t have children, you could find a way to contribute to local initiatives that educate children about nature.
What have been some of your most memorable trips and travel experiences so far?
Usually I say Fogo Inn in Newfoundland, Canada or the Carpathian mountains, which I explored on a wonderful cycling holiday in Transylvania. But these incredible experiences are not necessarily so far away – I went to Wales recently, to a wilderness retreat called Fforest in Ceredigion, and absolutely loved it.
And what destinations do you want to explore next?
Peru! I just think Peruvians have an amazing spiritual energy, an ancient wisdom we’ve lost in our modern society, and I’d love to be able to hear and share their stories. I would go to Kuélap in the north rather than Macchu Picchu though – ancient ruins but a bit more off the beaten track.
As a Notting Hill resident, what are your favourite places, and things to do, in west London?
I’ve just recently discovered the Conscience Kitchen on All Saints Road – delicious meals cooked from scratch with responsibly sourced organic ingredients. And Cloud Twelve in Colville Mews is a wonderful wellness club – their spa treatments are as good as any treatments I’ve had anywhere in the world. But overall, first and foremost I just love the multiculturalism. I can walk down Portobello Road and hear at least 10 different languages being spoken. It’s such a rich mix of cultures – Caribbean, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccan. Carnival might only be one week a year, but the spirit of Carnival is always just around the corner.