My Instagram page is LOADED with beautiful photos, gathered over three straight years of travelling the world.
Whether for work or pleasure, I made it my business to touch cities I’ve only heard about in songs or seen on TV. And while I haven’t ticked them all off of my bucket list, my eyes have seen the whimsical and majestic walls of Barcelona, Spain, rummaged through jungles across Thailand, felt the pulsating heartbeat of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, transformed into my own version of a princess in Dubai and became one with the Puerto Rican sun.
The photos and videos all tell the story; I love to travel and it awakens something in me that the human mind can’t even fathom. It’s so easy to fall in love with a place you get to call your home for a stretch of days. You get comfortable, familiar and connected.
It’s not until you return home and you see your favorite winery in Napa Valley burned to the ground, or parts of Puerto Rico where you bonded with cigar rollers and roadside vendors is under water destitute, that the burden of being a traveller sets in.
This is when travel starts to feel like more of a guilt than a gift.
Even worse, when the news is reporting acts of terrorism on Las Ramblas in the heart of Barcelona where 14 people were killed during a van attack, the guilt weighs heavy and you think twice about posting your sunny, smiling, happy photos from your trip there.
So many of these beautiful and colorful places with their cities etched in the history books, have been the backdrop to my viral social media posts, some of which have been picked up by the likes of Essence Magazine, Travel Noire and Black Girls Travel Too.
These images capture me in a time and place that, at the moment, was unspoiled, not under attack nor suffering Mother Nature’s wrath.
But when I see the devastation, I’m rendered helpless and feeling like, “just another tourist who wants the photo but doesn’t really care about the destination.”
I care. I feel the pain. I’m guilty.
In those moments where tragedy strikes and the far away cities you love are crumbling right before your eyes, it’s almost a reflex reaction to search for the best photo from your trip there and post it with some caption that, for a second, gives you some sense of pride making you feel like you actually did something to help.
When in fact, the guilt weighs heavy.
I often have to ask myself, are these glowing throwback photos in poor taste or admirable?
As a traveller, should our ode to this once visited city end there or should we seek to do more?
Travellers have a responsibility to not only show off, but SHOW UP for the places they visit.
I ran this thought process by a friend of mine who’s big on charity and giving back and actually works at a non-profit organization. She helped me come up with 3 easy ways to stay connected to your fave cities and be on the line to offer assistance when needed.
3 Ways to Become a More Responsible Traveller
Visit/join a charity organization during the trip – It’s hard to pull yourself away from the shopping and adventure and fun on a trip, trust me I know, but take it’ll be totally worth it to dedicate a day or half a day to visiting notable charitable organizations and even signing up as volunteer should you wish! This way you’re now a part of the database and would be kept abreast of all developments and needs of the organization.
Find a pen pal – Exchange contacts with someone! I love making fast friends with people I meet on a trip. Exchanging email or phone numbers with a new friend is an easy way to check up on them in the event something happens…or just for a friendly convo. If you didn’t get the chance to sign up for with a charity during the trip, this new friend can easily guide you to a few and you can do so in your own time.
Leave your mark – Maybe not wait until you leave the country to want to give back and help. While you’re there, find the time to tutor a class, visit a children’s hospital, play basketball with the kids on the court or even treat someone to a meal.
I’m definitely looking to implement these tips in my future travels as a way to give back to my favorite cities. It really hurts my heart when I see places I’ve visited going through a tough time and looking for help.
This article was originally posted on Ianthia Smith – MiniSkirts & Microphones under the title: “Guilty Conscience: Why I Want to be a More Responsible Traveller.”