Ummmmm what the heck is conscious travel you ask? I got you.
Let’s Unpack That is a travel education series where we process and unpack our baggage of social identities, issues, and travel privileges to understand how they impact our travel experiences. Each post, we focus on a hot topic or social issue to dig deeper and reflect on our travel privilege(s). We cover everything from the white savior complex to accessibility privilege while traveling. Whether in our own countries or abroad, understanding our impact can help us be more responsible and conscious travelers.
For this installment of “Let’s Unpack That” we’re lightening the mood a little and talking about the good in travel: humanism. So today, we’re understanding humanism and its connection to the responsible travel movement. Humanism emphasizes the individual and collective value and agency of human beings, believing in their goodness, and intimately explores and debates our identities and who we are. People who are responsible tourists or conscious travelers often fit into this category.
This topic makes me so happy to be a traveler! It is time to unpack that y’all!
Examples of humanism and conscious travel
Observing and people watching
Oh so you like to stare? Well observing people around you, or people watching in colloquial terms, is actually a form of humanism. This may sound a little creepy, but it is true. By people watching, you begin to notice similarities and differences of behaviors, traditions, and customs in your destination. Some customs you can participate in, however before jumping in it take a step back and observe. By centering the locals, and not yourself in your adventures, you are listening and learning from the people around you. This can help you avoid cultural appropriation.
Starting conversations with people in your destination
Take that observation to another level and start conversations! Getting to know people in the destination you are visiting is another example of humanistic travel. If you know the language, you can engage in small conversations in cafes, taxis, Ubers, etc. Some travelers prefer to meet people at livelier events such as festivals and bar crawls. Others meet people, staff and visitors, in hostels and build from there. Each of those interactions can make you more connected to the destination.
Understanding the history of your destination
History can teach us about the current practices and environment of a destination. Being humanistic and responsible can mean understanding the destination’s relationship with foreigners and tourists. Get that history from local-ran and local-led tourism agencies. Read about the destination beforehand, go to museums, patron cultural centers, etc. Understanding the arts, history, and culture as much as we can is the least we can do.
Putting trust in strangers as you travel
As travelers we go to countries where we know no one. We just trust what others tell us or what we gather from our research. Humanism includes those travel experiences where you put trust in people you do not know. You may even befriend them long-term. But the reality is that sometimes you have to put yourself out there and hope for the best.
For example, a friend and I got completely lost in Budapest. We had no idea where we were going and asked for directions. We did not speak Hungarian, however we graciously met someone who helped us. She didn’t speak that much English either, but through body language and trusting each other, we were able to work together. She saved us for sure and we did not even know each others’ names.
How responsible tourism fits into being a conscious traveler
Conscious traveling can combat ethnocentrism
Humanism is one of the main reasons myself and die-hard travelers go on adventures. It is all about conscious travel. We are reflecting for a deeper understanding of what is going on around us. For humanists, travel is not being ethnocentric. Being a conscious traveler means embracing cross-cultural differences to explore how we fit in the larger systems in the world. Humanist travelers focus on the people they interact with as they travel and value the beauty of cross-cultural exchange experiences.
Conscious traveling can promote more slow travel
The concept of slow travel is a humanistic practice. In most cases, taking your time allows for deeper reflection. Slow travel can also result in full-immersion. When you are not rushed to go somewhere and see something, you can appreciate the breadth and depth of an experience. While fast travel can have its reflective moments, slow travel can relax some of those expectations. The extra time can mean more random conversations with other travelers and locals, better sustainability practices, and being present in the now.
Conscious travel can push responsible tourism to the forefront
Humanism and conscious travel can be linked with concepts such as responsible travel, which is becoming more and more popular. Responsible travel is being culturally and socially aware of the places that you’re visiting and wanting to make a positive impact that doesn’t hurt the destination you visit. Responsible travel is also understanding that you are a tourist and you should be treating people in the destinations that you visit with dignity and respect. As tourists, we should be valuing the wellbeing of locals because they still have to live there, even after our vacation is over.
Conscious travel can dispel stereotypes
One of the best parts of conscious travel and humanism being based in human connections is the ability to dispel stereotypes. As a study abroad student in Morocco, I stayed with a host family, met with Moroccan students around the same age, and sat in the Medina getting to know each other. Over the most flavorful tea, we asked each other about depictions we had of each other’s culture based on what we saw in the media. The students and I laughed at how ridiculous our cultures are portrayed because they overgeneralized our identities. As humanism reminds us, those interpersonal experiences can be more impactful than what people see on their screens.
We still have a long way to go, but…
Humanism and conscious travel are a large part of why “Let’s Unpack That” was created. I wanted to create space and conversations for us to process who we are, what we’ve learned, and how we need to unlearn. It came out of my own personal experiences, unpacking my own identities, and debating who I was as a person traveling this world. While I may be a little idealistic and optimistic about travel being more humanist in the future, I believe it needs to be the foundation of travel going forward. The future of travel needs to be responsible travel, getting to know a person’s culture, and understanding the impact you leave behind.
This is like homework, but better!
You don’t know what you don’t know. But now that you know, learn more! Check out the following resources to learn more about ethnocentrism. Even though Instagram travel influencers and travel bloggers get a bad rep for not being humanist, there are many that embody this humanistic perspective.
– Gerry Isabelle of Dominican Abroad. She writes about cultural heritage experiences and valuing community and multicultural immersion. Gerry’s captions and photos are great examples of how to be culturally aware of the places we visit, while also acknowledging her own Dominican American heritage and how it impacts her own travel point of view. You can find her Instagram here.
– Bri Ari who is the Founder of Buoyant Travel. Bri is one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram who I got a chance to meet last summer in London. She pairs her travels with emotional and heartfelt poetry about her experiences and is always showing love to Black people around the world. Follow Bri on Instagram here.
– Ciara Johnson of Hey Ciara. Ciara is another great traveler to follow on Instagram because she shares beautiful photos and also pairs it with incredible storytelling of her travels and the people who she meets along the way that makes it possible. She is definitely somebody you all should be checking out for inspiration, so follow Ciara’s gorgeous Instagram here.