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Rough Guides’ New ‘Clean Breaks’ Breaks Clean: Two Thumbs Up

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 3 August 2009

rg-cleanbreaksClean Breaks, 500 New Ways to See the World, published in August 2009 by Rough Guides, wastes no time getting down to business. And why should it? In keeping with its title, it makes a clean break from so many things, including some guidebook conventions. After a mere page and a half of introduction, it plunges into a dazzling world of fresh experiences and hurtles through 122 countries in nearly 400 full-colour picture-filled pages of pure temptation. Like a breath of fresh air carrying hints of exotic spice, thick healthy earth and tons of good fun, it quickly but lastingly reminds us all just how much pleasure we would get out for a long wallow.

Clean Breaks deals a welcome and deadly blow to persistent false assumptions about sacrificed comforts or loss of fun when ‘travelling green’. It is a special piece of travel publishing, one far more ambitious than anything I’ve seen from its competitors, including Lonely Planet’s already-forgotten precursor, Code Green, Experiences of a Lifetime, released back in 2006.

“The experiences we’ve selected are (hopefully) ones that you’d love to do anyway,” write co-authors Richard Hammond and Jeremy Smith in the book’s introduction. “The difference is that your presence in some way benefits the locality. Many of the properties we review are as stylish and innovative as they are environmentally aware.”

Just as important, Hammond and Smith slice through the ubiquitous fear of unscrupulous ‘greenwashers’, or businesses worldwide using environmental spin to float credentials they don’t have or deserve.

“An increasing number of websites claim to point you in the right direction yet often these are merely portals to places that claim they are green; few websites have actually sent anyone to check,” writes Hammond. “Travellers’ feedback forums can be useful but you’ll rarely find authoritative reviews on how green a place is. After all, who wants to spend their holidays sticking their noses into recycling bins or asking hotel managers about ethical procurement policies? It was for this reason that I teamed up with Jeremy to write a guide to genuinely green holidays based on our experiences of what really works.”

Village transport in the Iza Valley of Romania.<br> Photo courtesy of Rough Guides

Village transport in the Iza Valley of Romania. Photo courtesy of Rough Guides

A Peek Under the Hood

Clean Breaks is intuitively divided into 14 geographical sections, each with a corresponding chapter that carries the selected clean breaks. Within each chapter, there are often interesting sub-chapters that highlight the unusual, surprising and worthy qualities of a particular destination: yurt and tipi camps in Great Britain and Ireland, treehouses in Western Europe, Fair Trade holidays in South Africa, the world of snow in North America, alternative Caribbean beaches, jungle lodges in the Amazon, tiger safaris in India, the ‘other side of the Himalaya’, homestays in Kerala, aboriginal experiences in Australia and much, much more.

Several enlightening sub-chapters even beat back skepticism about whether the right travel choices can be made in cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Luang Prabang, Mumbai, New York, Sydney and Tokyo.

For sports enthusiasts, there’s a little something of for everyone: abseiling in South Africa, bog walking in Estonia, canyoning in the Pyrenees, and cycling, diving and snorkeling, hiking, canoing and kayaking, surfing and winter sporting all across the planet.

Naturalists will find heaps of information about land and marine conservation efforts, national parks and ideal locations for wildlife-watching.

Culture vultures too lose no ground with insightful entries about aboriginal people, art, cooking courses, festivals, homegrown food, homestays and shopping.

Finally, interspersed with the meaty regional chapters are short sections that help readers consider slower and more meaningful modes of travel, grounding in practical detail the old adage that a journey itself should be as entrancing as the final destination. “We’ve focused on a range of alternative ways to travel, such as taking the train and ferry to the Med, taking the train to the slopes (Alps), and using social networking sites to stay with local people,” writes Hammond.

And, as if all that isn’t enough, yet more information about how to plan a clean break is available in the back of the book, “where we provide a list of online resources for trip planning, including transport options, details of ethical tour operators and how to link up with ‘couch surfers’, local guides and ‘greeters’.”

Tom Mahamba, a local guide in South Afirca's Tembe Elephant Park, is full of tales and information about the park's birds

Tom Mahamba, a local guide in South Afirca's Tembe Elephant Park, is full of tales and information about the park's birds. Photo courtesy of Rough Guides

Still Incomplete

Alas, despite the obvious time, care and scholarship behind the book, much is missing. That is more a deficiency of the medium – print publishing – in which each added page is added weight, and, of course, of an industry that is growing and changing (and, yes, maturing) as rapidly as responsible travel is.

That being said, we hope that next editions and further commentary will not omit crucial networks like whl.travel that are committed to locating and promoting the kinds of small, grassroots travel initiatives identified throughout Clean Breaks, and that over time, especially with the support of travellers and guidebook publishers, are making positive progress toward improving places, helping to shape the travel industry in a caring and sustainable way.

After all, as Hammond and Smith write in their introduction, “It’s about minimizing your environmental impact – on your journey and at your destination – by choosing carefully how you travel and the nature of the place you choose to stay at.”

Amen.

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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adventure travel, animal conservation, beaches, deserts, ecotours, forests & jungles, islands, marine conservation, mountains, national parks, oceans & reefs, responsible travel news, safaris,

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