15 Lessons I Learned About Sustainable Tourism at Travelcon18

I recently attended Travelcon18—a travel conference started by Nomadic Matt. During the conference, attendees chose to participate in several sessions focused on a particular topic within the travel industry. I learned a lot from many different speakers, as all of the presentations were filled with good practical advice, but two sessions on sustainable tourism changed my perspective and path as a traveler and content creator. Here’s what I learned:

1) Think of Sustainable Tourism as a triage:

  • Culture/Community

  • Economy

  • Environment

The three elements work together in creating a sustainable travel experience.

 Photo by it's me neosiam from  Pexels .

Photo by it's me neosiam from Pexels.

2) Travel during the offseason: early spring, late fall, and winter.

One winter, Dave (the hubby) and I traveled to Stockholm, Sweden (read about our visit), during offseason. Because we visited during that time of the year, there were few tourists, and we blended into the hustle and bustle of Stockholm’s residents and their daily lives. While traveling on the train we chatted with a local resident. He asked us why we chose to visit in December and said, “We don’t usually see a lot of tourists during this time of the year.”

Traveling during the offseason will counter the negative effects of overtourism and create a more authentic travel experience with the locals. A bonus: Airfare is less expensive during the offseason.

 Dave and I visited  Skansen  in Stockholm, Sweden, during Christmas. “Skansen is the world’s oldest open-air museum, showcasing the whole of Sweden with houses and farmsteads from every part of the country.”

Dave and I visited Skansen in Stockholm, Sweden, during Christmas. “Skansen is the world’s oldest open-air museum, showcasing the whole of Sweden with houses and farmsteads from every part of the country.”

3) There are three layers of connection:

  • Connection to place

  • Connection to people

  • Connection to ourselves

We live in a world of cyber connections. Mediated communication has created a global, interconnected community of travelers. In a matter of seconds, you can contact a friend across the world. The advancements in technology are a marvel and positive progress for bridging humanity; however, we still need face-to-face communication (without a device) and physical contact to foster quality relationships within ourselves and to people and place.

A favorite movie of mine is the Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. During one scene, a photographer Sean O'Connell refused to photograph an elusive snow leopard after the animal walked into the focal point of his camera lens. Sean gazed at the beautiful creature through his lens, but did not release the shutter. Walter Mitty asked him why he didn’t take the photo, and Sean said, "Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

As a travel photographer, I understand that moment. Set down your device and connect.

 I photographed a refugee community potluck for Butterfly Boxes in Portland, Oregon. In this photo, community members are getting to know each other.

I photographed a refugee community potluck for Butterfly Boxes in Portland, Oregon. In this photo, community members are getting to know each other.

4) Read Traveling in the Age of Overtourism: 10 Ways Travelers Can Help by Dan and Audrey at Uncornered Market

I met Dan and Audrey at Travelcon18. Their presentation on sustainable tourism changed my perspective and my actions as a content creator and traveler.

5) Treat the local people and environment with respect

I live in Washington State near the Columbia River Gorge, and until last fall, I hiked it often. Why did I stop? In September of 2017, a fifteen-year-old boy flippantly disrespected the environment by throwing a smoke bomb into Columbia River Gorge while hiking the Eagle Creek trail. The result: 47,000 burned acres, and over thirty million in damage.

Travel Oregon conducted a study and found that in 2017 almost $51 million in tourism revenue was lost because of wildfires. The food, beverage, and lodging industry lost nearly $28 million. While some of the loss in revenue was due to media misinformation about Oregon wildfires, some was the result of imprudent hikers.

One careless act of environmental disrespect by a fifteen-year-old boy rippled out beyond himself to a state, industry, economy, and its residents.

 It was only myself and one other photographer when I captured this landscape shot at the Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge.

It was only myself and one other photographer when I captured this landscape shot at the Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge.

6) Content creators, get involved with a local chapter of Impact Travel Alliance

Or start one.

7) Sustainable tourism can be applied to any type of travel

8) Visit smaller towns and villages.

Remember 70% of the travelers are concentrated in 20% of the countries. As Daniel and Audrey with Uncornered Market said, “That leaves a whole lot of the world, including the estimated 80% of countries not struggling from overtourism.”

9) Follow the money trail

Are your tourist dollars going back into the local’s pockets? If you are volunteering, is the work you are doing taking away from a local? Ask yourselves these essential questions. Support the local community when traveling.

10) Content Creators, don’t make sustainable tourism a niche

Sustainable Tourism is no longer a “niche” market. It’s much larger than that. It’s beyond being a new trend, too. Sustainable Tourism is here to stay.

 Photo by rawpixel.com from  Pexels.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels.

11) Tell more stories

“Stories are a communal currency of humanity.” -Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights

On my blog, I tell narrative travel stories about everyday people living their lives, but when I first became a travel writer, I disliked writing stories. Writing did not come easy for me, and I did not hold a formal degree in it, so my fingers tapped on my keyboard for hours with little output. During that time, I even wrote an unpublished piece confessing my displeasure for the craft, and how I refused to label myself as a writer. However, despite my insecurities, I persevered because of two editors within the travel industry. They believed in me. One of the editors had over thirty years of experience and several books published, but she never allowed her seat in the sphere of Academia to define me as a writer. She merely encouraged and challenged me. And slowly, as I continued to write, my attitude changed, and my understanding grew on how to form thoughts on a page. I started to call myself a “writer.

I now have several years of writing experience. Am I perfect in it? No. Far from it. I still can’t weave a string of eloquent words without great effort. The written script takes work. Hard work. And continuing education. But I still wield my pen and write because the recording of travel narratives has become meaningful to me. Taking the time to preserve tiny pieces of an everyday traveler’s life may be insignificant, or unassuming to some, but for me, the minuscule details of daily life bound into a travel narrative are history.

So, if you are a struggling writer who records stories, and may be discouraged, press forward and picture the future. Picture an individual one hundred years from now covered in a cozy blanket drinking hot cocoa and reading your words. Keep your voice steady and strong. Humanity needs your narratives.

*For storytelling resources, read Jodi at Legal Nomads: Why Travel Blogging Needs More Storytelling.

 Photo by rawpixel.com from  Pexels .

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels.

12) Sustainable travel is not expensive

No one is expecting you to stay in some remote eco-lodge in the middle of nowhere.

13) Download and read Bringing Sustainable Tourism To The Masses: 2018 Thought Leadership Study by the Impact Travel Alliance

The leadership study is a free PDF. All you need to do is give Impact Travel Alliance your name and email.

14) Allow travelers to define their values around sustainable tourism

Encourage others. Don’t place your values on other travelers. Yes, another traveler will champion sustainable tourism differently than you, but allow them to support positive change, too.

15) Educate yourself on social enterprises, and support them with your tourism dollars

If you only have time to follow and read one link in this article, let this be the one.


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Thank you!

One last note: I’m not an expert on traveling sustainably. I’m still learning. I would like to learn and grow with you. If you have any articles, podcasts, videos, or if you feel like you can add to my post—please share in the comment section. I look forward to hearing from you.

Oh, and if you have a few moments, please share this blog post. It helps me a lot. Cheers!

-Ingrid