“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
– Henry Miller
What is Conscious Travel?
Conscious travel is a mindfulness for the world and its people whom we encounter upon our travels. It’s about thinking differently about the way that we travel: changing our values and perception of the world and seeing a destination through a local's eyes.
The world is changing as people’s mindsets are shifting and consciously waking up. No longer content with mass tourism, people are becoming more value conscious and are seeking meaningful experiences, immersing themselves within their surroundings to establish longer-lasting connections and gain a better understanding of the world and its people. People want to return home from a trip feeling enlightened and transformed.
Conscious travel’s goal is to create a sustainable travel economy that gives something back to communities through local guides and provides the traveller with an authentic experience, not just a holiday. Whether through wellness and spirituality, eco or sustainable travel, travelling consciously will make a positive impact on the world and enrich the lives of everyone we meet along the way, one footprint at a time.
With travel becoming more of a necessity, it’s important to know how to travel consciously.
Why Conscious Travel is Important
Travel and tourism generates over $7 trillion globally but unfortunately not all communities benefit from the money that tourism generates.
It can damage local communities with locals being out-priced from their homes or goods or services being too expensive as prices increase to cater for tourists. Jobs can be seasonal and employees may even make less than minimum wage. Profits generally go to the larger international companies who may not have sustainable practices meaning that the local community does not benefit.
When tourism is done right it creates a positive change in the world therefore conscious travel is seen as a catalyst for change, lessening the negative impacts of the tourist industry so that travel benefits communities which may otherwise be impoverished and exploited.
When we talk about conscious travel, we’re not advising against travelling, instead it’s about how we can streamline and funnel our travels so that it benefits those who need it the most. It’s about being mindful of what we do, what we buy, and how we interact with others. It’s our responsibility to be aware of where our money is going. It’s important to have mindfulness and respect of people’s lives and do everything we can to help.
When we travel we unwittingly become ambassadors for our countries, giving locals an impression of those with our nationality. It’s a chance to learn from others and teach them about ourselves even through just a brief encounter. As travellers, we need to be more conscious of the reality of the lives of people in countries around the globe. It’s looking beyond what we are told or shown and finding out the reality for ourselves, funnelling our travels to benefit those who most need it.
How We Can Make a Difference
The first way to become a conscious traveller is by reading books or blogs that educate us about the local culture before we travel. Knowing and respecting the culture is so important.
Buying artisan products from local sellers especially homemade instead of from shopping malls. This also helps preserve their cultural heritage. This includes souvenirs so avoid buying anything made from endangered species or hardwoods.
Eating in local restaurants and buying food from street vendors instead of international chain restaurants. This way it supports local businesses.
Use local tour guides and tip them afterwards. Ensure that any indigenous or slum tourism tour filters some of the money back into the community as projects such as education. Visit programs which help support both economic and social growth within the community and help empower women within micro-lending programs. This way you can participate in an authentic cultural experience knowing that your money is helping those who need it the most.
You can be a conscious traveller by not taking advantage of locals by bartering too much. Remember that a few dollars to us may be a week’s food to them.
Stay in small locally-owned accommodations such as guest houses or B&Bs. Or look at a homestay where you learn about their culture and vice versa. During your stay keep your water use as low as you can and turn off the tap and lights when you aren't using them.
Instead of buying from large supermarkets, buy from smaller locally-owned shops or at farmer’s markets if they hold them. Be careful where you put your litter and the packaging which you buy. Recycle when you can.
Minimise your footprint by being mindful of the local environment. Use public transport such as buses or walk or cycle.
Cruise ships can be damaging for the economy and the environment, with some using their own tours so that the locals don’t gain from this mass tourism which takes over their islands. Venice is a huge example of this. Avoid taking large cruises or staying in all-inclusive properties.
And finally… Beware of volunteering agencies which don't operate ethically. Volunteering in schools or orphanages can often do more harm than good. Westerners only being there for one or two weeks can mean that the children form attachment issues which makes it hard with such an influx of ongoing volunteers.
These are just some of the ways in which you can make conscious choices as you travel. It only takes a few conscious choices to really make a difference and help us to enrich the lives of others on our journeys.
* Conscious Travel is a concept developed by Anna Pollock: a Visionary, Change Agent and Tourism Strategist.