You might’ve heard different terms such as: slow or low impact traveling, ecotourism, sustainable travel, etc. You might know a thing or two about what they mean and what it entails or you might not. You might be an expert on the subject or you might not. You might hold a completely different definition of what it means to travel in an ethical manner than the one you’re about to read because let’s face it, the word ethical is based on defining moral principles and those can vary from person to person. If you’ve taken an ethics class in school, then you most likely witnessed or participated in a fiery debate. In my opinion, the definitions may vary but they all fall under one big category: conscientious travel. Being aware. Being conscious of the impact we have while abroad. Because, yes, you do make an impact. It’s a fact. Whether it’s a positive or negative one is entirely up to you. That’s your choice.
The travel industry has never been bigger and it’s most likely due to the fact that it’s never been easier to travel: from one country to the next, from one continent to the next and to connect with perfect strangers. The desire to live like a local while traveling adds a whole new dimension to our trip. It’s an experience abroad that many seek. This desire is noticeable when we look at the rise in platforms facilitating this type of travel (home exchange, shared living, airBNB rentals & experiences, etc.)
Traveling is a great thing but it becomes problematic when places & cultures suffer. It was a visit to a local village on a remote island in Cambodia that changed the way I looked at travel. The locals allow travelers to come and visit but only a few times a month; it was important for them to keep a certain level of privacy, keep their culture untouched by foreigners as well as keep control of their land. I gained a deeper understanding of the importance of traveling through the eyes of the locals. The term I was taught during that trip, and that I’ve been using ever since to sum up this way of travel, is Ethical Tourism. I learned that by doing research, asking questions and supporting local businesses, we are encouraging their growth while protecting their identity. We allow individuals and communities to tell their stories and to show off the richness of their culture. In return, the knowledge gained gives us perspective to help us grow as individuals.
Ethical Tourism is a term that needs to make its way into the minds of all; traveler or not. It shouldn’t just be a hashtag that’s trending on Twitter or Instagram for a couple of months. It should be a way of traveling; a way of acting and doing. Traveling is an experience that’s unique to each one of us. We all hold various definitions of what traveling does for us or how we see it being beneficial. The lessons learned, the perspective gained, the things we’ve experienced are all moments. Moments we can try to explain to others. We can try taking pictures & videos to show the beauty, culture but travel sparks so much more…It’s a feeling unique to you. It’s unique to me.
To help understand my definition of ethical tourism, I’ve broken it down into 4 categories: research, observation, integration and growth.
The very base of it all. The core. The anchor. Before knowledge can be gained, research has to be done and research can take a long time. It’s not always done in textbooks. It can be done in the field. I think it’s pretty safe to say everyone will prepare for a trip. We’ll research the weather, what there is to do, where to stay, what we should bring, etc. So it shouldn’t come as total shock that we should also do some research on the culture, history and beliefs before we head somewhere.
For e.g. I traveled to Cambodia in the spring of 2016. I knew a bit about the country’s religious beliefs and spirituality. I’d been warned by everyone I knew who had traveled to SE Asia to bring a pair of pants and something to cover my shoulders if I was planning on visiting temples. I assumed this was common knowledge but I was shocked to see so many booty shorts and spaghetti straps at the temples. Hearing people complain and get angry because they weren’t allowed into certain temples made me wonder if they had done any research at all or if they just assumed these rules were suggestions.
Preparation and research lead to knowledge but it’s never just black and white. There’s a lot more involved, leading me to my next point…
A recurring theme throughout this blog is perspective. We’re allowed to change our minds. More than once even. Reason being, we change with time. We see. We do. We grow. We learn. We know. Slow travel allows a more in depth observation of our surroundings. What time does the city wake up? Where do they go for coffee? What happens on Friday Night? Saturday day? Sunday morning? By observing we are slowly connecting the dots. Our knowledge and understanding grows making it easier to proceed to the next step…
After observing, slowly we make our way toward integration. If we’ve done our homework right up to this point, if we’ve done the research, saw with our own eyes, hands should be held out toward us, inviting us to integrate into the community. We might’ve made mistakes along the way and that’s ok. We are human after all. Integrating doesn’t mean abandoning our beliefs – of course not. I find it is more in line with enlightenment. Stories heard now make us feel a certain way; we’re able to try and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes making us reach a higher level of understanding.
A certain level of trust at this stage will have taken place where we are able to share stories, share ideas and collectively grow. The beauty in traveling, and why so many travelers will say you can’t put a price on it, is for its experiences. For the knowledge gained. It’s the one investment you can make where you’re guaranteed a return. A trip will forever change you. It is impossible to return home the same person you were before. We can only grow; by what we see; witnessing diversity. By knowing that we don’t know it all.
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions
-Olivier Wendell Holmes
I want to see and try new things. I might not like them all. But at least I’ve tried. I want to learn. I want to observe. I want to see how they “do”. Once barriers are down, a connection can be made and it allows growth. Hearts and minds are widened.
Now that’s what ethical travel means to me.