Traveling is a luxury - no matter how threadbare your shoestring budget. None of us can say we travel just because we have a sense of adventure. We travel mainly because we have the means to do so.
With the exception of true nomads, most travellers have access to funds over and above what it takes to ensure their day to day survival. This makes travel a fundamentally social issue. It draws a stark line between the haves and the have-nots.
The social dimensions of travel are particularly pronounced when a relatively wealthy traveller chooses as their destination a region with a struggling economy or a population facing major inequality.
But lets face it, these are also among the most popular and interesting parts of the world - from Peru to Uganda, nowhere else can we marvel at untamed natural wonders or experience cultures completely foreign and fascinating, while stretching our Pounds or Dollars to pay for luxurious accommodation, unrivalled food and priceless experiences at a fraction of what they would have bought us back home.
This is one thing when it comes to the middle class traveller but quite another when we’re talking truly luxurious travel. The wealthy holidaymaker kicks back in a hammock, admiring the views from the deck of his private treetop Safari suite, whilst less than a mile from there young girls need to walk for three hours to fetch clean drinking water.
According to the latest ABTA Travel Trends report, this kind of conspicuous consumption is beginning to make even the most contented traveller a bit uncomfortable. The report suggests that affluent consumers are seeking simpler holiday options, preferring eco-friendly, sustainable options with greater authenticity than glamorous hotel stays.
This trend is not isolated to luxury travel either. More considered, sensitive holiday options are gaining traction everywhere. Eco-friendly accommodation and trips with a philanthropic angle are becoming increasingly popular choices among backpackers, adventure travellers and sunseekers alike.
It is certainly a move in the right direction. But simply checking the label on your travel package won’t guarantee you’re actually making a more sustainable or ethical holiday decision.
Not all fundraising is equal.
In the world of adventure travel, trips are often made more philanthropic through fundraising for particular causes. So you can raise money for cancer research by trekking Machu Picchu or collect donations for curing kidney disease with a Mount Kilimanjaro charity climb. In fact, the options for fundraising adventures are virtually endless.
Whilst fundraising for a charitable cause is never, ever a bad pursuit, collecting donations for and through adventure expeditions has not always received an equally warm welcome. This is particularly the case when there is no clear connection between your chosen adventure activity and the cause you are raising funds for. Raising money for cataract removal with a dog sleigh trek through Finland? Why not go to India and volunteer at a related clinic instead?
This disconnect can be even more uncomfortable when adventure challenges are set in and amongst poorer communities. Why raise funds for diabetes research with a trek through the Phillipines when there are thousands of homeless people in the region that need help rebuilding their lives after Typhoon Haiyan? Rather spend two days helping the locals build houses.
So before choosing an adventure holiday, it is worth thinking about the message you are sending with your trip. Everyone can fundraise - heck, you can do from your desk and get colleagues to sponsor you to cycle to work and back every day for the next year. What you can’t do from your desk is make a powerful statement to raise awareness of the importance of getting school resources to the children who live at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.
A low footprint doesn’t always leave a lasting impression.
If you are less of the adventure type, you can still make conscious decisions that will ensure your choice of holiday destination and accommodation impacts positively on the lives of others.
The tourism and hospitality industry is increasingly focusing on leaving a low carbon footprint, minimising water consumption and sourcing organic produce. But going easy on the environment does not necessarily translate into community investment.
Look for accommodation that employs local staff and uses local produce (no imported out-of-season fruit for example) to help ensure your holiday expenses translate into real local income. On this same principle we ensure we use local guides and guesthouses wherever we can on our Inspired Escapes trips.
Travelling is an enormous privilege and opens up a world of opportunity - not only to see and experience more, but if done correctly, to help to spread around some of your own privilege in meaningful ways.