To travel is a privilege, and although the opportunity to leave our familiar surroundings and venture out into the big wide world is becoming increasingly accessible to us, travelling is still for many a privilege. As some of you many know, with privilege comes responsibility, and this is where I believe lies the concept of altruistic travel.
I named my responsible tourism blog 'The Altruistic Traveller' after watching a ted talk on effective altruism, a concept that speaks about the absolute most we can do for others in need while still maintaining a lifestyle based on modesty and minimalism.
In reality those of us who can afford to travel are those of us who will more than likely be placed in the top 5% of the global rich list, and even more likely to be in the top 2%. If you don’t believe this to be true you can visit http://www.globalrichlist.com/ and take the test yourself. While we might not see ourselves to be “rich” we are certainly more “rich” than billions of others who live on this planet. What is changing however is what people are choosing to do with their wealth.
I read an article recently that explained how millennials are more interested in travelling than buying a home. This means that the shift away from materialism and consumerism has already begun, but what's important is that we don’t let this trend shift from an indulgence in material to an indulgence in experience, at some point there still needs to be a focus on altruism.
This is where the concept of altruistic travel comes in. As travellers I believe that we have a responsibility to use travel as a way to help others. Sure, the idea of travel for some revolves around luxury accommodation, exquisite dining and complete self indulgence, but for some of us travel isn’t about that at all. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with luxury travel, people earn wages from employment in this thriving industry, but the alternative argument is - could you be making more of a positive difference to the lives of the less fortunate with the money you spend on travel?
With so many options available to us when it comes to travel, luxury or not so luxury, how do we incorporate altruism? How do we become altruistic travellers?
This is where the concepts of sustainable/ecotourism and responsible volunteering come in. About ten years ago the term ecotourism was quite foreign however, year after year this term has become more mainstream as companies and grassroots organisations make a shift towards more sustainable practices. We are now seeing a responsible tourism movement whereby sustainable tourism is recognised and even rewarded. It is now easier than it has ever been for travellers to research and choose from experiences that are more ethical. Take GivingWay as an example, they have created an online platform that allows users to browse through ethical volunteer opportunities directly through the NGO associated with that opportunity, making sure the time and money goes right where it is needed most.
Other organisations such as Visit.Org and Grassroots Volunteering list thousands of ethical travel experiences providing worldwide connection between those willing to give and those in need. There is even a small community of travel bloggers committed to bringing you stories and advice on how to become a more responsible traveller, their stories feature on websites such as Backpacker Bible and The Wayward Post.
So now that we have an increasing number of resources available to us the next question is - do you truly believe we can change the world through travel?
Let me give you my opinion on the matter -
I started blogging about responsible tourism about 18 months ago. Before that the idea was foreign to me although I had always been intrigued by the concept of altruism, and I always searched for ways to help those in need. It wasn’t until I journeyed overseas, and started visiting organisations and sharing the stories of people whose lives were truly changed by tourism, that I started to see how travel can have such a positive impact on people’s lives.
I visited a remote village in western Cambodia who, prior to joining the community-based-tourism movement, spent years logging trees and poaching for income. Now they earn income through homestays, and those who were once loggers and poachers are now guides taking travellers through the forests teaching them about the importance of protecting their environment. I met a stamp-maker in Hanoi who fell into poverty because the art of stamp making was no longer relevant in Vietnam’s modern society. He was then picked up by responsible tour company Backstreet Academy to provide stamp making lessons to foreigners, giving him and his family a new source of income and a way to keep old traditions alive. I went on a bicycle tour through Manila, Philippines with an organisation who is using profits from the tours to donate to a Philippine based community development organisation working to bring an end to poverty in the region.
I can tell you a hundred more examples of ways that travel is changing our world and I have seen first-hand how it is. Now I want to challenge you to see for yourself.
We have so many resources available to us to become travelling altruists. Next time you venture abroad why not visit a social enterprise cafe instead of a well-known restaurant or choose a local homestay instead of a large hotel. Or even just spend some time looking for local community projects you can support while abroad. There are so many ways you can make a difference while travelling. If we all became altruistic travellers imagine the kind of world we could create?