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How Responsible Tourism Can Transform Your Travel Life

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Ok, first off, what does “responsible tourism” even mean?

For that matter….what does “travel life” even mean at this point?

We’ll tell you. Here’s a quick guide to what we’re going to talk about. If you like to jump straight to a particular topic, go crazy.

Responsible Tourism, Then and Now

COVID, climate change, world economics…everything’s different.

And we fully admit that on the surface—even a fair amount below the surface—these are damned depressing themes to ponder. Particularly for those of us who love to travel.

responsible tourism requires the occasional pensive moment, as can be seen in this photo of Nan Bauer, lost in some sort of thought on a bridge somewhere in Venice. Her blond hair is pushed back with a pair of Fendi sunglasses, she wears a purple and mint t-shirt, as behind her, the centuries old buildings of Venice stretch along a canal.
Here is Nan, aka me, pondering away in Venice, pre-COVID. Actually, I don’t think I’m pondering, just reading. Also, I really miss those sunglasses and that T-shirt, the latter of which has a happy (I hope) life in Sardinia, where it was last seen by me.

Adding to our misery (or at least consternation), prior to 2020, we seemed to have entered an era of unprecedented travel freedom and accessibility: 

  • Flights were cheaper. 
  • Points were easy to accrue—resulting in Points Guys and Points Chicks telling you how to use them to score even more cheap travel stuff to go with your cheap flight, which you may or may not have snagged with said Points. 
  • Even without points, AirBnB and various other methods meant you could, often for a very small fee, stay in a pretty nice place. And if it wasn’t that nice, well, it was cheap.
  • Travel blogging exploded, with influencers posing their way through the world’s 194 official countries, and challenging you to do it as well.

And then. 


You Know. 

Responsible Tourism: Our Experience

When Covid erupted in March of 2020, my husband Steve and I were in Peru, just beginning a trek that would end in Machu Picchu.

The first night of our trip, March 15, the president at the time, Vizcarra, announced a national emergency.

With 24 hours, the borders would close.

Steve and I were incredibly fortunate to snag a flight to Lima out of Cusco for the following day. Many, many people were not so fortunate, and were stranded there.

(The whole story lives on my former blog, lechoufou.com, and is in process of being turned into a book. Sign up for our newsletter if you’d like to stay informed.)

But a flight back to the US?

Nope. The airports were completely shuttered, and would, it turned out, stay that way for a long time.

Hello, Lima!

Over the next 24 days, in touch with the US Embassy as it worked to get us a flight home, I spent a lot of time walking around our apartment rooftop (AirBnB, thank you).

Below, on the streets of Lima, the 3rd place title holder for most congested capital city in the world, traffic had virtually vanished.  

responsible tourism includes caring for the environment, brought home to the author by this photo of the completely empty Malecon, or ocean drive along Lima's curving coastline, in Peru during spring of 2020, when traffic vanished.

Up above, the skies were often filled with birds. Not a plane in sight.

The earth, it seemed, was breathing. 

And I thought, the planet’s happier. 

And I also thought, I need to not fly so much. I of course knew that before, but conveniently filed it in the “I’ll Think About That When I’m Good and Ready” category. 

Those plane-free, bird-filled pandemic skies forced me to open that file. And deal with it.

Responsible Tourism: A City’s Experience

Let’s flip things and pretend we’re a city. Say, Venice, featured two pictures up. (The pondering one.) 

Venice is magic. 

To illustrate rethinking travel as part of responsible tourism, a photo shows a night in St. Mark's Square in Venice after rain, the bright lights of the arcade reflected in the wet pavement below. The photo was taken in 2015, when the city was already feeling the effects of over-tourism.
St. Mark’s Square, rainy night, September 2015. Photo by Nan Bauer

Venice, toward the end of the season, is staffed by workers who practically slap you for ordering a cappuccino. Or give you this face.

rethinking travel as part of responsible tourismL: this photo shows a poster for a production of Sweet Death, with a gargoyle like figure in 18th century regalia, including a sculpted powdered wig and corset.
Poster in Venice, September 2015, photo by Nan Bauer

We don’t blame them.

Being a Must See Item on a tourist bucket list is hell on a location and the people who call it home. 

Meanwhile, back in blissful tourist oblivion, Steve and I joyously smooch on the rooftop of a parking garage high above Venice, circa September 2015. 

Photo by Steve Hoekman and his long arm, September 2015

What you don’t see? 

6 enormous cruise ships in the harbor behind us. 

If you know the tiniest bit about how Venice is constructed (and you can learn all about that at this link), or about the impact cruise ships take on the environment, you will go: Damn. (This Guardian article offers excellent info on the specific situation in Venice.)

Of course, a place like Venice is in a Catch 22:

  • It needs a break from tourists in order to recover.
  • It needs the tourists in order to survive.

Enter the pandemic.
Which made decisions for people.

No tourists allowed. 

Obviously, bad things happen because of this. A whole lotta people around the world rely on tourist dollars to survive.

But good things happen, too. Like this. 

Responsible Tourism: How We See the Current Travel Landscape

Look, we got a double whammy here:

  • COVID results in restrictions and conditions that can change very quickly.
  • Climate change results in events like fires, hurricanes, and torrential rain, which in turn result in death, injury, property loss, and, at the very least, travel disruptions.

Those two factors, in combination and independently have resulted in a little or large amount of financial havoc, aka, factor 3:

  • Economics. Because even if you’re not personally affected, you can bet your life the place you’re visiting is.

Sadly, that means a greater number of desperate people.

And that means crime rises.

And that means that, even if you’re one of the lucky people who still has a travel budget, you need to take more precautions, rethink some destinations and travel practices and habits, and in general, take a good hard look at why you even want to travel in the first place.  

Ready for that reset?

Responsible Tourism: The First Step to Resetting Your Travel Outlook

Here’s how we personally began our process of resetting our travel outlook. We think of it as a “designing your life” approach to travel, one that’s intentional, thoughtful, and that gives you maximum travel bang for your investment. (Which in our book goes beyond money and includes time, energy, and emotion.)

Remember the Serenity Prayer? It asks for:

  • Acceptance of things you can’t change
  • Courage to change things you can
  • Wisdom to know the difference

We see this first part of conducting your personal travel reset as boiling down to the Serenity Prayer.

You can use our worksheet if that’s the kind of thing that helps you. (It’s free when you sign up for our totally spam-free newsletter. We won’t spam you, and we’ll also continue to provide with posts and materials to help you rethink your travels—and even design your life as a traveler.)

Or just draw it out on paper.

Let’s start with the Things We Cannot Change category:

  • Climate change
  • Economics, which, even if we’re not too affected, need to be factored in as far as the places you’re visiting.

Take a moment to describe how each particular thing has affected you. 

Just to show you this thing is actually useful, here’s mine.

And now, this gets better.

Things I CAN Change is simply your response.

I’ve put the obvious stuff first, like get vaxxed, mask up, fly less, budget more.

And then lines where you write in your own stuff.

Feel better? Even a little?

That’s my goal.

(Send feedback to [email protected] or leave a comment. I truly appreciate hearing from you.)

Responsible Tourism: Our Free Worksheet Series

Head Roam is dedicated to helping you take a deeper look at why you travel—which can radically change your ideas of how you travel.

This is our first post in our series, How to Travel Better. We want to help you understand yourself as a traveler, which then helps you find the ways that will truly deliver the most bang for your travel buck.

So sign up for our free worksheet, the first in our series designed to help you rethink travel in our current world. You’ll automatically receive new freebies as they become available.

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Our series of worksheets will help you discover it. When you subscribe below you’ll get each new worksheet in our series designed to help you define Responsible Tourism.

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