Travel in Troubled Times: Do You Suffer From Fly Shame, “Flygskam”?

There are many ways to turn travel back into something good

Airport Mural, room for people and wilderness? Christyl Rivers

Greta Thunberg is changing the world in her travels to request more people consider science and climate challenges. But also, notably, Greta has changed her modes of travel to be more environmentally conscientious. She’s out there preaching the science, but what can you do if you still have a need to see the world?

Many who travel want to feel better about how much carbon they pump into the atmosphere, even while many more remain in a numb denial, (or in some cases righteous indignation that they are asked to be less selfish at all.) Fortunately, there are many avenues to a cleaner world and a less stigma stained passport.

If you are like most people, there are places within a one day drive you have never seen. There are parks, and museums, and sculpture gardens, and concert halls, and antique stores, and private rock collections, and historical monuments, and outdoor activity hubs. And more.

There is much more than you can imagine not far from your door-step. Visit your local chamber of commerce, or any city gateway activity center and find out what is offered. Here in Hawaii, shopping centers are dotted with little kiosks that offer brochures and ideas.

Your family and kids will benefit greatly from learning about the unique natural offerings and cultural wonders in your own backyard. Organize and post bulletins in your community for outings where you connect to people in your own area. Your life and theirs, will be greatly enriched by taking the time to learn about, and support, local culture.

Back in 2014, my husband and I signed on for the People’s Climate March in New York City. He was raised in New York, but I had never been to — only through — this major metropolis. It had been on my list for a lifetime: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and so many museums!

The march gave us the opportunity for a “two-fer” We had at least two reasons to go and tick off our ‘to do’ list. Seeing the many sights that he had talked about for years made it a three-fer rather than a two-fer. Because we knew we would likely never return, we did a bit of everything. Most rewarding of all, solidarity with so many organizations that love Earth and nature as we do, offered much more than just travel guilt. Since that day, the Earth movement has grown to a worldwide campaign. So have the myriad number of ways for anyone to make their voices and their concerns heard.

For a recent anniversary, we visited both Toronto and Niagara Falls. We went by train and reduced our personal Flygskam. Although challenging, it was amazing and rewarding to get so much squeezed into one vacation. Naturally, we had to fly to return to Hawaii, but we did a stop over in Seattle and saw relatives. More than two snowbirds killed with one stone, as we scheduled it.

All over the world there are hot spots of discontent with tourism. In Venice, overcrowding, garbage, vulgar behavior, lost culture and housing, traffic and loss of quiet, are concerns. In places like Waikiki, too many people make the former paradise seem more like a parasite patch. In Rome, the Spanish Steps became so mucked up with wine and gum they have prohibited people to linger there for more than a few moments. The woes of reefs and corals due to overlove and acidification are well known.

More than 600,000 tourists swarmed Machu Picchu in just the first six months of 2018, rumors of naked selfies have apparently become a thing — and an obvious threat to a once magnificent wonder. Maya Beach in Thailand has been shut down to tourists indefinitely. There are many more such examples.

We went to Iceland some years ago and lamented that there was no nature to be seen without the cluttered cover of people on every trail and at every attraction. Rather than go to the most famous geothermal springs, we found small municipal pools with just as much relaxing hot water without the disturbing ripples of too many visitors.

When you go to less ‘in demand ‘places, you may lose a feeling of seeing the rarest and unique place of its kind, but you will gain a much greater experience, both in cultural immersion, authenticity and natural beauty undisturbed by defiling mobs.

For as many places there are worth seeing in the world, there are times to see them which are less crowded. If it is not to late for you to do so, consider the freedom of childlessness. Without kids you can skip the madness days of spring and summer breaks. You can travel light. You can go when fewer people visit.

You can also gear up for cold weather trips . The sun you soak up will be that much more appreciated. You will very much enjoy less traffic and less toxic fumes from traffic. There is less light pollution for the star-gazing, less roaring noise of congestion, and less cost in most cases.

Finally, look for travel opportunities that offer you the chance to make a real difference. You absolutely will find this more rewarding than another mad consumption binge at a theme park or crammed city center.

There are wildlife safaris that support local economies and guard against poaching. There are volunteer activities that allow you to release turtle hatchlings, collect data on biodiversity, help rehabilitate animals, learn sustainable farm methods, and plant trees. Places in Africa and India offer community outreach programs to support crafts and culture. You can even teach local children English while you learn their environmental lessons and cultural wisdom.

We are currently planning to travel to rainforest areas where ecosystems are under threat. Local community programs that support biodiversity help in several ways: you can help make eco-tourism more profitable to local economies than poaching and wildlife ‘pet’ trafficking. You can participate in hands-on rescue and supportive science projects that share data worldwide. You can simply tour, and in doing so, provide meaningful jobs to local hotels, restaurants, guides, and artisans. Find places that need you.

Simply supporting the notion that more people are eager to see beautiful and rare species than are eager to pay big bucks to kill them, is rewarding in itself.

Where ever you go, go with grace. Take time to learn the difference between exploitation tourism and giving back tourism. Learn every day that there is so much more beauty and joy in the world when we share it.

Many people argue that overpopulation is not a true threat to our planet, but most of us who travel strongly disagree. Yes, there is enough food if we shared, and yes, there is enough space if we cared, but when it comes to rare and very special places, they are definitely finite.

We have to find ways to preserve and protect all that is worth touring, or we all lose much more than just our patience during routine travel stress.

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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