Like to travel? Respect, and go “green”!

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Picture courtesy of Taking Off

Every year the Lonely Planet guide releases a list of the top 10 places to visit for the upcoming year. The list for 2009 includes a wide variety of destinations to suit the first time traveler to the experienced backpacker extraordinaire. This list, along with many others, represents how interestingly, (and sometimes controversially), the art of traveling has over the past decade or so become much more accessible to the common citizen. Last minute getaways for a relaxing week at the beach are common, as is a gap year for inquisitive young adults looking to widen their cultural knowledge and experience and head out on their own before they begin college and/or a lifetime of work. In many ways this is due to the current generational craze of jet setting which, only a few decades ago was reserved only for the wealthy and upper classes.  Nowadays tourism has a domino effect. Once a person has visited a place, they tell their friends about how relaxing, beautiful, magical or culturally rich it was and so on… The cheaper cost of travel, for example lower airfares, also helps in the equation!

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Picture courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald

While many of us see this broadening of horizons as a positive move in our ever-continuous quest to be a “universal society”: fully accepting of each others’ customs and traditions, many also see the rise in the popularity of travel often having a negative impact, particularly on the third world countries who at first encouraged tourism as a welcome economic boost, and are now consequently dependent upon this income. It is unfortunate that the latter view holds just as much truth as the first. Tourism has and continues to have a negative impact in many countries, oftentimes it can be seen that more tourists = less culture and the real essence and life of a place can easily be missed amongst the throngs of tourists and visitors. Local governments also sometimes overlook the needs of the local residents and environment in an attempt to create an economic boost.

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As travelers of the modern “green” age, it is time that we become aware of and accept the damage done in order to take advantage of the great opportunities put forth to us to make amends.

A recent personal trip to Tanzania sheds light on how tourism can be unintentionally damaging: tourists often give money directly to the homeless, and this provides them with an incentive to stay on the streets.  There are numerous campaigns in Tanzania telling tourists that if you want to help, give money directly to an organization. Cases like this can be seen all over the world in many different scenarios; as long as tourists give to the homeless they will stay on the streets…

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Picture courtesy of No Boundaries

There is the message here that you can help, you just have to know the right way.  Sometimes its just not as obvious as you might first think. A little bit of research and knowledge can go a long way.

Traveling is a great opportunity for self-discovery and everyone has the ability to travel without adding further harm to a country. With the rising concern of global warming we are all being taught to be more aware of the world around us and to think about the consequences of our actions. As modern day travelers this should also be our way of thinking. We should take every opportunity to broaden our horizons by experiencing different cultures; not for example, by going to Egypt and staying in a fancy western style hotel in Sharm El Sheikh for two weeks, but by going to Egypt and visiting the pyramids, mosques, the tomb of Tutankhamun, wondering around Cairo in dress respectful to the culture and eating in local restaurants, thus contributing to the local economy. That is real traveling!

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The role of advertising and marketing plays a large part in the tourism debate. Airlines advertise inexpensive flights to encourage people to fly overseas. It would be inconceivable to stop this, as it would stunt tourism in places where it is now a vital part of the economy. Positive and thoughtful advertising is needed to encourage people to respectfully immerse themselves in the real cultures of the places they are visiting; to mingle with the locals and almost become one for the duration of their stay instead of being a tourist and looking in from the outside of the glass. The goal of traveling should be of course to relax and enjoy, but also to experience different things in a new environment, not the same things in a different environment.

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Picture courtesy of JPG: Your World in Pictures

(The huge diversity of species and natural beauty of Penguin Island in the South Shetland Islands, has resulted in large amounts of tourists to the area. Consequently, it has been recommended that the eastern, southern, and western parts of the island no longer be open to tourists but serve as refuge areas to protect the wildlife.)

We all have a long way to go as “green” travelers.  It is unavoidable that someone will stumble across a secluded haven and then tell their friends and eventually it will become popular and the cycle will repeat itself. This inevitability is a sign of the crazy and ironic world in which we live, where a positive thing for one person usually means a negative falls upon someone else. However, it is possible that we, as travelers of this new “green” age can strive to protect, conserve and respect our neighbors’ environments and cultures and support their economies in the most honest way possible.

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Wish you were here!

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