Traveling has a funny way of making us all better people. There are endless destinations in the world that by just visiting them, you are doing something good. So go, go far and way and go often. BUT, before you do, take some time to learn about how your showing up will impact the place.
At Soul Free Travels, we are huge advocates of sustainable travel which goes hand in hand with socially responsible travel. For those of you who are not quite sure what all that really means, it basically adds up to traveling in a way that minimizes the negative impacts that tourism can have on the local community and their natural environments. How long a place can withstand an onslaught of tourism relates to the ‘sustainable’ part and ‘responsible’ relates to our own personal impact. Things like are we respectful to cultural and religious differences and are we spending money in the right places?
For me, when doing my best to be a ‘good traveler’, I do think that it is important to concern myself with how my showing up impacts a locale. I have thought this way since I got my first passport stamp and that was even before it became a trend. I am quite delighted that it is a grown beyond being a buzzword and is now a very important sector within the travel community. Now, more and more people have the ability to travel further and this is presenting some very real challenges to the sustainable aspect of travel.
Sadly, there are more and more places that progressively being ruined by tourism.
Take Maya Bay for example. Quite possibly one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen for myself. Ironically, the movie “The Beach” starring the actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio caused a frenzy of tourists to visit this magical place in Krabi Province, Thailand. Unlike most tourists, I was able to see it as it appeared in the movie. There was only one boat in the bay and about five other people. This only happened because it was just after the horrible tsunami of 2004. I had decided not to cancel my trip because I felt that not going would impact the local economy in a negative way. I was right about that part. They were really suffering down there.
I recall walking on the beach there with a girl that worked on the boat that brought me to Maya Bay and she said to me “you are so lucky to see it this way.” When I asked her what she meant, she explained how the bay never looked that good. “Clean water and fish.” She also said that the local Thai believed the tsunami happened because God cleaned the waters to save the bay. That really stuck with me and she was so right. Remembering it now is all I can do because Maya Bay is now closed. Thanks Leonardo.
In an effort to rejuvenate the natural environment, including the coral reefs, the Thai government closed it off to tourists in April 2018 and it will likely not re-open for another couple of years. When Maya Bay finally does re-open there will be rules only allowing for a limited number of visitors and the idyllic scenery will then include boardwalks and additional bathrooms. I am happy that I was able to experience Maya Bay in all its glory and saddened to know that some will not see it as I did.
There are other places that are off limits or strictly regulated due to mass tourism. Boracay, in The Philippines comes to mind as another place which was closed in 2018 for six months. That is a whole other story as it caused evictions and unemployment and a slew of other problems as it seems to be the closure wasn’t well thought out. So, with all the bad news about places that are going to have to come off some bucket lists for the time being, where’s the good news?