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  • Shelagh Hogan

The Art and Discipline of Conscious Travel.

Moving like a traveler, not like a tourist.


If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much

about the dynamics of this quest — in all its ardors and paradoxes — than our travels.

They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about…”

-Alain De Botton, “The Art of Travel”



We are all travelers. Whether we possess a passport or not. Whether we ever leave our hometown or not. The inevitable, undeniable truth is, that when it comes to our impermanent existence, we are all just passing through.


Perhaps it is this realization that sparks the urge to explore— the realization that the duration of life is unknown to us. And so, we should fill our time with experiences.


With the rapid development of technology, our ability to traverse practically every corner of our planet accelerated to breakneck speeds and exponentially increased rates. Between 1950 to 2019 the number of international tourist arrivals increased from 25 million to over 1.4 billion according to data collected by the UNWTO. This explosion of numbers of international flights put “experiences” at the fingertips of anyone with a valid passport and some PTO on the books.


The advent of social media brought with it the days of #FOMO, and #YOLO and the quest for the epic selfie. But these endeavors fall short of what more and more people have expressed that they desire from their travels.


With more awareness around climate change and the negative impacts that tourism can have, a growing number of travelers seek experiences that will not only satisfy their desire to explore someplace new but also invite their personal growth and have a positive impact on the places they visit.



What is conscious travel?


When intentionally crafted as a force for good, travel can help provide economic empowerment to communities by supporting jobs that pay living wages while preserving cultural heritage at risk of being lost.


Conscious travel is the awareness of the impacts that one has on a destination, its communities, and the environment and making choices that maximize the positive impacts and minimize the negative ones.



What Are Some Ways You Can Practice Conscious Travel?



Research before you go & travel with intention


Ask better questions both of yourself, and of the businesses you’re considering in your travel plans.

Define a clear, value-based purpose for your trip, and let that purpose guide your travel.


Every dollar that you spend is a vote that you cast. Make sure that that vote is an informed one. Determine what local businesses are taking action to achieve sustainable development goals and are implementing ethical business practices. These are the places to cast that vote.


Stay at locally-owned accommodations with sustainable and eco-friendly practices to avoid large international hotel corporations.


This is also a good time to learn about a culture's customs before you visit to minimize the potential embarrassing misunderstandings. But hey, misunderstandings happen. Be humble, be able to laugh at yourself, learn from the experience, and move on.



Choose the path less traveled


When considering taking a trip as a socially and environmentally conscious traveler, avoid the destinations that are #trending.


Over tourism is a serious problem in many destinations and the results can be devastating to the local communities and the environment. With a huge influx of people, the destinations struggle to support the increased traffic and resulting pollution to the sites. Also, some locals may be forced out of their neighborhoods, and large hotels and developments put a strain on the local businesses and don’t always have the most sustainable business practices.


As a conscious traveler, choosing lesser-known destinations helps take the pressure off of more popular destinations.



Travel during the shoulder and off-season


Peak seasons are when over-tourism is at its worst. By making your travel plans for the offseason and shoulder seasons, you minimize the impact of your stay on the environment, local communities, and their resources. By visiting a destination when the number of tourists is low, you're able to have a more focused travel experience within the local communities, and you bolster their economy during a time when their income from tourism may be slow.


When you travel consciously, you are choosing to put the needs of the destination at the forefront of your travel plans. You are recognizing that the decisions you make have an impact on the destination, and you are choosing to make that impact a positive one.



Embrace slow travel


Stay longer in a destination, if you’re able to. The effects of over-tourism are intensely felt when there is a rapid turnover of visitors. When you travel slowly, you not only minimize the effects that come with tourism you also have a better opportunity to cultivate connections with a local community.



Tread lightly


If there's anything that nature can teach us it's that it is resilient when left to her own devices. When you adopt a sustainable mindset and implement sustainable practices in your life, you are committing to breaking the cycle of pollution. You are again voting with your dollar to demand that large corporations provide sustainable solutions. Planet over profit.


Bring your reusable water bottles and cutlery, and research carbon offsetting options. If you can, take public transportation or walk. Be mindful of your energy consumption within your accommodations. Turn lights and A/C off when you’re not using them.



Get out of your comfort zone


Anytime we journey from home we are leaving our comfort zone. This. is. where. the. magic. happens.


Yet, sometimes when we travel we still choose to stay small and don't fully commit to the expansive experiences that travel can offer. We find ourselves in the little bubble that tourism corporations construct for us.


As a conscious traveler, you’re willing to explore beyond the mainstream tourist-oriented path mapped out before you and find the authentic local experiences, connect with the community, and perhaps bump into other like-minded conscious travelers trying to find their way through their experiences as well. These are the friendships that make a trip.



Creation & connection over consumption


A good question to ask yourself when considering any choice is, “am I creating or am I consuming?”

This little thought pattern interruption can help drive decisions toward the former.

It asks you to consider the impacts of your choices beyond the moment— that is the aim of conscious travel.

Create dialogues with the locals to learn what ways travelers can serve their communities.

Create space for people to share their history and culture with you if they choose.

Create awareness around issues of tourism in its current model.

Create conversations around solutions to those issues.



Integrate & Share


Travel is the time for expansion and self-growth. Take home with you the lessons that you've learned and the connections that you've made. Share your experiences within your personal life, and always share the ways that conscious travel can have a positive impact. Share with your friends not just about what you learned about the history and culture of the destination, but also about the ones who shared their homes and their stories with you.


The art of conscious travel requires that you recognize the role your decisions play in creating a positive experience for both yourself as a traveler as well as with the destination community. To express an understanding of what life might be about as you’re just passing through.






The author of this blog is the oh-so-talented, Shelagh Hogan.

You can find out more about her work on our team page