Intelligent Travel’s Leslie Trew Magrew recently interviewed author Elizabeth Becker. Becker’s Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism examines our impact as travelers. In the interview, she sites France as a model of sustainable tourism, embracing the culture that people go to France to see. Cambodia exemplifies the worst case scenario, exploiting the sites and people to make more money. Governments and tourist offices are burdened with finding ways to balance the influx of tourists with the local resources. However, it is not just their burden. Responsible travel is our burden. As parents, sharing our love of travel with our families, what can we do to make sure that the places we visit now will still be an authentic experience for our children’s children?
Responsible Travel: Proper Preparation
Using a Staycation to Better Understand a Vacation
One way Becker suggests approaching the issue of responsible tourism was taking a staycation.
My advice is to first be a tourist where you live. Explore the museums, the farms, the churches, the night life, the historic monuments–and then read up on local politics and history. If you’re interested in volunteering overseas, first volunteer at home. Then when you’re planning your next trip abroad, use that experience as a template and study up on the destination you’re about to visit.
I admit, other than a lower carbon footprint, I didn’t quite understand how this would help. Then I read a little more about responsible travel in Cambodia and the idea of visiting orphanages was brought up. In bold letters the site asked
THINK TWICE BEFORE VISITING AN ORPHANAGE …Would you go to visit an orphanage in your home country? Would somewhere that puts the best interests of the children first allow random visits from strangers?
This helped me put it in perspective. The way we would approach travel where we live, that’s how we should approach travel somewhere else. How do locals like to be treated? What types of things are off the tourist radar, but worth the visit? How do we connect to the community?
With children, seeing what their own community offers helps them make a connection outside of their community. An added benefit to staycations? Learning more about our family’s travel style.
Becker mentions the Baedeker Travel Guides from the late 1800s and early 1900s. These “were written in consultation with historians and archaeologists who presumed the tourists wanted to immerse themselves in a country.” As opposed to many of today’s guides, the Baedeker Guides focused more on the history, culture, politics and even language of a country and only a small space for hotels and restaurants.
Keep this in mind when preparing for a trip. Make sure the amount of time searching for the perfect hotel is matched with taking the time to gain a greater understanding of the country itself. Include children in this preparation. Whip up relevant meals, read stories set in the location, look up phrases and photos online, and do a search on youtube for videos. This knowledge gives everyone, kids included, a better appreciation for the country and compassion for its people.
Responsible Travel: The Local Impact
It’s important to understand just how travel impacts the local community. Becker’s Cambodia example shows that their shortsightedness is actually destroying the very reason people started traveling there in the first place, “In Angkor, a thicket of new hotels has outpaced infrastructure and is draining the water table so badly the temples are sinking.” And that’s just the beginning. The greed exhibited there has made Cambodia popular for sex tourism and even profiting from tours to the killing fields.
This is an extreme, but unfortunately, small example of the effects of tourism. An influx of tourists will have both a positive and negative impact to the local community, in every community. Responsible travelers, educating future travelers, must find an appropriate way to travel with minimal negative impact.
The Ethical Traveler suggests to
Be aware of where your money is going, and patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash within the local economy, so the people you are visiting can benefit directly from your visit.
Fortunately, according to a list by Conde Nast’s Wendy Perrin of what kids say they really want, this should coincide nicely. They want a place that is completely different from home, preferring the experience of a local market where they can the varieties of food then going on a picnic at a park later, and purchasing souvenirs directly from the maker.
This topic is far larger than these simple points I mention above. Acknowledging our impact is the first step. By educating ourselves we can find the balance to make more right choices for our families and the places we visit.
This is definitely a subject I will return to again. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on responsible tourism and any challenges you might face as a traveling family.
If you are interested in other articles about this topic, please visit the following sites:
This post is part of Friday Daydreaming at R We There Yet Mom?