By Vaila Bhaumick

Even the most daring, intrepid travellers amongst us are going to think twice about tucking into a bowl of mystery meat soup curbside in a foreign land after this pandemic. And it’s devastating. Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten have been consumed in such circumstances. Are these going to be nothing but fond memories, or will our nomadic spirits refuse to be kept under lock and key?

I personally feel a huge sense of grief for the loss of travel, not to mention for friends who have lost their livelihoods. However, the world wandering coming to a standstill has undoubtedly had significant environmental benefits worldwide.

As someone who, over the years, has been increasingly drawn to a slower, more ethical way of travelling, I think the current reassessment could bring positive change. Hopefully, we will all emerge as better travellers.

#stayathome

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve been told repeatedly to stay at home! Even once the lockdown measures ease, the fear surrounding this virus is palpable, and I doubt most people will want to jump on a plane and dive into a Marrakech market or squeeze onto the Paris metro.

In one sense, this could be a silver lining. Not only will you be reducing your carbon footprint, but also fuel your local economy. I believe it’s far easier to gauge the effects of over-tourism in your own country because you live there. You can see any ill-effects, and be more responsible in supporting sustainable tourism efforts.

Leave Something Good Behind

Cabin fever alert! We can’t stay home forever, can we? We may have to for a while, but humans have an inbuilt urge to move—our ancestors were nomadic after all. It’s important that we do, too, as so many rely on tourism for income. Aside from the economic benefits, travel is food for the soul—it feeds a natural curiosity to know distant lands, people, and share their food and traditions. It builds empathy. This isn’t always a mutually beneficial process though, and emerging from this crisis, we must remind ourselves not to leave a trail of destruction behind, as we have done in the past.

As the late, great Anthony Bourdain saidTravel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” 

This is it—the crux of the matter. Travel can be gritty and shocking, and quite honestly at odds with the green-washed travel brochures. It’s complicated—we need time to become conscious travellers and not blindly accept what the ads tell us. We must decide for ourselves what good travel means.

Slow Travel

The pandemic has slowed the world down. Many of us now have time to reflect on how we’ve been living, and of course, travelling. Could this signal an opportunity to shift towards ‘slow travel’? 

Part of a wider slow movement, that really promotes connection—connection to the land, our community, our food, and when we travel, to the communities and cultures we move amongst. Coronavirus is potentially (please let it be!) a catalyst for us to wake up and really see what surrounds us. Not see as in an ‘oh, I saw the Eiffel Tower’ kind of way, rather see in a ‘Namaste—we are the same, we are one’ kind of way. Learning how to respect each other and all of nature is the ultimate aim of travel in my book, and we can do better post-pandemic.

Tread Lightly Post-pandemic

In essence, all it takes to be a better traveller is to be more aware. Ask yourself: What is my money supporting? How can I minimise the environmental impact? Is my holiday hurting the local people or animals? Here are two simple actions you can take to minimise damage:

  • Slow things down:Whether travelling domestically or abroad, take time to connect with what surrounds you. This may translate to taking longer trips as opposed to several short ones, reducing your carbon footprint, or simply spending longer in one place rather than racing around to see the sights, adding to the detrimental effects of over-tourism.
  • Do your research:TreadRight has a comprehensive checklist for anyone wishing to leave less negative impact behind them. Use your curious mind to #MakeTravelMatter. Pick out companies who tell you how they are sustainable and ethical in a transparent way. One example is the New Zealand-based GOODTravel

The post-COVID world is one we will have to navigate with the same intrepid spirit we once had, because travel won’t be easy. From increased immigration barriers to heightened suspicion of people, it won’t be for the faint-hearted. We can’t allow trepidation to separate us from the real human need for connection as we meander through the world. Keep your eyes open, limit the bad, make informed choices about who you support, respect your surroundings, go slow, and stay curious.