(Above) Photo courtesy of Singita
You’ve heard of experiential travel, transformative travel, sustainable travel, and regenerative travel — buzzwords describing different leisure travel trends in the last decade. Now, we’re introducing you to one more: “conscious travel” which, in a way, is a blend of all of the others.
Reported as a rising travel trend in 2020, before the pandemic, conscious travel is taking into consideration the impact travel has on the ecology, the community, and the culture of a destination. It’s being aware of where we go, what we do, who we book with, what we buy, and how we interact with others so that travelers leave a destination after having a positive impact on the locale.
As worldwide COVID-19 vaccinations increase and we look forward to the return of travel at record levels in 2022 and 2023, conscious travel is something currently on the minds of people across the tourism industry. While the return to travel is certainly exciting, the expected increase in travel brings up, once again, concerns about the issue of overtourism — and whether destinations can deal with overtourism while also balancing local and national economies that depend on visiting travelers, according to an analysis by global research group Oxford Economics.
“Tourism was the world’s third-largest — and its second-fastest-growing — industry, largest service- sector employer and market-based contributor to finance protected areas,” said Jim Sano, the former president of Geographic Expeditions, a Yosemite Park Ranger and senior advisor for Global Rescue. “However, the historical growth trajectory, in a great many cases, was tilting in the wrong direction, more so even than in numbers of visitors, but in environmental degradation. The pandemic has created a once-in-a-generation systemic opportunity for the travel industry, its massive supply chain, and its destinations to reset and recover sustainably.”
Here are a few ways you can make better conscious travel choices in the future, many exemplified by Global Rescue Safe Travel Partners.
1. Choose Undiscovered, Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations
A core tenant of traveling consciously to destinations already known as overtourism hotspots — like Venice, Italy, or Reykjavik, Iceland — is to simply go during an off-peak season to minimize some of the strain.
But, according to a National Geographic article, an even better approach is to not follow the crowd at all and go somewhere relatively undiscovered.
For example, instead of Venice, head some 20 miles (40 kilometers) north to Treviso, a charming, but often overlooked town a third the population of Venice and known for the same canals and buildings that rise straight from the water. Or instead of Reykjavik, why not the Westfjords, a northwestern peninsula home to multiple settlements that boast cozy cottages, bungalows, and cabins scattered throughout magnificent landscapes of fjords, snow-capped mountains, and waterfalls.
Not only are you able to see more of the true or authentic side of a country this way, but you may also have more meaningful interactions with locals who live there. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t visit those popular sites during your trip: It’s just about setting your basecamp somewhere that could better benefit from tourism revenue.
So how do you find such hidden destinations? By turning to tour operators that specialize in custom trips and off-the-beaten-track exploration, as many of our Safe Travel Partners, including Eleven Experience, Indagare, Arrangements Abroad, Choose Belize, and more.
2. Support Outfits That Already Minimize Their Impact
When booking your accommodations, look for properties or tour operators that actively try to reduce the consumption of natural resources and energy, plus support the local economy, in their operations.
While the main allure of traveling to an Eleven Experience destination is to experience life-changing adventures — whether that’s heli-skiing Iceland’s Troll Peninsula or fishing in the glacier-carved river valleys of Chile — their luxury boutique lodges emphasize making a minimal impact.
Sustainability, waste reduction, and sourcing locally are at the heart of all our unique 11 lodge accommodations. Think bamboo toothbrushes, reusable lunch tins, lunch bags and water bottles, and reef-safe sunscreen and on-site retail spaces stocked with solely locally made goods, like Icelandic sweaters at their Deplar Farm and Chilean ponchos and hats at Rio Palena Lodge.
Eleven Experience culinary teams also source ingredients locally whenever possible. And if/when they do have waste, the brand utilizes food scraps by making stocks or, for example in Iceland, provides food waste to a farm that feeds it to their livestock.
3. Look for Tour Operators with Responsibility Built into their MissionWhen choosing a tour company, resort or hotel, check for their policies regarding environmental issues and supporting the local culture. Choose travel companies that act responsibly.
For example, Bonefish Hawaii, another Safe Travel Partner that offers fly fishing tours around the flats of Oahu and to Christmas Island, holds local conservation in very high regard, supporting numerous conservation organizations in different ways. That includes giving a portion of earnings directly to local conservation efforts through One Percent for the Planet, participating in local, ongoing research programs with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and working with Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to protect the coral reef health of this local ecosystem.
Other Safe Travel Partners with a “do good” ethos: Trekking, climbing, and mountaineering company Ian Taylor Trekking supports verified carbon reduction, biodiversity, and community well-being projects in the countries the operator visits through. Casa Vieja Lodge, a Guatemala fishing lodge in Puerto San Jose with world-class sail fishing at its doorstep, doesn’t just catch and release more than 10,000 billfish a year, they go the extra step of tagging fish to help gather critical scientific and socio-economic data for The Billfish Foundation. WHOA, Travel, a female-focused, boutique adventure travel company, puts guests up for its Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu treks at a nonprofit hotel that funds a primary school for area children and travelers’ fees help sponsor two local women to join the group on every climb.
4. Find Ways to Benefit the Destination, Big or Small
Photo courtesy of Singita“Singita’s guests are like-minded advocates for conservation and the empowerment of local communities,” said Adrian Kaplan, general manager of marketing for Singita, a Safe Travel Partner. Offering bespoke safari experiences at 15 lodges and camps across South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Rwanda, the award-winning ecotourism brand specializes in ultra-luxurious guest experiences that connect travelers with iconic destinations in ways they cannot experience anywhere else.
“Guests prefer our properties not only because of the world-class hospitality and unrivaled intuitive attention to detail at every turn,” said Kaplan, “but because Singita also offers them life-changing opportunities to become part of the preservation of Africa’s natural legacy.” Helping to safeguard the continent’s wildlife and wilderness areas, as well as becoming part of initiatives to create economic independence in the communities living alongside them, add immense depth to an African safari — and it’s a layered and meaningful approach that resonates profoundly with this pioneering brand’s guests.
For example, you could visit one of the Early Childhood Development Centers in the communities surrounding Singita Sabi Sand and Singita Kruger National Park in South Africa to learn more about their work and contribute towards the continuation of their inspiring successes. Or join students at a Singita Community Culinary School for a private cooking class and to learn more about this unique program that unlocks the potential of young talent as they become world-class commis chefs with strong employment prospects.
On a larger scale, taking part in a multi-day Safari with a Purpose allows guests to completely immerse themselves in a conservation initiative on the ground. A carefully curated collection of conservation safaris in partnership with Singita’s not-for-profit Funds & Trusts opens the door to some of the most epic adventures on the continent. It’s the perfect springboard for participants to be part of far-reaching efforts in ways that extend beyond monetary contributions – not to mention, giving them the chance to have hands-on experiences, too. Bucket-list items include elephant-collaring (helping to identify the gentle giants and tracking their movements for research) and the relocation of the critically endangered southern black rhino.
5. Do You Research & Be Respectful of Rules & TraditionsRemember you’re a guest at the destination, and it’s a privilege to be permitted to travel there. Conscious travelers know it’s important to respect the culture, instead of imposing their own. It’s crucial you do research ahead of your trip to help you better understand the origins of a culture, their world view and specific customs to know your dos and don’ts.
“It’s almost impossible to find a location someone hasn’t already visited and wants to tell everyone about,” said Harding Bush, former Navy SEAL and associate manager of operations at Global Rescue. “There are areas of the world that require some detailed research, especially more austere countries with challenging resources or infrastructure. Ask previous travelers to these locations about what went well with their trip and what could have gone better. This question will focus the conversation on trip planning rather than more mundane trip topics.”
Respect often fosters respect in return, helping you connect with locals in a meaningful way. When locals understand by your actions that you are trying to understand and embrace cultural norms, they will often open up and help you, or even share insights into their lives. That doesn’t just enrich your experience, but theirs.