I was recently approached by a major travel publisher and asked to write a short contribution to a round-up of authors offering their travel resolutions for 2021. The piece was to be about 150 words and include a photo. I was offered US$40 for this. I wrote the piece, focusing on two places I would love to visit if able, and received feedback that they were changing the direction of the article and now wanted something less destination-specific and more themed, with ‘tips’.
I rewrote the piece from a deeply honest place. It was longer than 150 words (but, really, not that long and do I need to remind anyone that the internet is infinite?). I was asked if I would “make some cuts”. I said no, that this is what I have to say. That’s when they ghosted me. A couple of days ago, I saw by chance that the article had been published without my contribution. Luckily, the commissioning editor of this website was happy to publish a slightly longer piece, so it is below.
It’s time to make change happen and we have to be brave enough to say the scary and honest things first so we can then get about the business of doing them.
Travel Less, Travel Regeneratively
I don’t make resolutions and this year is no exception. I find them to be either empty promises that make you feel good about yourself with no follow through, or just a way to self-flagellate. What can we say about travel in this new decade? 2020 changed the world fundamentally, cracking open our systems of social order, governance and economics. We have to take this, our one chance as humanity, to rethink everything. Mass tourism cannot continue along its previous and destructive course, and so if any resolution is to be made this year, it is to understand how our social order has contributed to a system of travel and travel media that is fundamentally unequal, white, colonial and exploitative. Can travel be a force for good? Absolutely. Is it most of the time? Certainly not.
To move forward from here is for travellers and travel writers like me (read: white, rich European/Americans), to understand our part in the systems of the world that create inequality, climate change and environmental destruction, and critically, to change. This means owning the uncomfortable truth that we must travel less or not at all, and we must travel very, very differently. Some of us, many of us in the industry, probably need to consider career changes (I have), and travel as a whole must be understood as a privilege and not anyone’s right, and one that comes with grave and profound responsibilities to listen, self-reflect, learn, fight for justice and give back.
One pathway to this is the concept of regenerative travel, whereby each trip not only is ‘sustainable’ or carbon-zero, but actively regenerates the environment and communities. But these trips are hard to find – the concept is new and most of the travel industry is focused on economics, money and restoring what was. To travel this way takes real effort. There is no quick list a traveller can tick off to achieve a life of regenerative travel. It means doing the hard work of self-reflection and owning your personal history and part in the systems as they are today, and then making the tough choice to travel a lot less, and when you do, to choose trips and experiences that actively give back in a non-exploitative way. It’s a nigh impossible ask just yet.
An example of this is the Global Himalayan Expedition’s regenerative trips, which are carbon negative by funding and putting travellers to work installing clean, solar electricity in remote communities, while providing multiple opportunities for the traveller to listen and learn from the Indigenous people they meet along the way. Tips? Stop travelling for a period of self-reflection. Listen. Reassess why you want to go somewhere. Ask yourself, ‘Is this actively helping the world or just self-indulgent?’. Nine times out of 10, the answer will be a tough pill to swallow, and in those cases consider staying home and getting involved in your local community instead.