The era of selfie travel is dead. The age of responsible travel is just beginning.
Over the past several decades, Western travel habits have changed. Air travel is more accessible, increasing the numbers of tourists flocking to transatlantic and eastern destinations; technology has streamlined our travel management; and celebrity has popped up in all corners, turning small food huts and far-flung trails into bucket list musts. And to document it all? The surge of social media and selfie-ism, flooding our phones with pictures of friends hiking the Incan Trail in Peru, slurping bottomless phô in Hanoi, and shaking hands with the Pope.
As with all trends, however, some of these are beginning to fade. Too many selfies have dulled the awe of touring the world’s monuments and landmarks, and harried airplane rides have made travel more frustrating than fun. In fact, Millennials and Gen Xers have begun taking another look at the experience of travel altogether, wondering if our consumption habits (particularly during travel) are doing the world more harm than good. It is out of this generational self-reflection that responsible travel was born.
While there are many facets to responsible travel — sustainable dining, eco-friendly transportation, and respect for local cultures and customs among them — they are all key to recent generations’ vision of “proper” global exploration. At the same time, technology is ever advancing, helping to facilitate the ease of responsible travel.
Case in point: the aptly named Responsible Travel website, which thoughtfully curates travel companies with reputations for “caring tourism.” Many of the trips on offer through these companies are designed for smaller groups — to reduce environmental and cultural impact — and take special care to instruct travelers on local customs, history, and traditions. This not only precludes issues abroad, but does a better job of educating Westerners about foreign cultures — an eye-opening education often not enjoyed when tourists are self-guided.
Other sites, like Sustainable Jungle, fold travel into a broader vision of sustainable living. Sites like these are no longer solely focusing on the whitest beaches, the most high-profile dance clubs, and the most sought-after monuments; they ask pointed questions about who makes the swimwear you buy for sunning on those beaches and what restaurants are serving ingredients sourced from farms with underpaid labor. They shine the spotlight on the whole story of a destination, shunning the superficial pushes for lavish, indulgent vacations.
Tourism sites stateside have taken note of this new ethos, proffering guides on eco-friendly dining and adventure. Annapolis, Maryland, for instance, spotlights food sourced and made locally alongside hotels that invest in recycling and reuse programs. Other cities, like Denver, Colorado, have made green-friendly practices attractions unto themselves; the Mile High City even has a section of its tourism website dedicated to major “green” activities and sites across the state.
Tangential to the eco-conscious movement in travel is the growing attention paid to one’s diet. Vacation isn’t always about indulging without limit anymore; many sites cater to those with specific dietary restrictions, like Celiac Travel, while hotels and restaurants go above and beyond to promote their “wellness” menus — dish selections designed to be healthful, nutritious, and tasty. The Four Seasons Maui does this with aplomb on their three-course dinner menu; it’s an inventive blend of international flavors mixed with hearty veggies and whole grains.
Even airlines are jumping on the environmental bandwagon. Dutch airline KLM is at the forefront, with a campaign to increase awareness about the possibilities for sustainable travel, while popular travel apps are increasingly nodding to the need for responsibility when trekking abroad. Travel app TripIt, for example, will now tell you how you can offset your flight’s carbon emissions by choosing more earth-friendly travel options on the ground.
All of this is to say: Leisure travel is no longer a pursuit of luxury, indulgence, and good times at any cost. There’s a responsibility to it that requires us to be self-aware and intentional about our choices — from the airlines we fly to the meals we order and the clothes we buy. It really is no wonder; debates on climate are ever-present and calls for treating our world with more respect are ratcheting up. We have begun to realize that our individual actions have global impact. As environmentalist John Muir once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”