Mindful travel shouldn’t be a personal pursuit

There has been a lot of ink spilled in the pandemic – including in these pages here – about what the future of tourism will look like.

We already know there is no going back to business as usual, with tourism hotspots such as Whistler, Venice, Valencia and others calling for more sustainable forms of travel long before COVID- 19 does not force the industry to stop.

Much of the discussion about the future of tourism has focused on the concept of ‘conscious travel’, and tour operators from Australia to India are now marketing travel packages with unhurried itineraries meant to promote connection. deeper with nature and longer stays in a destination.

These are undeniable positive elements in the ongoing transition to a fairer and more conscientious global tourism landscape. I just hope tourism can avoid the pitfalls of the multibillion dollar wellness industry that has co-opted the very concept of mindfulness from Eastern collectivist religious traditions to better match the West’s individualistic obsession. for self-actualization, telling clients (mostly women) that the only way to get there is to look younger, slimmer, better; that the only way to achieve inner peace is through expensive retreats and private gurus.

Travel, I would say, is often viewed in the same way: as a tool for personal growth for those who are privileged to afford it. How many blog posts, guidebooks and travelogues have been written to extol the personal value of travel without really acknowledging the toll it takes on the people who need it?

I remember that famous quote from Mark Twain you still see scribbled on Instagram posts about travel being “fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” From the popular travel diary The innocent abroad, which recounted Twain’s 1867 “Great Excursion of Pleasure” across Europe and the Holy Land, the book offered a rare window into cultures that most Americans of the day could only conjure up in their imaginations. It is clear, even through the satirical lens in which Twain excelled, that he had very different views of some cultures compared to others. He calls the French emperor the “representative of the highest modern civilization, progress and refinement”, while, later in the same passage, he describes the Ottoman emperor as “the representative of a people by nature and by his training dirty, brutal, ignorant, non-progressive. , [and] superstitious. ”Twain presents his exaggerated sense of cultural superiority as evidence of an expanded worldview, which I think still infects the Western perspective of travel in subtle ways.

This is not to say that there is no inherent value in travel. Twain was not wrong to say that exposure to different cultures can bring incredible benefits, but if we are to create a more conscious form of tourism, we must, unlike Twain, recognize our position at the top of the hierarchy of people. travel and be honest about the transactional nature of tourism. It also doesn’t mean that you have to be ashamed every time you go on vacation.

This is something Professor Anu Taranath, a professor at the University of Washington (UW), discusses in his book, Beyond Guilt Journeys: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World, who was informed by his numerous human rights-themed trips with UW students in India, Mexico and elsewhere.
“Mindful traveling in an uneven world is not about getting on a plane to go somewhere, it is about paying attention and noticing the position in relation to each other,” she said in a commentary. interview with 2019 UW News. “It’s about understanding that we all live in a much longer history that has placed us in different positions of advantage and disadvantage, and has given us very few tools to talk about it.

It’s those tough conversations about power, privilege, and moral responsibility that should be happening with us in our own communities long before we settle into the next vacation destination.

So do your homework. Try to understand a place, its culture, customs, history and power dynamics, and where you fit into it. Read sources that go beyond the Planet alone guides, local leaders and community groups working on the ground, voices that have historically been slandered in the mainstream. Take the time to understand the indigenous rights, traditional place names and customs of the territory you will be visiting and, if necessary, seek permission to enter the territory.

And when it comes to spending your hard-earned money on vacation, make sure you understand exactly where that money is going and who you are supporting. You can even go a step further and pay a property tax (although I struggled to find a Canadian equivalent, the Sogorea Te ‘Land Trust run by native women in the Bay Area is a prime example) or donate to groups like the Black Trans Travel Fund which is dedicated to promoting a safer and more accessible tourism landscape for all.

After all, travel cannot really be considered conscious until it transcends the individual and takes into account all aspects of the tourism equation.


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