It’s likely that all of us travellers can agree that we’re currently in a place in which we never thought we’d be. Staying at home when all we want to do is get out and explore the world is not our ideal scenario. COVID-19 has quickly brought the travel and tourism industry to a halt, but it’s also lent us the opportunity to take a moment and reflect on our misdoings and how we can emerge from this better than before.
Our planet has been given a much-needed break, presenting small silver linings such as a visible reduction in air pollution in India, and the canals in Venice being the clearest they have been in over 60 years.
But while we are all hoping for things to return to normal, what we should be doing is hoping for things to return to a new normal. A state of living and of travelling that is more ethical, sustainable, and more responsible — both in protecting our planet, and all the people who live on it.
We, of course, cannot refrain from mentioning the recent Black Lives Matter protests that have erupted worldwide after the death of George Floyd. The events have once again brought to light the very real and very important issue of institutionalized racism in not only the United States but the world, and it is up to all of us as humans to recognize how we must change for the better.
That’s where we believe and hope the significance of travel comes in — helping us correct our misconceptions and unconscious biases that we may have, and to connect to all of our common humanity and change our misconceptions about other people and places. Travel gives us many gifts, but some of its biggest takeaways are how we can broaden our minds and break down barriers.
So, when we can start to travel again, what happens? Let’s explore some ways we need to travel differently once the world reopens.
Respect our planet
Together, we need to focus on sustainable travel. As travellers, we have a responsibility to help our planet and travel in a way that will allow future generations to appreciate everything our world has to offer. This means making an effort to support local businesses and communities while travelling, using eco-friendly products and staying in eco-friendly accommodation, or making a conscious effort to recycle and reuse wherever possible. Now more than ever post-COVID, local businesses and small family-owned businesses will benefit from our patronage.
Even minor decisions regarding the ways or the time we travel can have an impact, whether this be visiting popular places in off-peak seasons to lessen the strain of tourism at major destinations, or exploring lesser known destinations or the road less travelled instead. Often areas that are popular can be trampled and littered with trash by tourists, so these are a couple of ways we can help offset this when we can finally travel once again.
Respect each other
Everyone has their own subconscious conceptions about other people and cultures. It’s inevitable that our own culture and upbringing has shaped our view of others, whether we’re aware of this or not. But one of the easiest ways to broaden our mind and change any existing views you may have is to explore other countries and cultures, and widen our perspectives of the world.
When travelling, it’s important to be sensitive to cultural differences and treat everyone you meet with respect. Be open to the idea of learning about new cultures in a way you perhaps weren’t before, and you may be surprised at what you learn about not only other people, but yourself. But it’s also about knowing how to be respectful — such as asking for permission before taking someone’s photograph (in some countries and cultures, it may be considered rude and intrusive), or taking care not to partake in cultural appropriation. With many of us learning about our own unconscious biases under the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s more important than ever to be aware of these things.
It’s also important to recognise and be aware of our own privileges while travelling. We need to stay aware of how racial privileges in particular can grant us unsolicited special treatment while travelling or grant us immunity from microaggressions, something that you may never have thought about before. That being said, while I love to travel, I now recognise how I may benefit from my privilege and how I should be using that to be respectful of others while travelling. We need to acknowledge that our privilege allows us to explore the world safely and comfortably in a way that marginalized groups, such as people of color, may not be able to, and have the difficult but important conversations about how we can actively change that.
If recent events have taught us anything at all, it’s that we can rise from these difficult times and work together to create positive change. We have been blessed with a chance to re-enter the world in a way that can make it stronger than ever before — so let’s take it.