Erin is a Canadian blogger, writer, and digital marketing specialist. Her travel love affair started at age 16, when her parents sent her alone to visit family in the Netherlands. Since then, she has explored Asia, Africa, Europe, Central America, the Middle East, Oceania, and North America. She believes that travel is an incredible way to learn not only about the world, but about yourself. But, travel is not accessible to all – those that can travel have privilege, and therefore, responsibility. On her blog Pina Travels, you’ll find guides that cover topics like how to avoid tourism, tips for traveling sustainably, and explanations of travel privilege. You’ll also find destination guides that include tips for the responsible traveler.
Learn more about Responsible Travel in our interview with Erin below.
1. What is responsible travel and why is it so important?
It’s difficult to pin down a definition of what responsible travel is because responsible tourism practices are always evolving. If I were going to try to define it, I’d say responsible travel is sustainable, equitable, and regenerative. It’s about de-centering ourselves as travelers, and continuously learning about the impact of our travels. And of course, putting those learnings into practice.
I think it’s important for all of us to work toward more responsible tourism practices because they enable us to give back to the communities we visit, protect nature and wildlife, and preserve culture and history. I also genuinely believe that by traveling in a more responsible way, we have much more fulfilling travel experiences.
2. When and how did you gain awareness about responsible travel?
I wouldn’t say there was one particular moment, it was a slow building of awareness. I found that the more I traveled, the more I thought about travel culture, and how I myself was traveling. Over the years as I’ve traveled more, my awareness has grown as I’ve learned more. And it’s still growing and evolving, now.
I host a podcast called Alpaca My Bags, and on it, I interview guests about topics like equity in travel, cultural appropriation, sustainability, and wildlife tourism. With every episode I learn something new, and I actively try to incorporate that new awareness into the way that I travel. I think that’s what responsible travel is about: being open to learning and improving all the time!
3. You talk about Deep Travel on your blog – what does that involve and how does it relate to being a responsible tourist?
There’s lots of definitions of deep travel floating around the internet. Some definitions describe deep travel as a feeling that travel evokes. I prefer the definitions that are more literal: that deep travel is the practice of exploring a place deeply.
Rather than ticking things off the “top ten attractions” list, deep travel is about focusing on getting to know the people, the history, the food, and the culture of a place in depth. Deep travel encourages us to travel slowly and make our travel experiences more meaningful.
4. Could you shed light on the differences between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation describes when members of a dominant culture take clothing, tradition, or other elements from a culture of people that have been systematically oppressed by that (or another) dominant group. It often means that an element of culture is taken and stripped of its cultural meaning. It’s a complicated concept, and it can become especially complicated when traveling because there are so many opportunities for cultural exchange when we go abroad.
The main difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is that appropriation doesn’t seek permission, whereas cultural appreciation does. Cultural appreciation is all about expressing a desire to learn and admire another culture with that culture’s consent and guidance. With cultural appreciation, the goal is to gain a better understanding of a culture, and embrace it in a respectful manner.
A great way to practice cultural appreciation while traveling is to take a local cooking class! This gives you an opportunity to engage with someone from that local culture, and learn from them directly about their culture and cuisine.
5. What is travel privilege?
Before explaining travel privilege, it’s helpful to first understand what privilege refers to: It’s a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. Privilege is granted and upheld by society, and it’s usually based on very specific aspects of people’s identities – like race, gender, class or language. It can be really difficult to notice your own privilege because it requires you to actively notice and acknowledge the subtle benefits you experience on a daily basis.
Privilege factors into who travels, and how they travel. For example, I myself have passport privilege. I have a Canadian passport, which gives me entry into 184 countries without requiring a visa (in non-pandemic times!). Other passports don’t provide nearly as much freedom of movement and access. I also have language privilege. I speak English, which is the most widely spoken language in the world. This means that when I travel I face fewer communication barriers, which means travel is a bit more accessible to me.
6. What are some ways that travelers can be responsible tourists?
Take the time to learn about a place in depth! Start by researching a destination’s history, culture, and politics. Then, when you are on your trip, reflect on your experiences and the impact your travels have. This can help you to broaden your mindsets and understanding of the world. Other practical ways to travel more responsibly include reducing the amount you fly, traveling to less crowded destinations, and making sure to support locally owned hotels and businesses.
Responsible travel is also about equity. The travel industry is lacking in equity and inclusion of BIPOC travelers, and it’s mega problematic because it reinforces systemic racism. We do have the power to promote equity in travel as consumers. A good starting place is to actively support the BIPOC owned travel companies, or companies that are clearly working toward equity. We can also promote equity by diversifying the content we engage with. Follow BIPOC creators on social media, and engage with their posts! This helps amplify their voices.
It’s important to emphasize that responsible tourism doesn’t depend only on individual travelers. Airlines, tourism boards, local governments, business owners and other parts of the tourism industry have a part to play in it as well. As individual tourists, we can take actions ourselves, but industry solutions are just as important.
7. What is over tourism and why is it bad?
Overtourism is when there are too many tourists in a place and it overwhelms the local community. It’s bad because it can contribute to displacement of local residents, damage to natural environments, endangered protected species, and even threaten the local way of life.
In a lot of cases, it’s up to local governments and authorities to introduce policies and practices that reduce the negative impact of tourism. But there are a couple ways that individual tourists can help, too. For example, travel to places that are less mainstream or less popular, travel in the off-season or shoulder-season, explore regions outside of the touristy centers, and practice “second city tourism.”
Second city tourism means visiting a second, less popular place. A good example of this is to go to a less well known city like The Hague, after visiting the very popular city of Amsterdam. By doing this, you spread your tourism dollars further and also help to build up the reputation of lesser known destinations.
8. What are your favorite destinations for responsible travel and why?
Since responsible travel is more about shifting your approach to travel, you can really make any place a responsible travel destination. That said, I do really love exploring my own backyard – Ontario, Canada. Traveling my own province reduces my carbon footprint, and it helps me learn more about my own community. Traveling locally is a great way to support local businesses, too!
9. Do you have anything else you’d like to add about Responsible Travel?
I think it’s important to say: responsible travel is personal. Some of the suggestions I have for traveling responsibly might not work for everyone. And that’s okay. Find a way to approach responsible tourism that works for you, and continue to be open to learning and to change.
I’ve found that my responsible travel practices are constantly evolving as I learn more. When I compare the way I travel now to how I traveled even just two years ago, I’ve become much more aware of my impact, much better at mitigating it, and much better at finding ways to give back to the communities I visit.
Did you enjoy this interview? Check out our articles on Sustainable Travel so that you can plan your trips responsibly!
Erin writes the travel blog Pina Travels, where she shares destination guides, tips, and guides on how to travel responsibly. She’s also the host of Alpaca My Bags, a responsible travel podcast.