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According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, economic activity as it relates to tourism will top $7 trillion USD in 2007. That is a huge amount, many times the gross domestic product of almost the entire developing world... combined! Undoubtedly, a large percentage of this was spent on exclusive resorts, upmarket group travel and luxury, many times taking place in the aforementioned developing world. Cut off from the real local societies and dreadful living conditions, separated by high walls and security guards many tourists only meet locals when their food is served and rooms cleaned.
Travel abroad should help people to better understand their place in the world, not just as individuals affected by it but as catalysts for change. Responsible travel is about helping people understand how political, economic, cultural, and social forces combine to shape the relationships among the members of a community. Travellers should be aware of the negative or positive impacts on those relationships that their presence will have during their journeys around the world.
Local communities should be involved in the process of welcoming visitors in a fair way. Responsible travel should be undertaken in such a way that it encourages cultural exchange and allows the local economy to reap the benefits of foreign visitors spending money locally.
Travel is about collecting authentic experiences you would not otherwise find if you stayed at home. The best possible way to collect such experiences is to immerse yourself in a foreign culture. You will grow as an individual and will understand the importance of living in a world that is made more colourful and vibrant by the many diverse different cultures within it.
Giving something back is not incompatible with travel if it is responsible travel. You should leave your destination better than when you found it, from the environment and the economy to the people and families that hosted you. Finally, do not forget that you created some extra CO2 in getting there and back, so try to do your best in offsetting your carbon footprint. For more on how you can do that, visit http://www.climatecare.org/calculators/flight/
As Euripides once said, travel is for some an "education in itself". So try to think of responsible travel as an investment into your future and the future of the communities you visit, a future of mutual understanding and respect. Take the road less travelled and discover the world more responsibly.
Travel2help.org supports responsible travel. We hope you do, too.