How to travel like you care and give back to the world instead of take from it.
By Craig and Marc Kielburger
Our best memories involve travel. For Craig, it’s climbing through the ruins of Machu Picchu, watching the rising sun illuminate walls that have remained standing for 600 years—without mortar to hold the stones together. Craig’s guide shared his fear that the Peruvian government might someday prohibit visitors, to save the world heritage site from callous tourists who carve their names into the greatest artifact of the lncan Empire.
The proverbial rude tourist is as old as tourism itself. Even Vikings tagged monuments like Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. Apparently, we haven’t improved much over the centuries. In the Instagram age, travel has become about building your own brand and leaving your mark—often literally—instead of letting the experience leave its mark on you. In the process, tourists are taking more than they give.
The Indonesian island of Bali just announced it will limit access to its famous temples because of an onslaught of bikini-clad tourists taking selfies seated atop holy shrines. Italians were outraged in August after two travellers went skinny dipping in the fountain of a war memorial in Rome.
Surely, we can muster more respect for others’ property than the Vikings did. Is defacing a centuries-old monument really how you want to achieve immortality? Imagine a fellow traveler 100 years from now, seeing your name on an historic landmark and thinking, Wow, what a jerk they must have been.
Beyond deliberate vandalism, tourists today are doing damage inadvertently as they try for that perfect selfie. A Hamilton, Ontario, sunflower farm had to ban all visitors this summer after it became a global mecca for Instagrammers seeking a shot amidst golden blooms. Hundreds of tourists were trampling the crops daily, even hurling abuse and threats at the farmer’s family.
Your photo isn’t worth ruining someone else’s day, or their livelihood.
Or, for that matter, their privacy. As fascinating as that Ecuadorian farmer’s colourful garb might be, get her permission before whipping out your mobile phone cam. You wouldn’t want a busload of foreign tourists to come to your workplace and take pictures of you. She doesn’t either.
Showing respect for your host community isn’t just about what you shouldn’t do. Think about what you could do.
If you really want to get the most from your travel experience, give something back to the community that has welcomed you. Volunteer, even if it’s just a few hours between site-seeing or sunbathing to stack cans at a local food bank. What better way to see something off-the-beaten-path? Donate to a charity in the community. And support the local economy by shopping and eating at neighbourhood establishments—and tipping well.
It also bears repeating: when going abroad, take time to research the customs and etiquette of the culture you’ll be mingling with so you don’t make any social gaffes.
With winter settling in, Canadians are already planning our escapes. Whether you’re headed far away, or just shredding some powder a few provinces over, remember that travel should be about opening yourself up and giving back to the world, not taking from it.