Responsible travel tips for river cruising

7 Tips for Responsible River Cruising

by Ellie Cleary

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Want to know how to make a river cruise trip more responsible? Here are our top tips for responsible travel by river cruise, for when it’s safe to travel again.

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When it comes to exploring new places, River Cruises have seen rapid growth and a rise in popularity – both in Europe and other parts of the world. Cruising in general often gets a bad rap for its effects and impact, but is the same true of river cruises? In this article we share our top responsible travel tips for river cruising.

First of all, why is River Cruising an attractive travel option? There are many different companies offering river cruises in Europe, Asia and around the world. Although many of the best known itineraries are along the rivers of Europe, you can sail the Nile, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Ganges and pretty much any corner of the world on a river cruise, with the advantage of not having to constantly pack/unpack with each new port of call.

Sound dreamy? Here’s how to create a better impact on your next River Cruise trip.

Want to read more about sustainable travel? Find out what it means here.

river cruising in Egypt
There are plenty of River Cruises available away from the busy rivers of Europe

1. Travel in the Off-Season

One of the ways to get a better river cruising trip experience for both yourself as well as creating a better impact for the destination is to travel in off season. The popular rivers of Europe such as the Rhine and Danube get chock-a-block with boats come summer, as do the most popular cities.

Do yourself a favour and choose to travel outside of peak summer months – not only will you contribute to less – congested rivers but you’ll also be more likely to get special offers and discounts. You’ll also get to see cities outside of peak season with fewer fellow visitors and crowds. If river cruising in winter doesn’t sound appealing, you can try and aim for shoulder season instead.

2. Extend your Trip

One of the challenges with cruising is that very little of travellers’ money is spread out within the destination that you visit. If all meals and activities are purchased on board your cruise or as part of a package, then it is often the case that very little of your spending benefits people on shore.

One way to offset that is to book an extension before and / or after your trip on your own, staying at locally hotels, hiring local guides and eating out. That way more people get to benefit from tourism expenditure. Some River Cruise companies also go to lengths to hire expert local ground staff to provide experiences and share revenue with them, too, so read up on your tour company’s policy.

3. Choose a River Cruise Company with a Sustainable Travel Policy

Given the negative environmental impacts (and sometimes social too) of cruising, cruise companies have bowed to pressure and many are making efforts to clean up their act by doing things such as burning cleaner fuel, ensuring that waste doesn’t end up overboard, and supporting cleaner waterways initiatives.

Check to see if your river cruise companies has a sustainable travel, and if so what’s on it. I also suggest doing a quick google to see if your chosen company has been involved in any recent scandals for dumping waste overboard (unfortunately this still happens), poor staff work conditions and the like.

river cruising travel tips in France
Evening on a French River Cruise

4. Opt for Lesser Known Routes

As with travel in general, by venturing to lesser known places we can spread out the impact of tourism and stand a better chance of contributing to tourism that will do some good. Rather than going for the Seine, Nile, Rhine and Volga, how about choosing a route which is lesser known?

The chances are that by choosing a less popular route you’ll get to experience travel at its more authentic, too, and get to see places that are less a creation of mass tourism. Although it’s harder to find off-beat river cruises in Europe, and easier to get off the beaten river in Africa and Asia, it is possible. You can find some inspiration in this list of unusual river cruises here.

5. Do your Own Exploring

Many river cruise companies offer excursions which you can include or add on to your river cruise packages. While these are convenient, they are often over-priced and result in less of your holiday expenditure finding its way into the hands of local people. They also tend to feature the “top 10 of a city” – ie the same places that everyone else goes to.

Instead I recommend creating your own on-shore adventure, either pre-booking locally run tours, or just creating your own adventure once you step on to dry land. Use local taxis or public transport to get around, simply go for a wander or research the spots you’d like to visit yourself. Just remember to be back at your boat in good time!

6. Take some local-style River Cruises

Not all river cruises have to be pre-booked and glamourous. If you’re staying longer in a place as I recommend, then why not try a local-style river cruise too?

Some of my favourite river cruise moments from over the years include sailing along the Nile – not on a large river cruise boat but instead on a traditional Felucca (Nubian sailing boat) for a day. Then there’s the unmissable experience of watching the Ganges come to life at Varanasi, India or travelling on a piece of history in Bangladesh on the Rocket paddlesteamer.

7. Enjoy the Unique Window onto Life

River Cruises are like train travel. Well, somewhat smoother and probably more luxurious. But they share one thing in that you, as the traveller get to experience a different view into everyday life in the country you are cruising through.

Morning scenes along river banks are infinitely more interesting than the same from the side of a road, and certainly than out of an aeroplane window. River travel takes you through different parts of a country, places that may be harder to access without the river. In some parts of the world, Rivers still are the arteries that keep a country running, connected and are pivotal in their importance. And as a river cruiser, you get to see all of that, from the comfort of your cabin window.

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