4 steps to a conscious travel

Travelling to far away countries has become a possibility for more people than ever before. This is really exciting as travel is the best education we can get, helping us to become an informed global citizen. But no one ever really teaches us how we should travel …
We fly, sail, Interrail, cycle or hitch­hike around the world, staying in hostels, resorts, home­stays, couch­surfing … But how to get most of our trips while making sure we respect people and places we visit? How to be 
a CONSCIOUS TRAVELLER?

When you’re far away from home, consider the impact of your steps. Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand.
When you’re far away from home, consider the impact of your steps. Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand. © Wendy Allan

With our Drop the Tension project we have travelled from Australia to Europe without flights, looking for answers to this question. Here’s some of what we learned …
4 STEPS TO A CONSCIOUS TRAVEL:

1. Pay the right price
„I don’t mind if they charge me extra. It’s so cheap here! It’s only like $5 back home. Besides, I’m helping them feed their kids.“ – MYTH!
In Indonesia, we encountered tourists paying an equivalent of a local teacher’s 3-weeks-pay ($30) for a taxi ride. Imagine if extraordinarily wealthy visitors from exotic places suddenly flood your hometown giving away big sums to random people. How would it impact your local society? When we travel, our money has the power to totally transform a place. It can be tempting to think that overpaying for goods and services when visiting a „developing“ country can aid people’s daily burdens. Instead, overpaying teaches people the better they are at cheating the more they will earn… This way we support corruption, dependencies and rip-off merchants.
ASK YOURSELF: How much does that money mean here? Ask a local: how much does it normally cost here?
Be conscious and responsible – it’s all about finding the right price. Do your research!

Supporting locally­run responsible businesses and NGOs is a good way to spend money. Here: Daauw Home, Houayxai, Laos.
Supporting locally-­run responsible businesses and NGOs is a good way to spend money. Here: Daauw Home, Houayxai, Laos. © Wendy Allan

2. Make local friends
It’s hard to express how much we have to learn about hospitality from places outside the western world! It is an extremely humbling experience to stay in the home of a local friend and can teach you so much about their culture. This is what great travel is made of!
Skip the most touristy (and most expensive!) attractions – look for where the locals hang out! Take the local buses and see what conversations might start. Or better yet, hitch­hike! This way you can make a chain of new friends across the country! Best of all, this is a two­-way exchange. If you’re interested in the local culture and way of life, chances are yours is also fascinating for locals. Meeting people has never been easier before! Join CouchSurfing and its alternatives – BeWelcome and Trustroots. And find amazing local groups on Facebook!

Give the local language a go! No matter how untallented you think you are, even 5 words can get you very far! Sumbawa, Eastern Indonesia.
Give the local language a go! No matter how untallented you think you are, even 5 words can get you very far! Sumbawa, Eastern Indonesia. © Wendy Allan

Care what you wear
Be sure to make sure you look decent in the eyes of your potential friends. Here are some simple travel­fashion truths for you:
Loose long pants won’t make you hotter; a long­sleeved shirt is always handy; scarves are ultimately practical!

3. Help wisely
When travelling, you will be struck by the inequality and injustices of our world. It’s a natural response to want to do something about it.
But if our help is not applied wisely, it might bring more negative than positive effects. The best way to do good is to share information, ideas and connect with people – this can empower them to make the change. Only a change coming from inside is a long­lasting one.
When volunteering, be cautious: volutourism is often a trap – the fees you pay are very high compared to local salaries and they disapear somewhere between the accounts of those who run it. Also, often the position foreigners are willing to not only work for free but even pay to do, takes a job that a local could be employed to do.
You can give help instead with simple acts that can make a big difference to communities, things anyone can do! How about you:

  • Visit a school: it could be the motivation pupils need to see a point in their studies. Even the teachers might be very excited to see a foreigner in their class!
  • Meet with local tourism groups: can you help them promote sustainable tourism in their region?
  • Start a travel blog, raise awareness!
Visiting a local NGO, like this farmers’ group in Eastern Indonesia, can be the first step to understanding the local situation and getting involved consciously. Flores.
Visiting a local NGO, like this farmers’ group in Eastern Indonesia, can be the first step to understanding the local situation and getting involved consciously. Flores. © Wendy Allan

Always start by talking to the locals, don’t ever come to a place imagining yourself (an outsider) to be the one to solve all the problems. Rather, look for ways you can help people connect and exchange ideas! Yes, using your heart & head as your guide whilst travelling will surely see you making bigger changes to the world than your wallet ever can.

4. Try new things
Obvious, I know! But unfortunately today’s backpacker industry strives to make the places we visit the same as what we are used to back home. How strange it is to travel to another country, with a completely different culture, only to spend time hanging out with people from other western countries … Broaden your world!  Avoid the monoculture! Look for what is authentic and local. All we’re trying to say, is the world is an incredibly diverse place. And embracing this diversity as much as you can will add the richness to your travel experience. Dig deep. Connect. Use all your senses. Listen to your heart. And, drop the tension! You’re in for the ride of your life 😉

Hichchiking as well as getting off the beaten track are great ways to get to know the place you’re visitting. And they’re so much fun! Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China
Hichhiking as well as getting off the beaten track are great ways to get to know the place you’re visiting. And they’re so much fun! Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China. © Wendy Allan

(This article was submitted for the 2nd blogger competition of Naturefriends International – respect.)

Author: Wendy Allanhttp://dropthetension.com

Wendy comes from Australia. She left her biomedical laboratory bench to explore other ideas of „wellness“. She is drawn to projects centred around community engagement & social inclusion. Passionate about education, food and bringing people together, Wendy sees her travel as a way to study these interests further.

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