1. Learn more about ethical travel.
Travelling is best when we do it in a way that makes the world a better place. Travel blogs and publications provide amazing resources on how to travel ethically — from how to spend money on vacation in a way that benefits communities and creates jobs, to ethical vacations in so-called ‘developing’ nations.
This year, before taking a trip, first do your research. Learn more about the country or region you’re visiting in order to become more culturally sensitive. Support eco-friendly hotels and businesses. Learn about how to support marginalized communities while traveling. Read about the dangers of certain kinds of voluntourism. Acknowledge the privileges many of us travellers have over those who can’t travel.
2. Travel without a camera.
I know that it’s tempting to want to document every moment of your journey. But sometimes, we focus too much on taking photos instead of enjoying the moment. This is why a few travellers choose not to take many photos while they’re adventuring.
This year, try to travel without a camera, even for a day or so, and see whether going camera-free improves your experience. Try out other ways to record your trip, like journaling or using a sketchbook. This especially works well when you’re on laid-back journeys, like roadtrips or hikes, that give you time to sit and write or draw.
3. Learn the basics of a new language.
Rita Mae Brown once said, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”
Learning a new language can open so many doors for us. It can teach us so much about cultures, about those who speak it, and about ourselves.
If you’re able to learn a new language, do it this year. You don’t have to become an expert — just commit to learning the basics. From there, decide how fluent you want to become. You might want to choose a language that’s spoken in a place you want to visit. Alternatively, choose a language that’s spoken in your own country. This year, I’m committing myself to learning to speak isiXhosa better as it’s a common language where I live in South Africa.
Thankfully, learning a new language is easier nowadays because of apps like Duolingo and free online courses and resources. Take advantage of these resources before travelling to a place where an unfamiliar language is spoken, or use it to strengthen your ability to communicate with others in your own country.
4. Learn about cultural appropriation — and avoid it.
‘Cultural appropriation’ is a really topical subject in social justice circles, and for good reason: it’s one of the many ways we inflict harm on marginalised cultures. In a popular article for Everyday Feminism, Maisha Z. Johnson explains:
In short: Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own.
But that’s only the most basic definition.
A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.
The truth is that cultural appropriation is a really complicated issue. There’s a difference between respectful cultural exchange and cultural appropriation, but it’s hard to draw an exact line between the two. That’s why it’s really important that we keep reading up about it and listening to members of marginalized groups when they tell us our behavior is harmful.
Travellers, I’ve noticed, are particularly likely to participate in cultural appropriation without realizing how harmful it is. This is probably because we frequently come into contact with other cultures, and we want to participate in their traditions. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but we sometimes do it in ways that can be incredibly harmful. In 2017, let’s decide to learn more about cultural appropriation to make sure this doesn’t happen.