To travel outside of the country you need two things: a passport and money. Whether it’s a hostel-hopping, backpacking adventure by bus across Europe or a stay at a five-star resort in the Maldives, it all comes at a price, and quite often even the most budget-friendly forms of travel can be beyond the reach of a lot of people. As longtime members of the First World club, we take access to the cash and documents that allow us to travel for granted. Phrases like “ugh, renewing my passport is taking forever” and “this Airbnb is cheap, but I bet we can find one for even less” tend to escape our mouths without a thought for the millions of people whose governments make it incredibly difficult for them to legally leave and for whom the idea of having “extra” spending money to see the world is unimaginable.
The migration crisis — both in Europe and at the southern US border — has inspired a rethink where I decide to travel and how I spend my money when I get there. I have a big (BIG!) birthday coming up next year, and for a long time now, I’ve been planning on marking it with a trip. In my daydreams, it was a destination showdown between France and Italy, but after an earlier trip to Rome, Florence, and the Amalfi Coast town of Atrani, I decided that Italy was the ideal place for the kind of celebration I imagined.
Then they had an election.
Italy’s new right-wing leader campaigned and won on a platform that included rounding up undocumented African and Middle Eastern immigrants and sending them back to their countries of origin — places like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Some Italian voters may have decided that’s what they want… But it’s also my prerogative to decide that it would be hypocritical of me to spend my money there right now. And while it’s rare to find a destination free from any kind of problematic political issue, it doesn’t mean that some choices aren’t better than others. The key thing is to do your research, examine your own values, and decide what’s important to you.
The days when we could naively scroll through websites offering us the best deals on all-inclusive resorts are, for me, over. That kind of travel was never my thing (though I completely understand the appeal of the zero-stress vacay). Now, no matter where we choose to visit, it’s time to consider more than just price and beach proximity. If leisure travel is reserved for only the world’s most privileged people, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure that the impact I make when I travel, however small, is positive.
I’m still learning, but right now that means supporting small businesses (even better: those run by women, especially women of color), seeking out experiences specifically designed to benefit locals, eating local food instead of heading for the closest recognizable franchise, booking accommodations in locally owned hotels rather than ones operated by massive international corporations, and (get ready — this might go against everything you’ve ever heard about shopping abroad) avoiding haggling over an item that’s already inexpensive, especially when it’s handmade. Of course, there are the usual dos and don’ts when it comes to being a responsible traveler. Like, be respectful. Remember, you CHOSE to go to a certain place, so whether or not their customs align with the way you live your life, be ready to abide by them. There’s also the environment to consider — there are no borders when it comes to the health of the planet. If you wouldn’t leave the A/C blasting all day at home while you’re at work, why would you do it in a hotel room?
To be 100 percent clear: This isn’t about feeling guilty about traveling or convincing yourself not to do it. It can be a wonderful, mind-expanding experience that widens your world view and makes you a more thoughtful, sensitive global citizen. So don’t swear off travel. Just do better.
Where will you be traveling this summer and why? Tell us about it on Twitter.
(Photos via Getty)