FACT: TRAVEL IS THE BEST | ALSO A FACT: TRAVEL IS NOT ALWAYS 'THE BEST' FOR THE WORLD
You might have seen the phrase ‘responsible travel’ thrown around a lot recently. Often it’s in conjunction with ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’, or even ‘regenerative’. And while we’re not normally big on buzzwords, we are big on the sentiment—travel nowadays has the power to make a positive impact, both on the traveller and the world.
If you’re thinking—how is travel ever bad? That’s a fair question, with a complex answer. From the environmental impact of mass tourism to the cultural exploitation of communities and lack of industry equity, believe us when we say the tourism sector can definitely be improved. And it needs to be.
But also believe us when we say that it’s totally possible to travel and make a difference. In fact, there are a heap of exceptional, incredible operators and businesses already leading the charge. These trips will still give you everything you crave (like adrenaline and challenge and luxury and inspiration), but with the added bonus of having a positive impact. Winner, winner.
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IMPACT | COMMUNITY
Arguably the greatest thing about travel is the opportunity to discover, interact with and learn from other cultures and communities. Nothing is more exciting than landing on a foreign airstrip and just immersing yourself in a new place. How do I say ‘hello’? What’s the national dish? Can I watch that ceremony? How do I flag down that bus?
It’s all well and good until a destination starts to suffer from over-tourism or you notice that the authentic cultural show you’re watching isn’t that, well, authentic. So how can we, as travellers, make sure we’re exploring and not exploiting the communities we’re visiting?
The answer is to go local, every time. Here’s a few culturally-sound adventures we’re loving:
Hiking, camel trekking and star gazing in Mongolia
This new trip, launching this year, is from the Much Better Adventures crew—a rad B-Corp dedicated to ‘adventuring for good’. This Mongolia trip is in support of local communities, so you’ll be experiencing life with traditional nomadic families and getting around the steppe with pioneering female guides. Not to mention bunking down in a ger (Mongolia yurt) every night. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Experience Pakistan’s winter solstice festival
Ever heard of the Kalash celebration? Neither had we before today. But Pakistan’s remote northern mountain ranges definitely know how to celebrate it. On this small group trip you’ll join the Responsible Travel gang, a totally responsible (as per the name) outfit that puts people and planet first. You’ll head deep into hidden valleys, witness a men’s purification ceremony (hint: it involves the blood of 40 goats) and maybe even spot a snow leopard.
Gay’Wu Yolŋu Dilly Bag journey
This is one for the women, and the women only. Yeah the girls! Lirrwi Tourism is a 100% Aboriginal-owned operator offering a super special cultural immersion experience with the Yolŋu women of East Arnhem Land, in Australia’s north. This type of Indigenous experience brings people together to share in the Yolŋu culture, specifically learning from the Yolŋu sisterhood. Join the women in weaving a dilly bag—a powerful and symbolic symbol in Arnhem Land—and know that your travel dollars are supporting and strengthening the Arnhem Land economy.
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IMPACT | THE PLANET
It’s common knowledge, or at least it should be, that the tourism industry has a huge impact on the environment. The pandemic proved it. When the world stopped flying, dolphins returned to Venetian canals and villages in Nepal could once again see Mount Everest. What pollution? Smog, where?
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying never fly again. But did you know there are a heap of ways to get your travel kicks and make a positive difference to this big blue ball we call home?
Join a science expedition
If you’re into nature and science, jumping on a volunteering trip with an organisation like Earth Watch or Adventure Scientists is bucket list travel stuff. These guys are all about leaving no trace, but still making your mark. How? They rely on citizen scientists (aka travellers) to join them on expedition trips to help collect data and perform research in some of the world’s most ridiculous destinations.
From conserving wild bees in Costa Rica to observing the effects of climate change at the Arctic’s Edge, these expeditions not only help with the hands-on science (making it possible to collect waaaay more data than scientists could do on their own) but often help to pay for permits and field equipment and lab space—all the stuff that makes science expensive sometimes. Just imagine going on a trip to Mexico and diving insanely incredible coral reefs, knowing that your travel adventure is helping to inform actual, real life environmental policies. Wild!
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Take the Palau Pledge
Speaking of reefs, the Republic of Palau—an archipelago in the West Pacific—has gone and introduced a world-first initiative that combos travel and environmental advocacy. It’s called Ol’au Palau (to take care of Palau) and it’s basically an app-based ecotourism rewards program.
Sounds complicated, but it’s not. Whenever you do something sustainable in Palau, like track and offset your footprint or eat sustainably-sourced local food, you can unlock a badge that will give you access to a unique experience normally only accessible to locals—like casting a reel in a secret fishing spot or witnessing a local ceremony.
It’s gameify-ing responsible travel, and we’re here for it. Palau is a prime example of a destination stuck in the middle of tourism and climate change. While Palau’s economy relies on its tourism sector, the archipelago also faces the brutal reality of changing climates and rising sea levels. In 2017, they introduced the ‘Palau Pledge’ which requires every traveller to pledge a stamp in their passports promising the children of Palau that they will ‘tread lightly’ and ‘preserve and protect’ the islands. Palau needs, and is seeking out, educated travellers who understand that island ecosystems are fragile. If that’s you, why not add Palau to your 2023 bucket list?
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IMPACT | THE WORLD'S WILDLIFE
So we’ve talked about having a positive impact on the planet and its people, but what about all the other furry / slippery / friendly / cold-blooded / endangered / winged critters and creatures who call it home?
If you’re looking to embrace your inner Attenborough, travel is actually a great way to donate time and money (and increase awareness) about major animal rights issues. Take Adventure World, for example. The custom tour operator recently revealed its new ethos—‘Travel with Purpose’—which sees them back responsible, sustainable travel experiences with a major focus on protecting wildlife. Good news, right?
They’ve gone ahead and partnered with Animals Asia, an animal welfare organisation that is super focussed on ending bear bile farming in Vietnam. Yep, that’s right bear bile farming. And it’s as horrific as it sounds. This practice of capturing and caging sun and moon bears has been pushing the species right to the brink of extinction, but now—with the help of a new bear sanctuary—Animals Asia are confident they can bring the cruelty to an end.
Watch Adventure World at work
But how can you get involved? This year you’ll be able to add a four-day, three-night package to your Adventure World trip in Hanoi and get an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary. Plus Adventure World will also donate a ‘Mend a Broken Bear’ pack (valued at $300) with each booking.
Turtles, dolphins, whales. Oh my!
If you’re more of a coastal get lost-er, a trip to Portugal’s incredible, remote Azores Archipelago could be right up your adventure alley. The team at Biosphere Expeditions are on the hunt for travellers who are keen to join them on their 2023 citizen science journey, where you’ll listen to whale and dolphin vocalisations, photograph sperm and humpback whales and capture loggerhead turtles to measure, tag and release. All in the name of conservation! During the day you’ll be hanging out on a catamaran research vessel and by night you’ll bunk down on beautiful Faial Island.
Visit a fully fledged falcon hospital
Falcons play a very traditional role in many middle eastern countries and cultures. In fact, the falcon is the national bird of UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and can be traced back to ancient chieftain times when hawking was a significant practice. Checking out a bird hospital in Abu Dhabi might not be high on your travel list but ADFH is the largest and most advanced in the world. It’s actually the leading centre for falcon medicine worldwide. And guess what? You can take a tour. Inside you’ll learn about the history of falconry, get up close and personal with the birds and even get a peep into the surgical room. Not recommended for people with ornithophobia.
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IMPACT | YOURSELF
All travel leaves its mark, whether it’s a greater perspective on your place in the world or an unwanted gut parasite after some particularly sketchy kebabs. But if you really want to use travel as a way to super saiyan your life—why not give one of these adventures a go?
Next level skills
Really into skiing? Fancy yourself an amateur photographer? Want to make pasta like a legit nonna? There are trips out there, with actual experts (including nonnas), that are designed to help you upgrade your life skillllz.
Take the gang at NonStop, for example. They’ve got a ‘Master the Mountain’ off-piste ski course that’ll take you to your choice of Canada or France for ONE WHOLE MONTH of nonstop (lol) snow things. It’s like a mini-sabbatical, but instead of writing that novel you started five years ago, you’re cruising down fresh pow in the Alps or eating poutine in a ski camp in BC. Not to mention mastering your freeride skills with pro coaching. Yew.
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Mind, body, health. Oh my!
Wellbeing retreats are a dime a dozen nowadays, which is cool, because some are pretty amazing. And then there are slightly more niche workshop-based trips, like the itineraries from Retreat&Conquer. These retreats work with horses in (extremely) beautiful settings to help guests conquer and overcome any fears or blocks that might be holding them back in life.
Using evidence-based methodologies in equine-facilitated learning, these retreats are posited as ‘safe places’ to examine your life and nurture a little wellness. Sounds good. Count us in for the 2023 Nihi Sumba retreat. Great, thanks.