Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the United States, a time when families gather and nostalgically reflect upon everything in their lives for which they are thankful. While I am certainly thankful today, I will also be thankful tomorrow and I am indeed thankful every day. I don’t think I’m ever as thankful as I am when I am traveling though. More than just being happy that tragic events haven’t rained down like a plague of croaking frogs, I am thankful for the opportunities which life has given me.
I can’t say that whenever I travel, I do so with a completely altruistic bent, striving to help my fellow man at every corner. For the most part after all, travel is a fairly selfish activity, which isn’t a bad thing. But I do try to practice a few rules that allow me to travel thankfully.
Do No Harm – Sometimes this is easy; don’t litter in the Galapagos, don’t steal a penguin from Antarctica and try not to cut down one of the mighty Redwoods. For the most part though, there are fine nuances to these travel sensibilities. Sometimes it may mean avoiding wildlife experiences, something hard for me to do but understandably necessary at times. Our patronage of certain animal encounters actually perpetuates further abuse. In other parts of the world do no harm means only patronizing locally owned shops, which guarantee local direct investment. Doing no harm is situational, but the keen observer will always be able to spot the best way to avoid leaving a negative footprint on a new travel destination. Outdoors people use the term Tread Lightly, which I think is all too appropriate for the travel experience.
Respect - I wish this were more prevalent, but it’s really not. As tourists, we really have to be mindful of the fact that whenever we travel, be it across the country or across the world, we are always a guest. As a guest, a certain amount of respect is not only appropriate, I think it’s demanded. If I were to write a travel advice book, I’d call it The World is Not My Theme Park. Yes, there are people to help us when we travel, but we are ultimately on our own. We have to be respectful of local sensibilities, customs, even opinions sometimes. I don’t travel to be judgey, I travel to learn and I can only do that with an open mind and heart.
Using the Opportunity – Even though I tend to travel rather frequently, I never lose sight of the fact that it is a remarkable opportunity to be cherished and never squandered. How people use their vacation time is entirely up to them, and I’m not going to judge. I just personally don’t understand people who travel halfway around the world and never leave their hotel or resort and get drunk every night, sleeping through most of the following day. Wouldn’t it be much cheaper just to stay at a local hotel and do the same? But I digress. If life is a continuing lesson, then travel is one of the core instructors. Whenever I travel I not only try to see and do as much as I can, but I also try to interact as much as I can. I talk to people, try to learn more about them and through them, I learn about the culture and history of the place I am visiting. I’m not always great at this and yes, I do sometimes travel to beautiful Caribbean resorts where I firmly entrench myself in a beach chair with a bottomless goblet of margaritas. But for the most part I treat travel as the privilege that it is.
It’s easy to be thankful for the ability to travel, but it’s a little more challenging to travel thankfully.
These are some of the ways I try to be a mindful traveler, what are yours?