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A globetrotters guide to using tourism for good

Admit it, you’ve been dreaming of adventures abroad since you were five years old when you’d sneak down the driveway with a toy-filled backpack. You may be older now (toys still optional) but the spectacular photos that fill your daily Insta feed and disrupt your work still get you dreaming about packing you bags, throwing a dart at a world map and hitting the road.

But you’re also concerned about the negative side of travel; your environmental footprint, your impact on local communities, carbon emissions, economic disparity… the list sure seems long. It begs the questions, how does one satisfy their adventurous itch without destroying our already vulnerable world? If you’re as perplexed as me and you want to make a positive impact on the world, why don’t you use tourism for good next time you travel? Here’s a few simple ideas to get you started.

Driven by Curiosity, Guided by R E S P E C T

Nate gives our Tuk Tuk driver Sokha a well deserved break.

One might think carving your name into the walls of the Paris Catacombs or scrawling graffiti on Jim Morrison’s grave might be inappropriate vacation activities, but real tourists have done this, so a little bit of Aretha Franklin is essential when transforming yourself into the epitome of a respectful, ethical tourist and traipsing around the globe. Traveling with respect and an eye to the local lifestyle can flourish experiences that enrich the lives of the traveller and people with whom a traveller interacts. This inspires stories to be told, allowing individuals to grow into their place in the world and rousing motivation to invest back into the locations travelled to through understanding them in a different light.

In contrast, uneducated tourists stand equally influential, whether haggling a Balinese street vender to pay for a meal in Australian dollars or upsetting locals in Laos by wandering a temple in Lycra bike shorts, a tourist will represent their nation for better or worse. Astonishingly, avoiding this cringe-worthy behaviour or worse; fines, deportation or jail time, invites a jet-setter to simply brush up on politics, languages, gender roles, and common etiquette specific to the destination. For many, it is not about traveling in a safety bubble of your own construction, it is the personal growth that can be gained through cultural education and awareness, and the all too rare opportunity given to inspire real and positive change in the modern world. So next time you’re somewhere new, get to know the local customs, learn a little of the local language and show your respect by immersing in to the culture of a new destination.

Stop Poverty Porn and #SELFIEFORGOOD

Dan delivers valuable books to a school in rural Cambodia.

The experience appears harmless – money is exchanged for supporting the local economy and tourists stand blissfully preoccupied with selecting Instagram filters and writing witty, enviable captions after posing with local people or animals. Social media, dictates that a holiday must be broadcast online for it to have existed, meaning these acts of goodwill can often do more harm than good. Poverty porn can distort complex human experiences into an understandable and consumable situation, disrupting and destroying already struggling communities.

Understandably, human objectification in the media bothers us, yet obliviously posing with drugged-up tigers for Instagram, photographing slum-dwelling malnourished children for Facebook, or even tweeting about handing change to beggars inspires charity, not activism; donors, and not advocates. The iPhone in the hands of an uneducated traveller is a potential weapon, so perhaps utilise luggage space to pack supplies needed by worldwide community projects, donate through reputable organisations, research before pursuing animal activities and, if nothing else, consider the relationship between subject and shooter before snapping shots of indigenous people and heritage sites. Sustainable change in poverty-stricken communities is more than the sum of its financial donations. To indeed reconstruct communities to be economically and socially just, perhaps travellers must create avenues for their voices to be heard rather than imposing constructs upon them via social media platforms.

Cut carbs (carbon, that is) and REDUCE THAT FOOTPRINT!

We get it, you want memories of your holiday and your impact to last for years; however, the lifetime of plastic, 500 years, is way too long. To many eco-conscious people, even the concept of travel sparks friction, debating whether exploring our planet is worth it’s suffering. Fortunately, compromise is achievable through pursuing greener travel methods, such as simply applying conscious brands of sun creams, soaps, and deodorants, avoiding single-use plastics or using air conditioning, or carbon offsetting your flights. For me, it is the cuisine that makes or breaks a destination, so next time you’re overseas, challenge fellow travellers to halve food miles and eat local, washed down with a “near beer” brewed local to the area rather than familiar brands from home. Sit, sip the sweet taste of sustainability, and cheers to that!

From leaving wildflowers or shells where found, to packing reusable bags, board members to backpackers and beach bums to culture vultures are acknowledging the not-so-scary steps towards stepping into the natural world with a reduced footprint so our grandchildren may witness the same beauty decades from now. Don’t be afraid to get out there and explore this wonderful world we live in, just remember when doing so, you have the power to use tourism for good and it is the small things you do while adventuring that can make a huge difference.

About the author

Hi there, I'm Pearl Waite, a young girl itching to complete her degree at the University of Queensland and pursue a career that involves lots of traveling and travel writing. With enthusiastic backpacking parents, I'm lucky to have visited many beautiful countries. I have flown thousands of miles, stayed in many different cities, and tasted some very strange foreign food. My passion, however, involves learning how to continue these adventures in the most ethical, sustainable, and low-budget way. Looking forward to the future!

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