Travel with care.

Why do we travel? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Perhaps – as the writer Bruce Chatwin believed – we’re all nomads at heart. Perhaps we secretly yearn to escape our everyday lives, if only temporarily. Perhaps it’s the lure of the strange and exotic. Perhaps it’s the desire for a really good suntan. Perhaps there are as many reasons to travel as there are travellers.

Bike in Qinghai

Bike, Qinghai © Jo James

Whatever the motivation, there’s a pervasive belief that travel can make one a better and wiser person, free from prejudice, full of glamour and thrilling stories. This may have been true in the past, but in the age of mass tourism that we enjoy today, for every amazing, transformative journey there will have been many more that are a mere change of scenery.

We now travel further and faster for shorter periods of time than ever before – a weekend in New York, a cheeky mini-break in Bali – the speed and ease with which one can book and make these trips renders them incredibly seductive. But, despite the fun of saying “Hang it, I’m off to Marrakech/Mandalay/Montreal {delete as applicable} for the weekend”, I’m coming to feel that fast travel is like fast food – filling, but ultimately unsatisfying. We may believe that we can add meaning to life by moving more quickly, by doing more, but is that really the case?

Road in Dongchuan

Mountain road, Yunnan © Jo James

Travel can do amazing things for the world, as well as for the traveller, but only if we undertake journeys with care and make informed choices in where we spend our time and money. Travel has the power to preserve natural environments and conserve rare species, to lift whole communities out of poverty, and to broaden all of our horizons, but it will only do so if we fortunate travellers play our role well.

***

Below are some initial ideas for how to travel better, whether it’s your commute to work, or the trip of a lifetime:

1) Spend your money wisely
Where you choose to spend your money is the single most important way you can benefit the places you travel to. Support businesses that are worthy of it, buy from local-owned shops and restaurants, use tour operators that engage respectfully with destination communities and the environment.

2) Go as slowly as you can
Take the slowest form of transport that’s practical for your journey – the simplest way of practicing slow travel. Not only will you feel more connected to the land- or city-scape, but you will also reduce the environmental impact of your journey by taking the train instead of flying, walking instead of taking a taxi.

3) Spend your time carefully
There’s a lot of hype in the travel industry that makes you feel as though you ‘ought’ to do certain things when you travel, but much of it is exactly that; hype. Your time is precious; don’t spend it on something unless you genuinely want to.

4) Learn as you go
Learn a few words of a new language, buy a local newspaper, read up on the region’s history, talk to people, ask questions, and think how you can give back to the communities you visit.

5) Write postcards
Who doesn’t love a postcard?

Reflections in Shaxi, Yunnan

Reflections in Shaxi, Yunnan © Jo James

5 responses to “Travel with care.

  1. I finally have some time to catch up on your blog, and really loving the philosophy posts! I want to ask, do you ever feel scared travelling on your own? I’d like to do more solo travel but a big part of me is terrified to.

    • Hello! (Happy New Year!) Glad to hear that you like the philosophy posts – they’re the hardest to write 🙂

      I did my first solo backpacking trip when I was a teenager, so I’ve had *lots* of practice by now, and I really enjoy it – it’s much easier to meet people if you don’t have company! The places I’ve travelled have largely been pretty safe; maybe you could start with an ‘easy’ country too? x

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