With the increasing affordability of international travel, many people have set out to travel the world. From the hostel-dwelling backpacker to the 5-star resort resident, travel provides people with new and valuable perspectives on the world. And while two travelers may visit the same physical locations, their outlook and actions can make the impacts of the experience very different. The ‘carefree drifter’ moves from place to place, observing their surroundings but not truly absorbing them. The ‘mass tourist’ travels for the pictures and the views, but not for true immersion in the culture. Conversely, the ‘mindful traveler’ immerses themselves in the culture of the area with intentions to do no harm to those that they leave behind when they move to their next location.
For the past few years, I have been working to become a ‘mindful traveler’. Three years ago, a presentation on the harmful aftermath of voluntourism turned my views upside down and forced me to consider my motives behind the many service trips I had been on, and what my true impact was. As humans we feel better when we think we have helped someone else. We engage in community service because we are told it is the right thing to do, and we feel validated following an experience of giving back. Yet we often forget to look back at real impacts of our journeys. We spend copious amounts of money to go places and build things we have no experience with, when we could be putting the money back into the areas own economy, paying skilled and jobless workers to build in their local community. Sure, this does not leave quite the same impact on us as being present in the culture, but we have to ask ourselves whom we are really trying to help. The ‘mindful traveler’ is able to see this and act/travel in a way that leaves only positive impacts on the communities he or she visits.
It is also important to consider the needs and wants of those being ‘served’. During my service trip last spring break, the following quote was presented in a nightly reflection: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” –Lilla Watson. So as I explore this new culture and attempt to give back to this place that has already given me so much, I aim to leave my mark in whatever positive way I can. So I ask myself, as slimbach asks, “How might we journey in ways that strengthen rather than undermine the goals of economic growth, cultural preservation, social harmony, environmental protection, and spiritual flourishing?” (82). How might I travel so that I can become a more culturally aware person, while also leaving the places I visit in the same or a better state than before? I aim to act as the locals do—taking shorter showers and minimizing my use of air con in respect of the widening ozone hole that looms above this environmentally conscious country. This experience will also change the way I act at home. Much of the pollution that caused the hole in the ozone layer down here was from the US and China, so as I return to my old home in December I vow to work everyday to reduce my impact on the environment. In this way, I have become more mindful about the places in which I travel. I want to see the world not for the picture of the memory, but for the perspective and knowledge that I can take with me, and the positive change I can contribute to.
Our working definition of a global community is still accurate and important, but at this point I think mindfulness is an essential aspect to being part of a global community. A global community member stands with all other members in solidarity while respecting their culture and background. In order to do this we must have a desire to learn about other places and people as a member of the community and not as an outsider. This can be difficult, as we like to cling to our home culture where we are comfortable and feel safe. The ‘mindful traveler’ must push himself or herself outside this comfort zone every day.
The picture I have chosen to include is from my trip along the Great Ocean Road. The twelve apostles are a popular tourist destination, and you can certainly see many groups of ‘mass tourists’ along this 150mi stretch of road. When I first looked at the limestone stacks, I was amazed by the beauty and in awe of the natural creation of such strange shapes. However, some deeper, more mindful reflection revealed another thought: the limestone of the apostles is tough enough to stand on, and in the past people have even walked out on top of some of the stacks. In 1990, two people were left stranded on a stack as a wave took out the last of the arch connecting them to the headland. It amazes me that the water can be such a powerful source of destruction. The ‘mindful traveler’ in me cannot help but think of what this site will look like in a few years with rising sea levels and the increasing prevalence of storms. The headland will probably erode very quickly, wiping out homes in this area and across the world. If we want anything to be left for future members of our global community, we have to recognize these issues in our travels and work to change them.