When Mark and I embarked on our journey taking the long way round to New Zealand from the UK in January 2018, we decided from the outset that we didn’t want to travel the world. We decided to spend an unidentified (at that time) amount of months travelling NOT the world. We wanted to travel slowly, to figure things out, open our minds and our hearts and shake off all the niggles and stresses that had accumulated on our shoulders after living and working in London for 2.5 years.
Although we spent time travelling to well known destinations such as the Taj Mahal in India, Everest Base Camp in Nepal and Ella in Sri Lanka, it quickly became evident to us that we wanted to experience a road less travelled. Although those places are quite spectacular, the impact of so many people visiting is evident; from huge crowds to lack of respect and upsetting locals, littering and encouraging dishonesty and scams. And since travel is becoming ever-more accessible and easy, it’s about time we beg the question of what the future of travel really is and how we can change our own approach to travel on a collective scale for positive impact.
Why we tend to follow the crowds
Thanks to social media, some destinations have been wildly over-promoted. Did you know that Trolltunga was a local hike until circa 2010, when photos of people sitting on the jagged piece of rock protruding from the cliffside in the Hardangerfjord in Norway, erupted on the internet? Now, you can expect to wait for 1 hour plus for a photo at the famous Trolls tongue… While social media can be inspiring, and can be the rise of some destinations into travel hot lists, it can also be the downfall of those very same destinations due to over-visitation, impact on the trails and waste left behind.
Likewise, fellow bloggers Along Dusty Roads have revealed the dark truth about recently discovered Rainbow Mountain in Peru. I didn’t realise that before it’s Instafame, this mountain sat underneath sheets of ice. Thanks to global warming, the mesmerising effect of Rainbow Mountain has been revealed – the perfect unusual natural landscape to make any Insta account pop. But, popping Insta-feeds aside, the reality is that it’s a wake-up call, a stark reminder that it’s about time we start to take responsibility for the impact of overtourism and make more responsible choices when it comes to travel.
Why we need to change how we travel
Adventurers, explorers, seekers of new, exciting and beautiful slices of our planet; isn’t that what we are attempting to achieve as travellers? To encompass the epic feels inspired by journeys taken in some of our favourite adventure films? We are naturally curious and we crave adventure. Although I have to agree that it’s difficult to roam completely off the beaten track these days (particularly for safety reasons in some parts of the world and to ensure we are being responsible travellers) it’s always worth checking out different ways of travelling, and places to travel to, in a country that is not over-saturating social media feeds, the ‘discover’ page on Instagram and sitting at the highest peak of destination hot lists.
We can start by thinking about the experiences we want to gain from a trip rather than perhaps the images we might want for our social profiles. I’ve had some of my most magical travel experiences on completely random encounters in places I’d never have expected to be – like when we spent 2 days exploring Jaffna by scooter in the less travelled region of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. And conversely I’ve had the least magical experiences (in fact really disappointing) in the places that appear most awe-inspiring on social media.
Create Your Own Epic
“I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”Anthony Bourdain
Yes, I just quoted Anthony Bourdain, and he has a point; his words are the epitome of what travel of the great explorers was and always should be; a great sense of adventure, no ties, no plans, just following a new path and letting the future unfold before you. Your moment – your own epic adventure – created by you and the world surrounding you at that time. It’s a truly wonderful feeling that can only come once we remove ourselves from our travel planner and step into adventure with all the nerves, excitement and anticipation that only the thought of the unknown can really bring; we venture out with all our senses, feeling for adventure beyond.
Don’t get me wrong, we are all guilty of this, myself included. And there are places in this world that are well known and I would still love to see and experience (my motto is to tread responsibly). But there are a few things we can do to alter our approach to travel in a more general way for the better of the environment and our own stoke levels!
Here are a few ways to tackle how we can change the way we travel. If you are ready to cherish experiences over countries and want to make plans to travel NOT the world, and embrace the unpredictable, this is for you. Travelling for experiences over country counting has never been so poignant as it is now.
- Choose two or three countries that you really want to explore and learn about – or have a specific kind of adventure in – and focus time on exploring those places. Digest the country slowly and thoughtfully and you’re sure to find your very own unique moments and experiences.
- Consider overland adventures such as taking the train instead of flying to help offset your impact on the environment. This also opens up the adventure, allowing for more interactions with locals and experiencing a flavour of travelling as the locals do.
- Check into a surf and/or adventure camp. This can break up the (sometimes) monotonous bouncing from destination to destination and will allow for new friendships and new experiences. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new activity you love to do?
- Look for opportunities to live and work abroad so you can really integrate with a local community. We volunteered with Soul & Surf in India; we learned to surf, met people from all walks of life, learned to live frugally, learned about the local culture, to slow down in the Indian heat and I even went through an interesting week taking part in an Ayurvedic detox.
- What’s your active adventure jam? You can focus your trip on places to hike, snowboard, surf or mountain bike if you love one of those things.
- If you do really want to explore the places that are on the beaten track, I totally hear you, but just be sure to head there early in the morning to avoid mass crowds or look for alternative ways to explore that area and travel responsibly. Refrain from trespassing, respect local land and culture always and take only photographs, leave only footprints.
- Also… Be sure to check with locals about other places to visit – for example other national parks you can go to in Sri Lanka. We went to Wasgamuwa to see elephants and Kithulgala to go white water rafting and canyoning. Both of which we’d never heard of before checking in with a local for some advice and both were far less touristy, fully stoking our adventurlust.
If we can’t find our own path and create our own epic adventure, well perhaps it’s worth asking if we are really souls of adventure we claim to be or whether we are simply following the crowd because that place looks great on our digital profile. It’s time to create your own epic, count experiences, not countries. Travel NOT the world, and find your own path.
A few articles to help you get off the Beaten track
If you’re interested in new concepts surrounding the world of travel, check out this thought provoking article by Allison Jane Smith on Bright The Mag.