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What the F is Conscious Travel?

What the F is Conscious Travel?

What the F is Conscious Travel?

By Hannah Poaros-McDermott.

For many of us, the pandemic has been a wake-up call. It has forced us to stop and take a really good look in the mirror. We’ve been challenged to analyse our lifestyles, our habits, our relationships, and our actions. Collectively, we’ve realized that we need to change. Our world is sick. All the signs are there: Covid-19, climate change, social injustice, wildlife on the brink of extinction. The list goes on. 

We need to breathe more love into how we live. We need to be more conscious. And this extends to our travel behaviours. Conscious Travel is not just a buzz term, it's the future of the industry. So before you pack your suitcase (we hear you, we’re itching to go on vacation too), let’s take a moment to unpack what it means to travel consciously.

What is Conscious Travel?

Ultimately, Conscious Travel is exactly what it says on the tin. Conscious. Travel.

No matter what dictionary you use to look up the word “Conscious” you’ll find a definition that alludes to the idea of awareness. When you are conscious, you are fully aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings—you are awake. Taking this idea a step further is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being 100 percent engaged in the present moment and accepting everything, the good and the bad. 

So how does this apply to travel? Well, it’s quite simple really. The Conscious Travel Foundation explains it like this:

 “Conscious travel is where empathy meets exploration. It encourages people to look at their travel in a more holistic way. It requires us to have a clear reason for travel, to examine and understand its impact and to actively choose to explore the world in a meaningful, intentional way.”

Many travellers travel just because they can. Often with no consideration of how their actions affect the people, the communities, or the environments they visit. Which SUCKS. Because travel can—and should—be so much more than sipping cocktails at a five-star all-inclusive resort while you wait for room service. Travel can be transformative. Not just for us, but for the local people and the native wildlife, too.

Conscious travel is responsible travel. It encourages us to seek out authentic experiences, form genuine connections, and discover new places without negatively impacting them. It helps us make a positive impact.

a woman sitting on a rock looking into the setting sun over the mountains

Why Should We Care About Responsible Travel?

The World Tourism Organization labelled 2020 as “the worst year on record” for global tourism with “international arrivals dropping by 74%.” This decrease in visitors has been devastating for many countries, particularly those that rely on tourism. 

The good news? Due to the current worldwide vaccine rollout, travel is expected to bounce back over the next two years. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that “global passenger numbers are expected to recover to 52% of pre-Covid-19 levels” this year, “88% of pre-Covid-19 levels” in 2022, and “surpass pre-Covid 19 levels (105%)” in 2023. 

While the return of travel is an exciting prospect, a sudden increase in tourists can do more harm than good. When a place rises quickly in popularity, it can lead to the destruction of fragile ecosystems, the displacement of indigenous groups, the appropriation of local cultures and traditions, or the loss of vulnerable flora and fauna. If this continues to happen (as it has in so many areas already), then what we see today, will not be there tomorrow. Okay, not literally. But you get the idea.

To stop this disheartening (and very depressing) process, we need to travel responsibly.

Responsible tourism is any form of tourism that minimises travel’s negative impacts. It prioritises people over profit. It empowers local communities. It feeds the local economy. It assists conservation efforts. It boosts connections between tourists and locals.

Responsible travel is a way for us to really own our travel decisions. Opting for a locally brewed coffee over a Starbucks latte may seem insignificant to you, but for that family who owns that tiny cafe on the roadside? It could be life-saving. The same goes for if you choose to sleep in a remote homestay over a chain hotel. 

So if we want to continue travelling, we really should care about responsible travel. 

How Would You Describe A Socially Conscious Traveller?

Ultimately, a socially conscious traveller is someone who carefully considers and researches the cultural, environmental, and economical implications of their travel choices. They are thoughtful, mindful, and intentional. They care about big-picture issues like human rights, ethical labour conditions, gender equality, and the environment. 

If you want to be socially conscious, try asking yourself these questions before you leave home:

  • Am I supporting local businesses and local tour operators?
  • Who is my money actually going to? 
  • How can I be respectful when I’m at my location? 
  • Are there cultural behaviours that I need to be aware of?
  • Is my accommodation eco-friendly? 
  • Are there ecotourism activities I can participate in?
  • How will my actions impact this community?
  • What can I learn from this experience?
  • Should I travel now or should I wait until the off-season?
  • How can I give back to this community?
  • What shall I take with me to ensure I leave little or no trace?
  • Is this destination suffering from overcrowding or over-tourism?
  • If I join this volunteer experience, am I being helpful or harmful?
  • Where can I buy local, in-season, sustainable food from?
  • How can I support my local community as well as those abroad?

That should give you a starting point. But really, as long as you put some thought into your travel plans when you make them, you will be on the right track. Conscious Travel is all about your mindset.

Who are some of the top Conscious Travellers?

If you’re interested in following other conscious travellers’ journeys, you might like to check out the below. Topics discussed on their accounts include the digital nomad trend, van life, full-time travel, minimalist living, sustainable tourism, plant-based food, eco-friendly experiences, off-the-grid adventures, and mindfulness.

What is the Conscious Travel Foundation?

The Conscious Travel Foundation is a community of change agents. What we mean by that, is that they are a group of tourism professionals that want to "reshape" the industry. By shining the spotlight on the environmental impacts of the travel world, the foundation aims to transform the industry’s future into one that is more meaningful and sustainable. Their ethos is to: Inform, Protect, Communicate, Unite, Fundraise, and Change. Members of the foundation (travel companies, tour guides, hotels, lodges, PR professionals) must be committed to living and sharing the conscious travel philosophy.

In addition to kick-starting the conversation around sustainable travel, the foundation also participates in several fundraising initiatives where they support grass-roots charities, conservation projects, education programs, and other campaigns with tourism associations.

Where Can I Find Conscious Traveller Communities?

Social media is a bit too much sometimes—we all need to take a break from the snappy tweets, picture-perfect photos, and funny videos—but it is a fantastic place to find like-minded communities. Since Conscious Travel is all about connection, it’s a no-brainer that you’d want to share your travel experiences with others. You can find the Conscious Travel Community on Facebook and Instagram. We’d also love it if you joined the Wakeful Travel group on either platform (Instagram handle: @wakefultravel). There are also a lot of van-dweller groups, you can look up some on Facebook or in your state/province. If you want to stay off of social media, Google to check out different SLACK communities. 

This might be slightly old school but…you can also meet people on. the. road. Breaking away from societal expectations, many socially conscious travellers have adopted a nomadic lifestyle, choosing to live in a converted bus, a renovated camper van, or a tiny home. Sometimes you don’t have to travel very far either. Hit up the climbing or bouldering gym after work, talk to people at the trailhead. It’s likely that people who are into outdoor sports are also keen to protect where they play. 

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more traditional tour that adheres to your two-week vacation allowance then companies like Intrepid Travel are ideal. The certified B corporation (and leader in small, ethical travel) operates responsible tourism itineraries globally. Of course, you don’t have to join a group to travel consciously but, this can be particularly helpful for individuals who have limited time and prefer a more rigid schedule.

How Can We Advocate for Conscious Tourism in 2021?

Luckily, it's not that difficult to advocate for conscious tourism. Here’s a summary of what we can do:

  1. Support your hometown’s small businesses, especially those that might be struggling as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns. If we’re willing to spend our money on vacation, we should also be willing to spend money when we’re at home. 
  2. Research, research, research, and record your findings in your mindful travel journal. We want to make sure that the companies we book with have sustainable practices, employ local people, do not exploit wildlife, and participate in the green travel movement. 
  3. Avoid popular times of the year if possible, and stay away from the obvious holiday hotspots. By visiting during off-peak times, we are helping that particular area create a more sustainable and consistent economy. This is especially important for small, remote communities where tourism is the main source of income.
  4. Reduce your carbon footprint wherever you can. Look for alternative modes of transport like public transit, car-shares, bike rentals. If you don’t need to fly, then don’t. If you do need to fly, minimise your impact by bringing hand luggage only and purchasing an economy class ticket. Who needs that fancy first-class seat anyway?
  5. Leave home with an open heart and an open mind. We can learn so much from travelling to new places, and we should be thankful that we have the opportunity to do so. We can extend this gratitude to the people we meet along the way. 
  6. Be a polite guest and respect a country’s culture. Make sure you know the “dos" and the "don’ts”. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone! For example, in Thailand, it is the social norm to take off your shoes before you go indoors, especially when entering a temple. So, we should also take off our shoes.
  7. Bring your reusable items: Water bottles, cutlery, straws, tote bags. Anything that reduces your waste and replaces single-use plastics. We don’t need any more plastic in the ocean.
  8. Eat fresh and in-season produce. The best way to do this is to pick up your groceries at local markets or nearby farms. Dining out? Try the local cuisine. It’s an essential part of the travel experience—and a tasty one at that! We’d also recommend eating a few plant-based meals throughout the week.
  9. Slow down. Staying at one location for three weeks is a thousand times better than trying to tick off your entire bucket list in one go. Trust us, you’ll get more out of it this way.
  10. Travel to ecotourism destinations like Costa Rica, Belize, or the Galapagos Islands. There are so many benefits associated with ecotourism, not least of all that it helps us save wildlife and protect endangered species.
  11. Join tours led by local travel guides who have grown up in the area. Local guides really know their shit, and can provide you with a unique perspective. Having conversations with these residents will also make for a more personable and memorable trip.
  12. Stay in small guesthouses, quirky bed-and-breakfasts, family homestays, anywhere that will encourage you to connect with the local people. After all, that is where the magic happens.
  13. And finally…share your thoughts with your friends and family! The more we participate in the conscious travel discussion, the more we can facilitate actual change.

someone cutting a journal prompt out of a mindful travel journal

How Can The Mindful Travel Journal Guide Me to Travel More Consciously?

The Mindful Travel Journal is not your average travel journal. It does have space for documenting your research, your reservations, and your experiences. But it also encourages self-exploration through mindfulness activities, meditation prompts, colouring pages, and yoga poses, suitable for you to try wherever you are. These exercises are designed to help you stay more present, getting you off your electronic devices and making you more aware of your surroundings: Which is what conscious travel is all about, isn’t it?


Christine MacLean

thank you so much for featuring us!

-Christine and Sarah

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