This pause in travel gives us all time to evaluate how and why we travel. Britt Kasco of Origin Travels offers her tips for creating a positive impact on the destinations we visit.
Currently, I am an owner of a travel business in a world that prohibits the movement of people. While, on the surface, this may seem ultra-gloomy, as the leader of a company that loves this planet and the people in it, I have found it a rather bittersweet place to be.
Civil unrest and a global pandemic have left humankind grappling with unfamiliarity (or, “the new normal”).
If there is anything that these turbulent times have proven, it’s the incredible interconnectivity of this world.
We are slowly grasping that the path to prosperity is paved by mutual respect.
We see that an interdependent body works better following protocols designed to support the most vulnerable in our community.
And we note that we are more effective when we amplify silenced voices, when we shop local, when we share resources, when we educate ourselves about livelihoods beyond our own four walls, and when we consider the impact of our actions – whether intentional or not – on the people who surround us.
What kind of impact would these practices have, if applied on a global scale?
Being stopped in our tracks offers us a once-in-a-lifetime pause to reconsider the way we move through this world.
We have a golden opportunity to ask ourselves: “When the doors to travel open to us again, and how will we use exploration as a force for good?”
With that goal, here are 5 adjustments you can make to your travel plans to make your next adventure a Force for Good.
Realize Your Power as a Traveller and Wield it Well
Exploring and curiosity about life beyond our reach are innately human traits.
The U.S. Travel Association estimates that direct spending by resident and international travelers in the US alone averages $3.1 billion a day, $128.6 million an hour, $2.1 million a minute, and $35,700 a second.
When these numbers are amplified on a global scale, tourism has the potential to be one of the greatest wealth distribution powers on this planet (in fact, it’s ranked 10th on the list of biggest global industries by revenue in 2020).
Being mindful of our influence abroad can massively impact the people and places that we visit.
In choosing where to spend those dollars, we have the power to empower communities simply by adjusting the way we shop for travel services.
We at Origin Travels have coined this, “Good Travel”. It’s exploration that makes you – and the planet – feel nice.
The first step toward Good Travel is recognizing that we can positively change the world by wielding the power of economics.
Open Your Mind & Recalibrate Your Expectations
We travel to see the world differently, yet the global streamlining of tourism services has made it possible to land on the other side of the planet without leaving the comforts of your own home.
Centralized booking platforms – like Expedia and Airbnb – have made it easy for tourists to gravitate toward spaces and services that feel familiar.
“Frictionless” experiences – such as transport on air-conditioned coach buses, and glittering boutique hotel stays – have become normalized.
The expectation for services to mirror the standards of your home country can be understood as ethnocentrism: a feeling that the practices and standards of living from which you derive are better than, or preferable to, those of the people you visit.
Wanderful members only: Learn more from Britt Kasco in her event recording
While having a preference for the familiar is not inherently bad, it naturally establishes a binary of “us and them.” It creates an invisible buffer between you and the culture you are visiting.
This mentality can also lend itself to keeping up habits from home that may place a strain on resources in the communities you visit. This could include plastic usage for convenience, taking long showers, single-use towels, and asking for foods or ingredients that can’t be locally sourced.
Travelling with an open mind allows us to experience different beliefs, values, and practices of the culture we are visiting. It invites us to experience the vibrance and hospitality of this unique place.
When we let go of our habits from home, we can intimately connect with the communities we are visiting. We respect available resources and learn to navigate social cues we may be uncertain about, like tipping expectations.
An open mind can best be supported by pre-departure research into the culture and customs you might encounter. Having peace of mind will help you feel at home, but in a different way.
Shop Local, Globally
When we travel, knowing where our money ends up is crucial to ensuring that our presence leaves a positive impact on local life.
The phenomenon of tourism dollars ending up outside the destination country due to foreign ownership is called “tourism leakage.”
Examples of Tourism Leakage:
In a case study of tourism to the Nyanga District in Zimbabwe, “out of USD $187 that is spent by each tourist in Nyanga per day, the locals only get USD $24; the rest (87.17%) goes to the service providers which are not owned by the local people.”
In the case of India, millions of tourists travel through Agra to visit the Taj Mahal each year (6.9m in 2019). Yet the city’s vulnerable population is large enough to span across 20 different slum neighbourhoods.
This type of leakage can be attributed to specific tourist behaviours. For example, staying in hotels owned by multinational brands and hiring tour operators that staff their tours with out-of-country group leaders.
Airbnb is an interesting example, is recognized for revolutionizing local access to extra income from tourism.
However, over time, the commodification of private neighbourhoods has resulted in a housing crisis driven by skyrocketed real estate and rent prices. Ultimately, the new popularity of these neighbourhoods is displacing people who have lived there for generations.
According to Executive director of the Hawai’i state commission Khara JBolaing Qwilis, 70% of today’s vacation rental owners don’t live in Hawa’i and 75% of them rent them out full time.”
Barcelona has made international headlines for the housing crisis; the city alone has reached an estimated 20,000 Airbnb listings.
Understanding where your money goes
Terms like “authentic” and “local living” are being increasingly used to market travel experiences. But the truest way to experience local life is simply to buy from the people you visit.
Consider staying in locally-owned guesthouses, hiring local guides, eating at locally-owned restaurants and buying souvenirs from co-ops that support community empowerment initiatives. These choices are immensely important to the sustainable growth and development of these communities.
When you shop these family-owned businesses, you empower each owner’s agency to operate, scale, and provide for their families.
This money then flows into infrastructure, community, and resource development, all of which improves the quality of living. Helping to preserve communities, in turn, preserves heritage.
Top Tips for Good Travel Spending:
Don’t be afraid to hire the help of a local guide to help you venture further away from major tourist sites, as this is where you will likely find family-run businesses.
Tell your tour provider you want to eat and shop at locally owned establishments.
When choosing an Airbnb, ask the potential host if they are a local, and opt to stay in a private room – rather than a house – to avoid displacing someone.
Enjoy the local flavours and sounds. It’s an adventure, after all!
Rethink Photographing the People You Visit
I grew up in Canada and loved flipping through National Geographic Magazine with childlike wonder, entranced by the stunning, vivid, and colourful images of folk from afar.
The “us and them” mentality, as mentioned earlier, has been glamourized for decades. Unfortunately, that “othering” overlaps with a soaring market for digital photography (expected to reach $149.98 billion by 2026).
You may be tempted to photograph people in the places you visit, but it is important that they are respected beyond subjects for your travel photography portfolio.
I have witnessed one too many instances where confused/annoyed locals are rendered helpless when pinned between the wall of a busy market place and a tourist’s zoom lens.
This is becoming more and more common as the surge in tourism means more travellers are flooding into historically local neighbourhoods and markets.
Ultimately, the Golden Rule comes into full force here: would you be OK with a random stranger pointing a lens in your face, or in your child’s face, without consent, in the name of “art” and “memories”?
If you feel drawn to a particular individual, first ask for their permission. You’ll often find that when you give your subject the time to present themselves as they’d like to be remembered, the photos come out more lovely, anyway.
Remember to respect each person, which includes granting them the space and peace of mind that they need to move about their daily life uninterrupted.
You are guests in their home – ensure you remain welcome.
Don’t Do it for the ‘Gram
Social media has granted people access to places they never had before. This is especially thanks to the geotag feature that allows posters to identify the exact location of the area they visited.
During a How Not to Travel Podcast interview with Rebecca Maccaro of the Pechanga band of Luiseno Indians, Dr. Kiona describes how the geotagging of a viral photo attracted swaths of “social media-crazed” tourists to a poppy field in Lake Elsinore, CA during super bloom season. This sudden volume of visitors led to the destruction of flowerbeds and access to this area had to be shut down.
“In our culture, we used poppies and chia seeds, and – what we call – Indian potatoes, as food sources mainly. Poppies also have a medicinal source as well… they have calming properties, relaxing properties and we can use the seeds in the same way… I think there is a disconnect between seeing the flowers as a visual, but then also lacking a respect for it as a medicine and a food.”
There is also a pattern of accessing protected areas for the perfect shot. One such example can be found in Santorini, where travellers ignore the prohibitive signage and hop along the roofs of houses.
Elsewhere, hikers climb into protected areas of national parks, tour groups take photos of people praying at temples, and tourists take selfies with endangered wildlife.
When you post these photos, the ripple effect of influence and demand for these same experiences spreads like wildfire.
In all cases, these prohibitive regulations are put in place because these spaces are vulnerable to destruction.
Unsure about local regulations or requirements? Ask someone from the area.
One of the best ways to be a responsible traveller is to respect local rules and traditions in order to contribute to the protection of these spaces for the future.
Additionally, disabling your geotag functionality during your travels can help prevent unmanageable volumes of tourists flocking to areas that don’t have the infrastructure to support the foot-traffic.
Ultimately, be mindful and use your good judgement to determine the kind of influence you want to have.
Even if you didn’t post it, it still happened. I promise.
People often shy away from opportunities to change the world because the goal sounds out-of-reach.
“What impact could I really have?”
The answer is that, just by opening your mind and making slight adjustments to the way you enjoy your vacation, you can help to empower people, protect heritage and preserve places.
And the impact can be huge.
Oh, one more tip: keep travelling. The more we learn about the world and the people in it, the more likely we are to consider acting for the greater good in our daily lives.
Have you tried to be more careful in your choices of travel? Share your tips in the comments!