Responsible travel with respect to culture and wildlife
Responsible travel – Ever travelled and asked yourself “Why am I here?” It’s a simple question, but it can keep you occupied for a long time. Are you contributing to the local community and will the next generation still be able to experience your adventure as you are doing it right now? Travelling is great, and we are lucky to live in an era where travelling is easy. But it comes with a lot of responsibilities if we want it to be sustainable. This blog post is inspired by the documentary Gringo Trails (2013). It covers the documentary and some reflexions on the future and what we can do.
“Take only Memories. Leave Nothing but Footprints”
With this quote, Gringo Trails takes you on a journey of the past 30 years of backpackers exploring the world. Gringo trails tackles the topic of exploring new places and started in the 1980s. The huge backpacker community started to discover more and more remote places. Although there are thousands of places like this, they only highlight a couple. Some of the places featured are the Bolivian jungle, the beauty of Bhutan, and party islands in Thailand. It’s a breathtaking journey which revisits some places and highlights the changes over the years. It brings guilt, also to the travelling generation I’m part of. Nevertheless, there are some lights at the end of the tunnel.
One of the stories that had the most impact on myself was Ko Pha-ngan, an island in Thailand. Basically, it got discovered by a traveller searching for a quiet place. Ironically enough, this turned it into party island years later. In 1999, no less than 150 000 people gathered there to celebrate and party. The footage is devastating (it’s the part in the trailer with a lot of plastics on the beach). It was clear that’s not going to be sustainable in the long run. In recent years, however, they did some efforts to make it more sustainable and create some other tourist activities. The fact that stroke me the most is this is not a stand-alone story, after Ko Pha-ngan got too crowded, other islands got explored and this was and still is the destiny of a lot of islands and beautiful places. On the bright side, some tourists start to see the lack of respect they have for the local community and starting to ask those questions like “Why am I here?”, “Am I helping the local community or am I just selfish for my own experiences?”, “Do those people want us to visit them?”, “Where is al the plastic going?”, …
Another story is taking place in the Bolivian jungle. Israeli adventurer and author Yossi Ghinsberg got lost and survived three weeks in the jungle in 1981. He wrote a book “Jungle” about his experiences and this story soon became a myth around backpackers. A lot of them wanted to follow in his footsteps and visited the place. Yossi returned to this place and instead of 1 hotel, there were 45 hotels and multiple boat trips exploring the Amazon every day. Additionally, other tour operators joined the area, making it hard for the local community to survive. With the help of Yossi, they build a strong local community who is guiding and created the Chalalán eco-lodge in Madidi National Park
The main message through the documentary is unspoiled places which soon became the victim of their own success. The number of tourists is far over the carrying capacity of the area, and damaging of the environment and the culture can be irreversible. On the opposite, travellers want to see this authenticity that’s disappearing with development. Forcing the local people to fake their authenticity in order to keep the tourists entertained. I’ve visited the Masaai in Tanzania myself, and we arrived too early at their village en they were all wearing jeans and what not. About 15 min later, they all came back in traditional clothing performing ‘their dance’ in front of us… raising more questions. Another interesting part in the documentary was the interview with a travel writer, explaining the dilemma of including beautiful places in a travel guide or not, as it will change the destiny of those communities for sure. So it’s a huge responsibility for travel writers and bloggers as well.
As a traveller, backpacker you realise you are very naive in the beginning, but it’s a learning process which can inspire people. People start reflecting on those trips and start to realise something has to change. I’m convinced such backpackers experiences will change your way of thinking and hopefully acting. Some might only realise the problems, others take it a step further and create some awareness. Wildlife Impulse intent to create some awareness about wildlife & nature tourism, where responsible and sustainable travel is important as well. (section Where to Go)
Furthermore, it’s important to inform you about the activities you support when you are abroad, this can be as obvious as not supporting dancing bears, and as hidden as eating some endangered species in the local restaurant. If you want to learn more, check out our list of animal activities not to support.
And when travelling (but also at home), enjoy the local cuisine or culture instead of supporting multinationals like Mcdonalds and what not. If you are interested in a more sustainable lifestyle (both at home and travelling), check out the ConservationWise platform. If you want to learn more about discovering the beauty of our earth, definitely check out our ‘Where to Go’ section.