As I leaned on the broken wooden slat of the standing truck I was leaving Ecuador on, bumping along the potholed roads, looking back at the home I was leaving behind, I thought not of the landmarks I’d visited and not of the work I had done there, but of the community I had been welcomed into so honestly and the culture and community I had become a part of. As I drove away from that place and those loving people, I thought about the environmental, cultural and community-level impact we have as travelers and I was left wondering if there is a way to really do travel right.
Many people travel to escape their everyday realities or to seek adventure and escape the monotony of everyday life. I wonder though, what we take back home with us when we leave these new host communities/cultures and what we leave behind. Many times we’re so focused on the trip and not the journey that we fail to actually connect with the people or local culture in the countries we’re asking to briefly become a part of.
Being a world traveler is like being part of a secret club of people who understand the value that new experiences have to offer, but “do right” travel requires an entirely different access pass. As travelers who seek to not just observe culture, but play an active role in engaging in cultures we must do right by others whose homes, cities, villages and lives we visit. As I walked away from a beautiful community in Ecuador that gave me so much, I told myself that I want to, in all travel, be a “do right” traveler. I wanted to be someone who considers my carbon footprint just as much as I consider all the travel deals I seek; strive for significant conversations and deeper engagement in community with locals, not just explore sacred temples and have strangers photograph me in front of historic landmarks to say “been there, done that.” I hope to earn my access pass by contributing to the preservation of community and culture, supporting local economy and not creating a dependency on tourism in a way that contributes to the degradation of authentic culture and separating myself from the purest forms of cross-cultural engagement.
I want to challenge myself and others to step lightly across continents and soak up as much connectivity to others in the world as humanly possible. It’d be nice to take away more than shot glasses and t-shirts that say I Love (insert city/country), and take away stories, laughter, friendships and a place that feels like home to return to, leaving behind beautiful pieces of ourselves that signal true growth and connection of the human spirit.
Is there any actual formula for doing travel right? I’m almost certain there’s not, but when we put cross-cultural connections and people first and tourism second, we’re probably more right than wrong.
This story was curated by Allison Irby.