Here are lessons gleaned from traveling across six continents and covering over 180,000 miles last year.
1. Take the road less traveled. 2018 will be remembered as the year mass tourism came to a head. While problems had been brewing for years, governments finally decided to take action. That includes everything from the Philippines shutting down Boracay to recover from grossly unregulated over-development, to Thailand cutting off access to Maya Bay to allow recovery time for reefs and wildlife. And cities like Barcelona and Venice are fighting back, too, charging tourist fees and debating other ways to curb – or charge for – access. And while flights make the world more accessible than ever, thus contributing to over-tourism in popular destinations, it’s also a boon to travelers willing to look further afield. Try Slovenia instead of Croatia. Head to Micronesia instead of Thailand.
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2. Buy local. This well-known mantra can’t be repeated enough. With rising rents and growth in online shopping, small businesses are being squeezed out of communities. I live in the West Village in Manhattan. Tourists descend on the neighborhood in packs for its charming streets and historic townhomes. But all the interesting independent shops that gave the neighborhood its enduring personality have disappeared. Will tourists still come? Will residents choose to stay if all that’s left are banks next to empty storefronts? Additionally, when you’re shopping for souvenirs, skip the junk made in China and seek out local artisans. Better to spend more on less while supporting regional craft traditions that in many places, are threatened with extinction.
3. Book the best hotel room you can afford. There was a time when you likely booked a cheap hotel on the theory “I don’t need a fancy room; I’ll hardly be in it.” Much of that philosophy derived from an era when choice equaled bland corporate properties, expensive pseudo-luxury resorts, or hostels. Today, there are a slew of hotels bringing design and upgraded facilities to money-conscious travelers. For just a little more than a Hilton Garden Inn, you’ll have access to inspirational aesthetics, a cool restaurant and bar and maybe a pool (see Ace hotel in Palm Springs.) And why shouldn’t your hotel be part of the total package? A trip is meant to be a break from the drudgery of life, not an extension of it by way of a dull, dark and dirty room. Plus, if you get sick, need a break from weather or walking, or just need a night to relax, a great hotel provides the comfort to do that (especially when a big tub is involved.)
4. Connect with a local. For all the evils of Facebook and Twitter, probably a blend of imagined and true, social media undoubtedly does one thing well: it connects people around the world. Earlier this year, before a trip to Finland, I put a call out for contacts on Facebook that resulted in a list a dozen deep. Some of these new “friends” gave great advice on dining, while another actually picked me up at the hotel and took me around to bars I’d have never found on my own. Use your social resources to make friends around the world and dive deeper into the location you’re visiting. It’s a win-win.
5. Be a good neighbor. The world turns on trust and respect. Without it, society is reduced to a legion of suspicious, angry individuals and that’s a tiring way to live life. If you’re staying in an AirBnB, treat your host home like your own. If you’re visiting national parks, bring your garbage out. If you’re temple-hopping in Thailand, don’t wear a bikini. And if you’re a man, just leave female travelers alone.
6. Be eco-conscious. Though airplane travel is a major contributor to carbon emissions, you don’t have to stop flying to solve climate change. Frankly, it’s going to take a lot more than that. Nonetheless, there are ways to curb your impact. First, there is plenty of debate over whether buying carbon offsets matters and evidence that airlines may already be doing it for you. In that case, if you’re still feeling guilty, take direct flights, fly coach, and donate $10 for every flight to a climate action or conservation fund. On the ground, rent electric cars. California has an abundance of Prius and hybrids you can pair with map apps like PlugShare which give charging station locations. If you forget to bring a reusable water bottle, grab one from a local grocery and refill it as often as you can. Eschew straws. Drink your coffee in the café from a ceramic mug. Stop packing clothes in plastic bags (I’m guilty of this) and instead use reusable packing cubes. That way, when you get to Kenya and Rwanda, both countries which have banned disposable plastic bags, you’ll forgo the hefty fine.