Travel is an incredible thing. I know that sounds like an obvious thing to say. What millennial my age doesn’t hunger for travel, does not appreciate each opportunity we have to go further, to see something new? We travel more than any other generation before us, twenty-three percent more likely to cross borders in fact. We allocate more money towards these experiences, despite the criticism of baby boomers that we should be saving to buy a house or for retirement. We have other dreams. I don’t need to explain to you that most people my age have been priced out of the dreams of our parents generation by decades of economic deregulation, and salaries that don’t keep pace with inflation. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you won’t understand. So we set our sights on new horizons, to see and experience the world.
And that is an incredible thing. To travel is to take a new state of mind, to be out of your element, out of your comfort zone, adjusting and understanding something new and in turn put your own life, your own home, your own ideas in perspective. Or maybe, be inspired to change them entirely. That’s why I keep this journal. Travel is my single greatest inspiration, I feel the need to put that all on a page. I don’t want to forget the way it makes me feel, and to be honest there have been places and times that it has made me profoundly troubled and sad.
Like sailing in Greece and stopping to swim in remote coves of archipelagos, only to find the surface of the beautiful mediterranean slick with oil, and snorkelling over plastics accumulating on the sea floor. I’ve been to Thailand with an old friend and watched the terror in his eyes as we revisited a devastated bleached coral reef, void of life, that just ten years earlier he had seen healthy and teaming with fish — likely the results of rising ocean temperatures, chemicals from snorkelers sunscreen, and a massive inundation of Chinese tourists thanks to their booming economy and no ecological education who have spent a decade walking all over it. I’ve seen the trash that covers some of the world’s most beautiful beaches there. I’ve seen sea turtles in Hawaii harassed in their natural habitat by swarms of greedy selfie takers thinking it’s cute to let their toddlers have a ride on a wild animal, with complete disregard for that creature’s well being because their vanity and digital validation was more important, of course. I’ve watched home videos of rare dolphins die in similar situations. These are some of the worst, the most shocking, the most obvious.
Don’t even get me started on the number of “influencers” I have seen flown to the Maldives for luxury holiday experiences to share with their millions of followers. The bungalows, the beaches, the perfectly sliced fruit tray at breakfast, wonderful! And yet not one ever managing to mention the fact even in passing that this paradise is sinking, slowly being swallowed up by rising sea levels due to climate change that at this rate will entirely erase the tiny island nation from the map within thirty years. Maybe it just wans’t in their press kit, or perhaps it just didn’t feel on brand for them to mention that.
But there are other things too that constantly cross my mind. Often they are economic, like a shitty souvenir. Why in a spectacular place like Provence per say with an abundance of local products are tourist shops selling branded crap made in China that has nothing to do with this place other than the name written on it? Why on earth do I see people buying it? Not only does this feel like a cultural abomination, but an economic one as well.
South of the equator it usually hides just underneath the nose of the average tourist which can almost always be summed up as wealth disparity between the visitor and the local. The presence of poverty, and I mean real poverty, not the kind where rich westerners take pity on people who can’t afford cable and the latest iPhone and a college degree, the kind that where people work seven days a week in luxury hotels and only if they’re very lucky, can still afford to live close enough to their children and go home to a shack at night without running water. It’s these people who are left to fill the gap between the price and the true cost, returning to work each morning with a smile on their face so we can all feel “comfortable”.
Which brings me to the traveler’s comfort zone, the inability of so many to be cosmopolitan, to truly open ourselves to new experiences and new people when traveling and accept that it’s okay to not always feel 100% at ease, that this is a natural feeling in life and not always a bad one. This is perhaps where too many of us fall short of taking what we can from traveling. It takes practice and bravery. I find the latter comes more with age.
I do not want to sound too hard on the world and those that travel to see it. Nor would I ever intend to imply that I myself have some perfect record, that I have always made the wisest and most selfless decisions. Travel far and wide is perhaps more affordable and more accessible than ever. But we must acknowledge that travel comes with an indirect cost too — a social, economic, and ecological footprint that we must not be reckless with because sooner or later, someone has to pay. Sometimes, most often when I am near the sea, close to nature, I am so overwhelmed by what an incredible world we live in that it brings me to tears, for what it is and what someday it may cease to be. Travel is the gift our generation has afforded itself, we must do so wisely as part of a global effort to ensure that these spectacular experiences, people, and places that light up our lives and open our minds are left touched by our presence only for the better, and never for worse. That’s why I have collaborated with the United Nations and the Convention for Biological Diversity to share a guide to sustainable tourism, this year’s theme for International Biodiversity Day. May you take them to heart, may you put them into practice, and may you share them with friends so we can tread lightly, take with us above all that which is intangible, and leave behind something even better for tomorrow.
A Guide to Sustainable Tourism
RESPECT WILDLIFE & THEIR NATURAL HABITATS
Observe wildlife quietly and from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. Do not disturb wildlife or plants for a “better look”. Never feed wildlife. Feeding animals makes them habituated to and reliant on humans, and often leads to attacks and possible death for the animal.
RESPECT INDIGENOUS PEOPLES & LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Opening your mind to other cultures and traditions, and being respectful of diversity, can transform your travel experience. Learn as much as possible about your destination before you arrive even, and take time to understand the customs, norms and traditions. Remember to always be tolerant and respectful of local social and cultural traditions and practices. Avoid behaviour that could offend the local population. Any tourism activities should be conducted in harmony with the attributes and traditions of the host regions and countries and in respect for their laws, practices and customs.
PREVENT THE SPREAD OF DISEASE
Before departure, check with health professionals about any vaccinations you may need in the country or countries you are visiting. Ensure that your vaccinations are up to date to prevent the risk of introducing new diseases to your destinations. Take precautions commensurate with the risks involved and consult medical advice as necessary.
PREVENT SPREAD OF INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES
As a traveler, whether you know it or not, you pick up a lot of “hitchhikers” along the way. These hitchhikers can come in many forms. Seeds, insect egg, and other living material can hitchhike on your shoes to new locations (both your destination and your home on your way back), where they might become invasive alien species. Invasive alien species often lead to the elimination of local species and is one of the most significant drivers of biodiversity loss. When natural habitats for wildlife are degraded and biodiversity is lost, crucial ecosystem services are compromised also for humans, most often affecting first the poor and the most vulnerable, women and children.
BE VIGILANT WHEN MAKING PURCHASES
The purchases we make can have a profound impact on wildlife. Think twice before buying or consuming something made out of an exotic tree, plant or wild animal or rare rock or fossil. Some species, and products made with them, are because of their endangered nature, banned or restricted from being traded or imported/exported. Therefore travellers would be contributing to the demise of the species and breaking the law to buy them or travel with them. Other products and the materials they’re made with might also be using biodiversity/species in a non-sustainable manner (even if not endangered at the present) and travellers should encourage the sustainable use of biodiversity. If in doubt, consult credible sources like CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and WWF. Generally refrain from buying products such as bags made from wild leather, carvings made from ivory, or mounted insects, shells or animals. Often sound alternatives are available, such as purchasing handicrafts made by local artisans where the profits go directly to local communities rather than poachers or unscrupulous traders. Safeguarding a country’s wildlife is the most sustainable way of securing the future for the people who depend on it for survival.
IN PROTECTED AREAS, ACCESS ONLY THE PLACES OPEN TO VISITORS
The world’s national parks and nature reserves receive around eight billion visits every year, according to a recent study. Increasing the number of visitors to protected areas can be an effective tool for conservation and community development, provided well-functioning management systems are in place. When travelling on foot, stay on established tracks whenever possible to minimise disturbance or damage to the soil and vegetated surfaces. Where a track does not exist, take the most direct route and avoid vegetation, fragile terrain and wildlife. Never touch or harass wild animals. Refrain from illegal camping and don’t light fires.
BE CAREFUL WHEN NEAR CORAL REEFS
Coral reefs are very delicate and biodiverse ecosystems, and extremely endangered globally. Never touch them, step on them, or damage them by snorkeling or diving too close. Avoid using sunscreen if possible when diving near them. If you must use sunscreen, avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, a common UV-filtering compound. Many commonly used sunscreens can both kill and cause DNA damage in coral. The best way to protect coral reefs when diving is to cover your skin with a long-sleeve shirt, rash guard and wet suit.
DO LIKE THE LOCALS
If possible, choose locally owned lodges and hotels. Use local buses, car rental companies and airlines. Buy locally made handcrafts and products. Respect livelihoods of local vendors and artisans by paying a fair price (i.e. do not try to haggle prices down below a reasonable level). Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local festivals and events. If you have the means, hire local guides with in-depth knowledge of the area.
CHOOSE NATURE-FRIENDLY ACCOMODATION
Ask hotels/lodges about their environmental policies. Do they have an environmental policy? Have they implemented energy and water saving measures – for example, spacious hotel complexes with park-like pastures that need constant watering have tremendous water consumption. Do they contribute to local conservation efforts and support local communities? Do they compost? Recycle? Reuse towels and bed linens for multiple days. Avoid using the hotel laundry if possible, as they typically wash each guest’s clothes separately