As Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In this groundbreaking sentence, the father of physics not only laid the foundation for the establishment of modern science but also inadvertently gave travelers the ultimate measuring block for how to consider the impacts of their travel.
When you travel, you are engaging in an exchange of cultures, languages, and values. These are actions. At the same time, you are consuming resources to make your trip possible: hotel rooms, tours, food, drinks, clothes, etc. These are also actions. So, if these are all actions, then what are the reactions? This is the point I would like to discuss today: as travelers and global citizens, how can we be sure the actions of our travel result in sustainable reactions for the local communities and environments we are visiting?
Let’s start with the environment
We’ve all heard the saying “buy local,” but as a traveler, how does what you buy on your trip affect the local environment?
Here’s an example: Costa Rica boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. From lush rainforests to sandy beaches and cloud forests to soaring volcanoes, Costa Rica’s natural treasures are not just ecologically valuable but are also one of the country’s main tourist attractions. Alongside the boisterous growls of howler monkeys and soaring packs of macaw parrots are businesses dependent on the health and attractiveness of the local environment. As a traveler in Costa Rica, you get to decide where your money goes, so why not choose businesses who are committed to protecting the local environment you came to visit?
While it may be a little bit more work on the front end for you, by doing your research and selecting low-impact adventure activities like canyoning or hiking instead of renting a quad, going to restaurants that source their produce from local farmers instead of eating imported packaged food, and buying souvenirs that promise a living wage to local employees, you can ensure your tourist dollars stay in the community and help conserve the local environment.
Know the value of money
When traveling somewhere with a different currency or cost of goods, it is crucial to understand the value of your money. Seems obvious, right? But, as a tourist, sometimes it’s hard to know how much things actually cost in your new currency or city. Nevertheless, by not knowing, and paying more for things than locals would, you can actually make a negative effect on the sustainability of the local community.
This is how it works: say a taxi ride from the neighborhood where your hotel is to the city’s hip restaurant district costs about five dollars for locals, but taxi drivers know they can charge ten dollars to tourists. The result is that drivers will naturally favor serving tourists over locals, and will also raise the cost of rides for locals. This pattern expands far beyond the taxi ride into food markets, restaurants, and housing, inflating the living costs for locals while keeping wages pretty much the same. If endured for a long time, this imbalance has the potential to threaten the entire way of life for locals.
So, while it may feel good to overpay your taxi driver because he was a “nice guy” and turned up your favorite Nikki Minaj song on the radio, it’s important to keep in mind how your “actions” can cause negative “reactions” for locals who live and work in the city you’re visiting.
For those of us who have the ability and privilege to travel, we are in a unique position to ensure that the purchases we make support the local environment, economy, and communities we visit. By acting like a global citizen and keeping Newton’s Third Law of Motion in mind, you can ensure the continued enjoyment of these special places for yourself, locals, and future generations.