The luxury of travel isn’t just about Instagram posts and souvenirs, it is a way of experiencing the length and breadth of humanity and the world we live in. Often, we tend to forget this, becoming absorbed in the adventure whilst overlooking the human impact of tourism and its relationship with politics. Travel in 2020 calls us to consider the human aspect of exploring other countries, making travel decisions that are intentionally socially conscious and placing the people of a country at the centre of our travel experiences.
Here are some tips on how to become a more conscious traveller.
Research, Research, Research
Travel should be as much about learning as it is about adventure. Taking some time to read up on the history of the country you’re going to, as well as some of their news headlines, is really important. It gives you a bit of insight into the cultural nuances that make a country what it is, and could save you from ending up as part of someone’s Twitter thread about the tourist who had no idea about the country they were visiting.
Often, what we see on TV doesn’t always reflect the situation in a country and it is important to not get swept up in the brand image of the country, but make an attempt to understand how real people live, and how the presence of tourists has an impact on those lives. It also helps you identify things you could be interested in that may not make it into the travel brochures.
Besides the history lesson, learning about other practical things like what the currency looks like and how it works, as well as learning a few phrases in the language spoken in the country will go a long way.
Shopping malls may be air conditioned, but markets are really where it’s at. Not only does it give you a wider variety of interesting products, but it also gives you a chance to support local businesses.
Bargaining on a price is always part of the fun, but remember that this is how local people earn their livelihoods and it is important to respect their craft and not try to rip them off. A good point of reference isn’t thinking about what you could pay for something at home, but rather, what you’re willing to pay for an item of that nature and using that as your departure point. That way, you avoid falling victim to tourist prices, and the vendor receives compensation that is fair.
Markets give you a real sense of how a country feels and breathes, and no shopping mall compares to that.
Tuk Tuk a chance
Uber is convenient and easy, but can you really visit Kenya and not use a boda boda? Or go to Delhi without experiencing a tuk tuk? Here, it is important to balance safety with adventure, but you should aim to experience local public transport at least once on your trip.
Public transport drivers are windows into the city and can fast become local tour guides, giving you suggestions for interesting places that can offer unforgettable experiences. Taking the time to experience a place the way local people experience it helps you get a better understanding of the place you’re in, and can help you see the area from the lens of those who know it best. Here is a good place to flex all that research you’ve been doing as well.
Eat ALL the food!
There is nothing worse than a tourist who goes to a country, only to order pizza and room service. Food is culture. It’s how people communicate their history, their politics and their passions.
Take some time to experience the full range of local cuisines. Pack your Imodium and Buscopan if your stomach isn’t too strong, but make a point of visiting local restaurants and eating what citizens eat. Whether it’s pepper soup in Lagos, or pani puri in Mumbai, nothing brings people together like food. Take a cooking class if you can, or ask your favourite cab driver what his favourite restaurant is and go there.
All things considered, local cuisine enriches a travel experience more than anything else can.
Pay attention to politics
Yes, this might not be the most attractive thing, but respect for the humanity of others is a crucial part of the human experience. This world is beautiful and vast, but it is also dangerous and alienating, and it is important for you to understand the balance between the two things.
Being able to tick something off a travel bucket list should never be at the expense of undermining the people who live there, especially if their human rights are being violated. Many people (such as the people of Palestine) have called for a global boycott of the countries which oppress them and whether you’re a human rights activist or not, you’re still human, and our desire for certain experiences should never override our empathy.
Politics is personal, it affects every part of our lives, and as much as it would be easy to ignore the plight of the people in a country in order to fulfil our travel goals, if we truly believe in the values of equality and freedom, we ought to make travel choices that reflect that.