Travel after COVID-19: Why we need to change the way we travel

Most of us agree: the travel world needs to change. You might have had this nagging feeling for some time now, ever since you realised how crowded travel has become, how much damage we're surely doing, how detrimental this practice we love so much can be to the world we're out there to visit.

If you've experienced hordes of visitors – yourself included – descending on the same old destinations year after year, then you know this feeling. If you've stood and watched hundreds of aeroplanes criss-crossing the sky, if you've seen piles of rubbish and the endless gleam of new resorts and the stories of residents forced out of homes then you know, already, that things have to change. We can't go on as we did before.

The current COVID-enforced break from travel has given all of us time to sit back and assess the situation, to see the damage mass tourism can inflict, and to decide that things need to be done differently. That's good news.

The bad news, however, is what has to be done about it.

Because the travel world isn't going to magically change. Left unchecked, things will just go back to the way they were as soon as they're able: over-tourism, unsustainable travel practices, untold damage to the places we love. That will return.

And it's easy to feel that this is someone else's problem to fix, that large companies and various governments need to step in to do what's right, to change the way they operate and change the way they legislate in order to halt the damage that mass tourism is causing. But that's probably not going to happen, at least not while there is money to be made and taxes to collect.

If you want the travel world to change, then you have to change. You have to change the things you do, the places you go, and the ways in which you choose to get there. A better travel world begins and ends with you.

I've seen plenty of hand-wringing since our COVID-enforced break began about "we are the virus", with calls to stop some of the worst of the over-tourism practices, people shaking their heads at the huge cruise ships and the endless Airbnb apartments and the travellers all choosing to go to the same cities and do the same things. But what I don't see is anyone recognising that they, personally, are the problem. And the solution.

Part of the reason is that this is a deeply unsexy topic. If you've even made it this far into this story, hey, I'm impressed. No one wants to be lectured to when they take a holiday, no one wants to think about all of the bad stuff when they're away from home. This is supposed to be fun. It's escapism and romance and fantasy. Not more problems.

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But still, the answer to the world's problems lies with you. There are changes that you, personally, need to make if you really want the travel world to be better (plenty of which we discuss in detail on this week's episode of our podcast Flight of Fancy).

You need to fly less, keeping any holiday to a maximum of one flight there and one flight back. You need to move around less, concentrating on just one city or one region instead of four or five or six. You need to travel independently or with companies that are either operated by local communities, or employ people from local communities and spend money in the places they go.

You need to respect other people and their home environments. You have to choose to avoid places that are struggling with high tourist numbers. You have to cut down on waste, cut down on plastic use, and only stay with hotels and tour companies that do the same. You need to consider your accommodation and how that affects the harmony of local communities.

You have to think about the welfare of the people you pay money to visit, and the impact your presence will have on them. You have to think about the welfare of animals and wildlife that you come into contact with. You have to think about the food you eat and whether it is sustainable and ultimately beneficial.

In other words, you have to do a whole lot of things that kind of suck. You have to make sacrifices. You have to go places and do things that are not exactly what you want.

This is the hard part about making the travel world, and indeed the world in general, a better place. It's a hard thing to consider now, in lockdown, and it's an even harder thing to consider when we're finally allowed to get back out there and see the world again.

But it's vital. The world isn't going to magically change. You have to change. I have to change. That's all there is to it.

Do you plan to change the way you travel? How? Or do you think this is up to governments and tourism providers? Or should we just go back to the way things were before?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: The 10 terms travellers need to know in the COVID-19 era

See also: Think 'nature is returning' without tourists? Think again

LISTEN: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast

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