Born in England, travel was in my blood from the beginning.My family was on the road working in agricultural shows and from the start I was travelling all over England and Wales even when in a pushchair! Although I am sure I was kicking and screaming at least some of the time. ...Find out more!
Go to any bookstore and head for the travel section, there you will find numerous tomes offering advice on where to go, what to see, how to travel and of course things to do before you die. I don’t know about you, but for me I would rather look at a list of things to do while I am alive and kicking; my preferred way of looking at things.
The idea that you need to cram in these must-see destinations before you fall off your mortal coil or go pining for the fjords misses the point of travel for me. A bucket-list and the hurried end of the world mind-set seem somehow to diminish the intrinsic value of the very places that are lauded as worthy. Rush through these destinations, tick them off and move onto the next one. Africa...done, Asia…done.
Humans are by nature curious and adventurous, on the whole we strive to learn about our world revelling in the fascinating variety of flora, fauna and its dramatic natural wonders. Throughout the ages courageous explorers have been the pathfinders for generations of following tourists and travellers, opening up new destinations and crafting bonds with the indigenous local populations.
Relegating travel to list ticking is as insane as much as a two week package holiday to a fenced resort in a developing country means that you have done said country.
But, you may exclaim, there is a market for these books, we need lists like this to tell us where to go and what to do. Do we?
Not everyone can climb Kilimanjaro or hit the Everest base camp, the trails near Machu Picchu are overrun and the sheer number of visitors to some of these list driven destinations is creating lasting environmental damage as well as a permanent change to the local way of life. Villagers are letting go of their traditions, resorting to catering for ever increasing numbers of tourists in the hope of making a better life.
Fields that once produced sustainable crops become parking lots, roads bulldoze through ancient forests, water and other resources become polluted or scarce as ever more of the population gravitate to the tourist sites to get a piece of the action. Local authorities are equally to blame, grandiose projects are often implemented; many to the detriment of the local population or the environment.
What, as responsible travellers, can we do about this? Do we just forsake the trip of a lifetime and stay at home not contributing to the problem?
I don’t think so.
One of the advantages we have is choice, we can choose all by ourselves where to go. We can choose to avoid badly managed sites and make positive choices to support local projects to ameliorate the damage to those destinations that are already in danger of failing.
New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, seemed at first to be a no go no-brainer. However we need to realise that hotel owners, bars, restaurants and convention centres and all the local workers were not going to get back on their feet unless we returned and spent tourist dollars there.
Following terrorist attacks on Egyptian resorts bookings understandably plummeted taking months to recover, an already marginalised population faced a long time without vital tourist income.
H1N1 crippled the Mexican tourist industry for months.
After the SE Asia tsunami the rebuilding took years for some regions to get back to shape. Many traditional tourists stayed away although large numbers of enlightened ones did come and volunteer their time helping with reconstruction and bringing much needed income to the region.
Yes these are destinations with perceived inflated risks, yes they are problematic, but they do offer a chance for tourists and visitors to give back and ease the pressure somewhat on local economies that are close to collapse.
These are a few ideas that are not on the list of things to do before we die but does that answer my question fully?
I would like to suggest that we reverse the glass and look for the opportunities that we have while we are alive to explore the world and the myriad cultures that we have yet to encounter. How can the things we enjoy in our day to day lives influence our choice of recreational travel?
Love wine? I can name a dozen wine routes. Enjoy photography? Seek out the unusual; bring your perspective to travel. How many shots of the Eiffel Tower does humanity really need?
If you travel with children, encourage them to learn some of the language and give them a chance to interact with the local kids. Learn some yourself; try not to be intimidated into just speaking louder.
Travel slower, savour the moment and make your list, a million things to do while I am alive.