Travel is not a neutral activity. As humans move about the globe, our presence in any place has impact. If we want to consider ourselves conscious/responsible/ethical (not tourists but) travelers then good intentions are not enough. The impact is what matters. If you are not aware or concerned with your individual impact then you are traveling recklessly. 

reckless: utterly unconcerned about the consequences

Traveling recklessly is engaging in tourism that that creates or perpetuates harm in the places that you visit. Examples include…

  • Traveling to ‘bucket list’ destinations that are suffering from overtourism. So many humans in one place at a time causes destruction. 
  • Staying at all-inclusive resorts owned by foreign corporations. Your visit is of no economic benefit to the resident community and the local resort staff remain largely impoverished and continually marginalized.
  • Seeking out backpacker ghettos, where Indigenous communities are taken over by foreigner owned hostels and guesthouses. These insular environments often breed behavior that offends and insults the local culture and it’s values.
  • Participating in performative voluntourism that does not support sustainable local infrastructure. The white savior complex is real and has terrible consequences. 
  • Taking a slum tour, where people’s poverty is treated like a zoo. It is dehumanizing and contributes to ‘othering’ people who live differently. 
  • Buying cheap souvenirs. These imitate local traditions but are mass produced in China, shipped over and rob local artisans of their due. 
  • Hoards invading a small island via cruise ships. In an effort to provide expected entertainment for the thousands and thousands of passengers the island communities are stripped of authentic culture and the environment is ruined.
  • Giving money to children who are begging on the street. This creates a financial incentive for their adults to keep them out of school and on the street.
  • Animal cruelty for the sake of tourist experiences. There are very few (if any) wild animal encounters that are not inhumane and exploitative. 
We’ll stop there, but could easily go on. 

The worst part is…this list was created by mining our own experiences. All of us at Actuality Abroad are guilty of traveling recklessly in the past. We have had to take full responsibility that we have created or perpetuated harm is places that have welcomed us as guests. It’s not a good feeling. 

But, We know better now. To travel is a practice and we strive to improve at it each time. As we learn more, we reject opportunities to participate in behavior that is reckless. Futhermore, when we seek out and choose alternatives to harmful tourism-as-usual our experiences become deeper, richer and more memorable. To paraphrase the late and great Maya Angelou – we do the best we can until we know better. Then when we know better, we do better, and we are all better off.

Image by Nicholas Chester-Adams