Lakes, rivers, the atmosphere are cleaner since the Covid-19 lockdowns halted travel. Before the pandemic we read about the negative effects large numbers of visitors have in popular destinations, where locals despise visitors albeit the economic impact on the place. Drinking too much, rude, and loud behavior, trashing places, polluting, and disrespecting local culture are at the top of the list of reasons for the recent unpopularity of tourism.
In 2014, my husband and I toured southern Italy and its many catholic churches and noticed shawl vendors outside churches in Venice and Florence. We noticed tourists who failed to follow the required dress code for sacred places scraping to find euros to pay for these items. Vendors might profit, but locals notice and dislike the disrespect for their religious and cultural traditions.
For 12 years, we owned and operated a tour company specializing in tours into colonial Mexico; a religious conservative region in that country. The number one complaint our customers had is that Mexicans did not speak English, that there was no salt and pepper on the tables, and that it took waiters too long to bring the check even though we explained that in Mexico it is rude to bring the check before being asked; it is like asking you to leave.
If these anecdotes sound trivial, then let me share an idea; travel is meant to enlighten and educate. Traveling connects people and fosters respect for one another’s culture. “Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel,” said Mark Twain.
Lately, travel seemed more for self-glorification and promotion than a rich and enlightening experience. An experience made to generate millions to some – the airline, cruise ship, and social media industries – at the expense of destinations and its inhabitants. On the other hand, we see more preservationists, birdwatchers and nature loving travelers. These are travelers who pass on having linens washed daily and look for recycling centers wherever they go. They prefer vacation rentals with plenty of windows for natural light and fresh air and spend a good amount of time enjoying outdoor activities.
Remember the days people wore their best clothes to fly and attend concerts and shows? I have photos of my parents in the 70s in Las Vegas where my father is wearing a Tuxedo! Last time I was there people wore tennis shoes and shorts to a show. Regardless of what one thinks of this change, the question begs to find out why and when did we take travel for granted. When did we become so casual and so ill prepared for an encounter with a different culture?
Traveling for selfies and posting on social media is only hurting our budget and our state of mind for it totally defeats the purpose of leisure travel. This travel frenzy hurts everybody including our planet and this pandemic might just be the time we reflect on these things. This might be the time we become responsible visitors and engage in ways we can positively impact the economy of the places we visit; think about what we can give instead of what we can take from these amazing places.
Could our indifference come from traveling more often than before and focusing on ourselves and our enjoyment? Are crowded flights making us grumpy? There are many things that make travel less glamourous, and even less comfortable, than it was when we dressed up and maybe that is the reason we don’t respect it much.
I have fond memories of our tour operator days when a group of Winter Texans from Michigan wintering in Brownsville, Texas, collected school supplies to distribute in Mexico. They hired us to organize tours into Mexico and to plan visits to schools in poverty stricken areas near the places we were visiting. That is one significant way to give back. Another is to spend money at local venues and to look after our pets and trash. We can make a point of visiting local museums and be interested in local history. There is a lot to discover I have discovered. We can give to local charities and be polite and respectful when posting on social media.
According to some experts, the benefits we have seen to the environment are temporary. With lockdowns easing, these experts fear the world risks a future with more traffic and more pollution, and climate change that worsens faster than ever according to a recent article in the National Geographic. This might just be the time for responsible travel and for seeking edifying experiences. It is time to ask ourselves why we are traveling, and if the answer is to show off and post on social media it might be time to research other activities that we truly enjoy.
Just a few things to think about before we plan our next getaway. Happy and safe travels to all!