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Independence and Freedom (of choice)
Where you travel and how you spend can change the world
In the spirit of July and because I was exercising my freedom to not write a blog last week I’m going to talk a little bit about Independence and how freedom of choice can affect destinations, communities, regions, industries and the planet. It’s pretty obvious that there is no greater power on the planet than the power of currency. My favorite aspect of the Green Revolution that’s taking place is how simple it is to actually foster change through spending. There are those that will tell you that the only way to save the planet is by changing the consumer mentality and to reduce our possessions and fundamentally end our “throw-away” culture. I’m not the person you want to have this discussion with at a dinner party because I seriously love buying things and am only limited in scope by my bank account. I agree in theory, but changing the cultural makeup of billions of people is a lot harder than buying smart. As Josh Dorfman has so perfectly pointed out in The Lazy Environmentalist, "the easiest way to exercise the power to influence society is by purchasing sustainable products". The range of product categories and options is becoming limitless and this is exactly as it should be. The more that we as a society spend on green products the more green products will become available. It’s that simple. Travel is no exception.
I was recently contacted by a friend that I haven’t spoken to since High School. She is now a cop and a single Mother of three boys. She had read some of my previous blogs and very rightly pointed out that not everyone has the ability, either financially or in terms of time, to explore the world and take deep breaths and interact with local communities and be the person that I keep on talking about. When she gets the rare chance to get away from all of her responsibilities she wants to go to a nice hotel with a pool and some sun and a bar and belly-up and enjoy herself for a week. She, in theory, isn’t interested in getting to know the local community and wants to just get away. Oh, and she wants it to be inexpensive so why not go on a totally unsustainable package that includes airfare and hotel and just not worry about it. She’s absolutely right. Why not? Why should she be limited in her choices by my near insistence that you’ve got to get out there and hold hands with everyone and tread lightly? She shouldn’t.
We always stress the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. Is there a similar distinction between going on vacation and having a meaningful and responsible interaction with a foreign destination? I say no. Sustainable travel can and should be everything from a trip around the block to a six thousand mile journey. I love exploring the most off-the-grid places I can find but don’t think for a second that I don’t equally love sitting at an ocean-side bar watching the sun set. Package beach holidays are extremely popular because they are easy and cheap and get you away from it all. Large hotel chains are taking baby steps to be sustainable by putting pretty little placards with a leaf on them in the bathroom asking if you need your towels washed every day. That’s fine and we support them for beginning to move in the right direction. Just for the record, about six miles away there is a locally-owned small beachfront hotel that treads lightly and has one of the best bars on the island. Seriously. Oh, and it’s only about $30 more per night than what you spent to stay at the five hundred room mega-resort. I’m not being cool-guy traveler…there is nothing wrong with staying where you want and having the vacation that makes the most sense to you. It is your fundamental right and we won’t look down our noses at you. I would only ask that you look at your options and then decide; I seriously think you’ll have a much better time somewhere else. The money that you are spending at the resort is leaving the island as quickly as it is coming in. Alternatively the money that you are not spending at the resort by choosing to stay somewhere green can force them to change their whole plan and identity. Think I’m exaggerating? Three of the four largest hotel chains on the planet have put huge-scale sustainability plans into place in the last three years. Is it because they are good stewards? No, it’s because they don’t want you to spend your hard-earned dollars anywhere else. You have the freedom to spend your money where you want to. Spend it so that it positively changing the world and everyone benefits…even if it’s just on umbrella drinks.
No matter where you choose to stay you are interacting with your local community. If you would rather be another sunburned tourist at a crowded pool bar paying for overpriced umbrella drinks rather than being another sunburned tourist chatting with the Rastas at the beachside bar just around the bend than I salute you. Me? I’m gonna overpay down the beach with the locals. The small hotels and guesthouses are everywhere, you just have to look for them. Where can you find them? I think you know the answer to that one (hint: it starts with Global Basecamps...). Give us a beach and we’ll show you some amazing locals who would love to show you their island.
In closing, it’s also imperative to remember that the freedoms that we have: to travel, to make purchasing decisions, to get away from our lives and responsibilities for a day or a week, are not freedoms shared by everyone. Getting to know local communities has a really important flipside: letting them get to know you. No matter how green you are or sustainable your trip is you still have advantages that most people in the world can only dream about…like going somewhere far away just to drink on the beach. Sharing a rum punch with a local will also let him know that you’re just another person on the planet doing what you do and trying to make sense of it all by hitting up the bar.
Welcome home to Aaron and Liz, two of our favorite people, who after seven months in South America are trying to make sense of it all and are exercising their freedom to not pick a favorite destination from their trip. We know a good bar in San Diego if you want to talk about it…