The Receptive (and Responsible) Traveler
You have heard it a thousand times, in a thousand ways, and so have I. What if we could change the world one word, one song, one smile at a time?
But how about a twist? What if the world could change me, change us one journey at a time? What if each time we ventured out, we not only made a positive difference but let ourselves become different?
Typical road in Burma. Photo by Hennie
Those within the travel industry and tourists themselves are using the term "responsible tourism" more and more. It is defined as, (and this is a mouthful): "tourism that creates better places for people to live in and better places to visit, taking into account current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts." It is also called "sustainable tourism" and, in the past, was known as "soft travel."
This approach to tourism and travel is a positive trend, bringing to the forefront our accountability and obligations as we travel.
Tourism impacts a destination. It is unavoidable and mostly out of our control. Hotels and restaurants are constructed to accommodate the influx of travelers and other consumer-oriented enterprises also spring up. It should and can be done in such a way as to enhance, not exploit a destination, preserving the natural heritage and culture.
We, as tourists, also profoundly impact a destination simply by how we behave. We do have control over this!
It is a sobering thought and an incredible responsibility. We will be remembered by how we, act, where we step, and the impressions and “footprints” we leave behind.
I hope these trends, and the ethics behind them, are never commercialized just to sell travel, thus losing the meaning behind the lingo. Buzzwords often become just words. Who today has heard of "soft travel"?
I also find that there is an aspect of the movement that assumes that what I am and who I am is better than what I encounter and that what I encounter needs changing! See the "creating better places to visit" part of the definition.
When it comes down to it, I don’t want to be just a tourist, though of course I want to be responsible. I don’t necessarily want to change anything, except myself. I want to journey to and celebrate cultures, history, religion, and art, that are not my own and meet people who I have never met.
I want to be more than a tourist, more than a promoter, I want to be a receptive traveler.
Cambalam, Guatemala, 2012.
The official definition of receptive is: "Able or willing to receive something, especially signals or stimuli. Willing to accept new suggestions or ideas."
Here is my definition (and this is a mouthful!): "Willing to observe and appreciate without the need to impose self or with no ulterior motive than to simply celebrate, as opposed to just enjoying."
You see, there is a difference! Enjoyment entails taking it all in for my benefit. Celebration is an active participation in the surroundings. It involves a give and take and it goes deeper than physical beauty and pleasure, or lack thereof. It also demands responsibility.
I have the privilege and honor of traveling in May to Macedonia as a guest to attend an event promoting travel to Southeastern Europe.
I am humbled to be invited and grateful for the opportunity. Croatia is on my agenda as well so I will visit two countries that I have never visited. I will also meet representatives and potential local partners of the entire Balkan region: Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey.
I will travel not just with my “eyes wide open”, as I have said in the past, but my heart as well. The physical beauty will be outstanding as the pictures I have seen promise awe-inspiring mountain vistas and ocean views. But, honestly, it is the cultural landscapes that always enrich me the most. I find it helpful before I travel anywhere, to read the history of the region, not to memorize dates and events, but to understand the present.
As I close, I hope we all are responsible and receptive travelers. We can take heart that as we ride our bikes, any time, any place the "footprint" we leave behind is a tire track in the dust soon swept away.
Stay tuned as I will keep you all up to date on my upcoming adventures (this old lady will be paragliding!)
P.S. Don't forget to smile!