The inability to explore places have put a dampener in many lives. It is clearly seen on Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms. Businesses are struggling – from the largest airline/hospitality businesses to small/family run tours/homestays. There will be a structural shift to the travel industry. Business Models will need to adapt. Sectors such as the Cruise industry and the large packaged industries might not survive if governments implement regulations to reduce the number of people in one place at the same time. Other Sectors such as independent travel, very small group tours, campsites might thrive.
There is a growing sense of restlessness among many people and as borders open up in Europe and elsewhere, some international tourism might come back and domestic tourism might boom. Concerns over climate change might also negatively impact the tourism industry. It is quite unknown.
I dont know. No one really knows.
However, I do feel, we have an opportunity to transform our approach to exploration. This can be done even today while you don’t travel and once you do travel, you can adapt accordingly.
The five ways, I would recommend are as follows,
Learn before you go
Too many times, I have got caught up in the glamour of travel. Too many times, I get the sense, we are ticking off items from a bucket list instead of really embracing a place, a sight, community. The glamour of travel permeates across the social media platforms.
Maybe it is time to learn more before you travel. What documentaries help you understand a place better? What book helps you get closer to a society? I am not just referring to reading a Lonely Planet guide to get inspirations. The back section of these guides have a wealth of information. It would be nice to do some homework before we travel. Then yes, get taken over by the glamour of travel – but atleast it might come from a place of nuanced understanding. And that itself is a win.
For the last couple of years, I have dedicated myself to learning more (unfortunately a lot of work is needed to remember more). This has meant consuming all sorts of content – documentaries, books, YouTube videos and more. The content can be overwhelming but the resulting connection I get to a place is definitely worth the time and effort.
Give back as you travel
There are significant concerns with climate change and the negative impact of travel on our world. It is definitely something to ponder upon. I have written about this before. The simplest way to help the climate is to stop travelling. That is definitely not a sustainable solution. It is like telling people to stop consuming material goods from Amazon overnight. Not going to happen.
But what can happen, and in my view quite easily, is to give back. I have been contributing a percentage of my travel costs to charities as a way to offset my carbon footprint. In this way, while I explore, I also know I am helping others. I am also trying to fly less and use more local transports such as buses and trains. For short term travels, this option might be quite difficult to embrace but for long hauls, which I prefer, I rather take local transport even if it means longer journey. Anything to help.
There are other ways to contribute and give back: Buy only local, Do not buy souvenirs in large cities but rather in small villages, stay in locally run hotels rather than large chains.
Question the Value Chain of your travels: Where is the money going?
One of the biggest problems I have with packaged travel is that the money through the value chain tends to not be well distributed to the locals. Most of the money goes back to foreign companies and their shareholders. I would think this applies to the ‘All inclusive’ resorts/packages, cruise holidays, large chain hotels and large chain cafes/restaurants. Of course they give local employment but as a % of sales, we are talking about minimal outflow to the local economy. I would recommend questioning these companies on their balance sheets before you travel. They don’t hold the power anymore. If you care about travelling sustainably then it is only right to ask these questions. Many wont give you responses. That is fine. If they start to lose business, then they will have to answer. You could also spend more time in small family run hotels, eat and drink in local cafes and use tour companies where their tours are well integrated into the local economic landscape.
Give up on consumerism
The instant gratification culture compounded by easy access to goods have exponentially contributed to the scale of the problem that is consumerism. This is not an issue about human values. Increased consumerism leads to more waste, plastic pollution, more landfills, more negative impact on the climate and our planet. The domino effect of wide consumerism is extremely negative.
I would suggest giving up on consumerism when you travel. You don’t need twenty types of souvenirs. You don’t need five new T-shirts. If you want to get back a souvenir, carry a polaroid – take a photo with a local and you have a souvenir. If you really want to get back something home, buy from a local craftsperson where you know the money will be in the hands of the locals instead of some factory in China mass producing the souvenirs. Buy less, waste less and pollute less.
Forget the bucket list. Go for a smaller and deeper bucket
Instead of going for an all achievement oriented approach, go for a deeper learning approach. Local tourism wont get you much on the Total number of countries list but then if you go deeper you get to experience the micro cultures in your own country. If you spend more time in a country then you get to experience more of the arts, food, culture and life of a place. If you go back to the same country in different seasons, you get to experience different festivals and different aspects of the societies. The bucket list approach works for many but if you chase the bucket, you are likely to be disappointed. Instead go deeper and be immersive. It might just be a lot more meaningful.
What do you think? Do you think we can change our approach to exploration? Do you think the new normal in travel gives us opportunities to reform the industry and reform ourselves?