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sustainability

Featured Giving Back Sustainability

How to be a Better Traveler in 2020

japan people crowds kyoto

If we have learned anything from the year 2020, it’s that we need to do better. WE ALL NEED TO DO BETTER. But in particular for travelers, now is an especially crucial time to be aware and self-cognizant about how we fit into the global ecosystem. Travelers today need to recognize that the way we travel deeply affects the world around us and impacts future generations to come.

There are ten easy steps that you can begin implementing into your daily travel routine that can positively impact both the communities you visit AND your community at home. You don’t have to do all of them at once, but slowly incorporating at least a few will have a bigger influence than you may think!

Recognize your privilege

If you are traveling for leisure, YOU HAVE PRIVILEGE. Travel is a luxury, and one that the majority of the world does not have. Travel privilege is not inherently a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. Recognize that you are healthy enough to travel. That you are financially able to travel. However, travel privilege comes in various other forms as well. Depending on your passport, you are able to travel to more places. You may be treated better than others, even locals. Depending on your gender or skin color, you may be harrassed in the streets unprovoked. If you are able to travel, you have some degree of privilege, so acknowledge it and always stay humble.

girl red wall china

Do What You Can

You may have heard this one, but do what you can to be a more sustainable consumer. I’m going to break it to you slowly, but travel is not good for the Earth. BUUUUT, neither are a lot of things. Some people may choose to transition to a Vegan lifestyle to offset inhumane meat industry practices while others choose to campaign and donate to ethical livestock organizations. In the same way, there are many ways to make travel MORE sustainable. Don’t beat yourself up about not saving the planet all by yourself. You shouldn’t feel bad about not doing everything – but try to do at least one thing. Find something that is easy to implement, and then do it! It can be as easy as just swapping out your travel products for sustainable alternatives, or donating to a carbon pollution reduction program every time you take a flight! Small steps. That’s all it takes.

More Suggestions on Sustainability:

  • Sustainable Products for Travel
  • Tracking and Offsetting Your Carbon Footprint
  • Sustainable Travel Hacks

Respect signs and rules

At the expense of sounding like a grouchy boomer, RESPECT THE LAW. And I’m not just talking about the police, because, obviously you should respect the local law enforcement. But I’m talking about etiquette rules and social practices of the place you are visiting. One of the big ones – STOP TRESPASSING FOR THE GRAM. It doesn’t matter how cool the vantage point looks. If getting to it includes trespassing, just stop. The likes and shallow clout aren’t worth it fam. When it comes to the outdoors, this applies as well, because the signs are there both for your safety and the safety of the plants and animals around you. Every year, hundreds of people fall to their deaths at natural sites and parks because they ventured too close to the edge, usually for a picture. Don’t add to the statistic. Oh, and don’t trample wildflowers.

Take a Deeper Look at Your “Mission Trips.”

Volunteering abroad is great. In theory. You and a group of like minded individuals set out to a less fortunate place with the intentions of helping them. Your group will usually assist in building houses, babysitting orphans, or constructing roads. Again, all good intentions. But, before you sign up, ask yourself. Is your presence necessary in that position? Are you REALLYY an asset to the effort, or will you likely be taking a project away from a local company that could do the same job more efficiently?

Have you heard of the term, “white savior complex”? Ignore the ‘white’ part of the term, as it can be applied to anyone from any nationality or ethnicity. The term stems from more privileged people going to less privileged communities, making charm bracelets at an orphanage, and then posting on social media about how many lives they helped. Good intentions, but even these superficial acts can have long-standing negative effects on the local community. First off, short-term orphanage visits can cause developmental damage to young children and upset their emotional well-being, creating separation anxiety and unhealthy attachments.

These communities use resources to support volunteers that could be put to more sustainable use by reinvesting the resources into themselves. Volunteers are also (usually) inexperienced, and again, the community must use time, energy, and money to either train/teach/chaperone the volunteers, or to redo their unstable work entirely. Plus, it can take away jobs from local labourers. That said, not ALL volunteering trips are bad. Just be sure to take a deeper look at the who/what/when/where/and HOW of the trip. If you wouldn’t do the same task in YOUR community, why do it in somewhere else? Ask the trip leader if perhaps donating the money (instead of your time) to the program would be more positively impactful.

Reevaluate Animal Encounters

While on the topic of ethical engagement – let’s talk animals. Unfortunately, animals are one of the most abused and exploited groups in the world, in EVERY country. The reason, simply, because people love animals. This dynamic creates and industry that thrives on tourists’ demands to experience an animal up-close, with little regulations on if these experiences are even ethical. There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to animals, so just use your best judgement. Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Elephant Riding. BIG NO NO. Don’t ride elephants. AT ALL. Elephants are tortured for years in order to break their spirits enough for elephant rides. For more information on elephant abuse, refer to this article.
  • Chains on animals
  • Taking pictures next to normally-dangerous animals like lions, tigers, bears (they are often drugged out of their mindsss)
  • Overworked labor animals. Like horses, donkeys, mules, etc. These are animals bred for labor, but keep an eye out for any signs of mistreatment or malnourishment.

elephant

Decolonize Your World Perception

This may come as a shock to some, but history books are not unbiased. They praise certain historical figures chapter after chapter, but leave out the parts about slaughtering indigenous communities, exploiting resources, pillaging unarmed villages, and downplaying the enslavement of an entire continent. Today’s current global society is a painfully calculated result of colonialism. Recognize that. When you travel, make an effort to learn about the local culture of the region and the history from their perspective. How did World War II impact Korea during Japanese occupation of the region? Why is Cuba viewed as a dangerous country when it has one of the lowest crime rates and highest literacy rates in the world? When you learn to view a region’s history from their point of view, you are able to understand that country just a bit more clearly.

Support LOCAL – especially black, brown, and indigenous businesses

Speaking of decolonizing your mind, try decolonizing your wallet as well. As a traveler, your money speaks VOLUMES. The tourism market has the power to determine which businesses get published in the city’s “must visit” newsletters, which restaurants get placed on the food tour, and which companies get added to travel magazines. Never forget the strength of your money. That said, shop local. Big businesses have the luxury to afford lower costs, but small local businesses are the soul of the city. Plus, the souvenirs are usually better and more unique as well!

As you know, the world is unfair. So also keep a special eye out for businesses owned and operated by people of color and indigenous people. Statistically, they have lower loan approvals and higher interest rates, solely based on prejudices of banks and historical injustices. Be an ally and put your money where your ethical-consumerism is.

Give Back to the Communities you Visit

You came, you saw, you had an amazing experience. Travel really is transformative. Now, if you are so inclined, consider giving back to the communities that welcomed you for vacation. Donate to their environmental efforts. Buy some supplies for the local animal shelter. Tip the musicians bussing in the streets as you eat a romantic dinner.  This is probably the easiest and simplest request out of all the tips on this list. But if you are unable to give back to the communities you visit, you can still give back at home. The Global Dreamers Foundation is a non-profit organization that sponsors young adults with ethical and sustainable global opportunities! They are always accepting donations as well as applications

Stop Judging Someone Else’s Travel

Ah, now that you’ve home from your trip, no doubt travel is all you want to talk about. And, since you’ve now experienced such tremendous personal growth from following the first eight steps, you want to help make others better travelers as well! But…then you see your friends checking in at an American chain restaurant in Costa Rica. And going on a lion walk in South Africa. And going on a travel retreat with someone who isn’t even a local!! And even…TAKING A CRUISE??!? What are your friends thinking?

Well, before you jump on a pedestal and threaten to unfollow all of your friends. Breathe, and remember step 1. Humble yourself. First of all, not everyone is at the same point in their travel journey. A lot of people just don’t know that there are more sustainable or ethical options. Others have food sensitivities that make chowing down street food vendors with no ingredient list dangerous for them. Or mobility restrictions that make navigating to more difficult lodgings that may or may not be accessible to them. Don’t judge someone else’s travel because it seems basic or shallow to you. If you have suggestions, approach the topic from a stance of understanding and openness. If travel teaches you anything, it is that you don’t and never will know everything. Especially about other people. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

pink cherry blossoms flowers park

Bring Your Compassion Home with You

Now that you’ve spread so much sustainable positivity in the places that you’ve visited, you must now do the same at home. When you hear racism and xenophobia in your hometown, stand up against it. Be open and welcoming to different cultures, and make sure that your city does the same. During the 2020 COVID-19 #StayHome initiatives enacted by countries around the world, don’t be selfish. Don’t buy cheap plane tickets and potentially spread the virus to communities with already limited resources. To people who have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and even their lives – please show empathy. Be kind, above all else, and do not use your energy to spread misinformation or chew people out if you feel they are promoting unsafe behavior. Treat others with the same level of compassion and understanding as you would a friend.

Be a good traveler, yes, but be an even BETTER person.

Giving Back Journal Photography

The Wanderlust Trap And The Power to Do More

One girls complicated relationship with travel and how it inspired her to create Photography For, a photography initiative for humanitarian and conservation issues at home and abroad.


Wanderlust

romantic in concept, but undoubtedly one of the most glorified terms on social media.

It’s more complicated than sunset drinks and nights spent under the stars. More complicated than traversing down the road less traveled on rickety, old dirt bikes that buckle under your weight. More complicated than running away from the real world and living a life completely enveloped in fantastical elements.

 

Hi guys, I’m Christina – a traveling humanitarian and conservation photographer – and I’m here to tell you that travel is so much more than envy-invoking, perfectly-crafted Instagram pictures; for better, or for worse.

For better— it has broadened my understanding of the world. It has introduced me to the kindest of souls. It has taught me invaluable lessons that no at-home experience could ever afford me.

For worse— it has landed me in the hospital more times than I can count. It has broken my heart into a million pieces. It has catapulted me into the loneliest of places, both mentally and physically.

And while I have somewhat of a distaste for the term “wanderlust and all that it embodies, I can’t help but return to it. Every. Damn. Time. Call it a toxic relationship, if you will.

Im warning you all now, if you have yet to fall into the love/hate relationship between your logical mind and your nomadic heart, run! Fast and far. Because once swept away by travels tempting allure, there is absolutely no turning back.

 


Cut to: The Power to Do More

 I’d like tell you all, first and foremost, how incredibly fortunate I feel to travel for work, so please excuse me when I say how frustrated I become when caught between the mutterings,

You are so lucky to travel.

A phrase so seemingly innocent, but loaded nonetheless.

The frustration does not come from my inability to acknowledge how lucky I am to experience far off places. I will be the first to tell you that hard work can only get you so far without being met with opportunity, which yes, I am so incredibly blessed to have been given from time-to-time.

 

The frustration stems, instead, from the gap that lies between what the travel industry invariably displays and the people that it caters to. The gap that is so wonderfully convoluted and full of life’s beautiful complexities. One that should not be overlooked when we travel to foreign places, but one that should be embraced and given serious thought to.

This is Where Things Get Deeply Personal: Photography For Womens Rights

 In 2012, I worked on an archaeological dig in Ethiopia. In 2013, I worked on two, one in Ethiopia, and one in Kenya. In 2014 and 2015, I worked for a non-profit in China.

 

Of course, I was told how lucky I was for each work opportunity abroad.

And I was, but here are the gaps that I sincerely feel I have failed to share with everyone (warning, this may be graphic for some):

The children riddled with flies, infections and hands worked to the bone. The people blinded and crippled by ailments because they couldn’t afford a simple cure. The women who did not want their pictures taken for fear of exploitation by an outsider. The indigenous people whose land was being stripped away from them from corporate greed. The women dying next to me as I was unfairly catered to as a westerner. The sexual assault I have experienced as a solo female traveler. The high dropout rate of my female students, many of whom become married at 12/13 years old. The male teachers who refused to acknowledge my female presence, who preyed upon my girls, and who both verbally and physically abused some of the local women teachers.

 

Each experience has given me a broadened understanding of the world, and in my firm belief, the responsibility to do more. Thus, the creation of Photography For, a photography initiative for global issues, and its inaugural project, Photography For Womens Rights, which will focus on women’s rights in South(east) Asia, specifically Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and India.

 


Photography For
seeks to raise international awareness to global issues through the power of an image, believing that awareness sparks conversation, which in turn sparks action for positive change. Through the first initiative, I hope to utilize photography and social media as tools to generate a more global understanding of and activism for women’s rights, believing that both internal and external action are necessary for sustainable impact for the improvement of gender equality, which in turn equals the improvement of human rights overall.

 


A Plea From the Heart: What You Can Do

I want to take you on this journey with me. A journey of impactful measure. A journey that seeks to connect you all with the world I’ve been so lucky to experience. However, to make Photography For and the associated projects a reality, I wholeheartedly need your help.

Please support Photography For Womens Rights on Kickstarter (CLICK HERE to become involved and to take action). A contribution, a share; anything and everything counts!

 

Travel has undoubtedly provided me with the skills and necessary confidence to do more. I can only hope that you, on your travels, listen deeply, feel completely and experience wholly. Ask questions, become involved, discover your purpose and fight, always, for a more just world.

C Xx

At the end of the day, you are the most important component of the success of Photography For’s projects. I hope you will travel along with me, join the conversations and become a part of the movement to bring forth positive change through the power of photography and social media.

 Website | Instagram | Facebook | Youtube

 

 

 

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Giving Back Journal

Not-So-Innocent Abroad

From where we sat the sun felt close. I watched the fresh cement crack in the heat. Below us, the setting concrete stretched down to the favelas. Through clouds I could see the stairs reach the hilltop. Every few steps sat an unlikely gathering of local Peruvians and Australian volunteers. We waited. The Australians had traveled the breadth of the Pacific Ocean for this purpose: three days of volunteer work in the favelas of Lima. We were assured that the stairs would provide access to healthcare, schooling and land rights. It was a good project. However, the longer we waited the clearer it became that it had a foundational flaw. That flaw was us.

We were waiting for the official photographer – dispatched from Sydney to deliver on this perfect ‘photo op’. The project was finished, or at least the volunteering was. The organisation’s PR department needed a photo of us at work. The Peruvian woman beside me waited in that sun for 45 minutes, wearing a baby swaddled to her back and a look of frustration. Then – with a few clicks of a camera shutter – our work there was done.

~

Like many graduates, after university I didn’t so much take ‘the next step’ as I did hurtle as far away from reality as possible. Just before I left a friend gave me a leaving present. It came with a card and a quote from Proust:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

I had thought that this captured the high-minded notions behind my far-flung trip. What I didn’t expect was that this metaphorical 20/20 would reveal that my entire endeavor was flawed. I was rocketed around the globe by good intentions but found myself orbiting my own ego. One year later, there are many things that I wish I had know before I embarked on my trip. Hereafter, three such lessons:

1.) Avoid Voluntourism.
The intentions behind voluntourism are for the most part pure. We aim to lend a hand in exchange for an enriching cultural experience. The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. Zimbabwean Author NoViolet Bulawayo makes this painfully visceral when she writes

“They like taking photos, pictures these NGO people, like maybe we are real friends and relatives… They don’t care that we are embarrassed by our dirt and torn clothing, that we would prefer they didn’t do it; they just take the pictures anyway, take and take.”

Often, our free labour is indeed taking away from that community, whether it be the dignity that Bulawayo speaks of or actual jobs. As a tourist, the money you pump into the local economy can be far more beneficial than your free labour, which can actually work to undermine this same economy.

2.) Participate in the Sharing Economy.
The core problem with travel is the traveling itself – in getting from A to B our carbon footprint is stamped across the globe. The transportation sector accounts for 28% of total U.S greenhouse gas emissions. Aviation is the most climate-intensive mode of transport. Once I focused on decreasing my impact I came across the global sharing economy. This system is built on peer-to-peer collaboration, that makes effective use of resources whilst contributing directly to the local economy. The key to the sharing economy is the internet. Through a car-pooling website called BlaBla Car I was able to road-trip my way around Spain. I found a gig to sail around Italy (for free) online at a site called Findacrew. Whether it be in Istanbul or Budapest my Airbnb hosts always made me feel at home. Love Home Swap provided a solution to the crazy expensive accommodation problem that Scandinavia poses. Each of these experiences helped me to save money, engage with locals and manage my environmental impact.

3.) Vote with your Wallet
When traveling, it becomes even more important to discern where you spend your money. It doesn’t take a detective to trace where your money ends up. A quick google search showed me that of two bus companies in Morocco, one was locally owned whilst the other was European. Google can help you find local businesses that promote responsible tourism – In Cambodia, for instance, you will find plenty of restaurants that provide vocational training to local youth. If you make an active choice to invest in the local community you can have a positive impact on your destination and a more authentic experience of local culture.

~

I can attest that traveling can be everything that it’s hyped up to be: a true voyage of discovery that illuminates the world and your place within it. I think that this insight can only be reached with a commitment to sustainability and authenticity. We need to look at the way we travel with new eyes.

 

Alexandra spent most of her childhood aspiring to a poetic licence. She has traveled across six continents trying to find words for the moments that leave her speechless. These words are her profession.

Curious? You can read these words at Meanwhile-elsewhere. Visual types, see her Instagram.

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