By TreadRight’s Ambassadors
As we approach the end of 2020, we look back with a sigh at the year of travel that was not – then turn our focus to dreams of future travel.
Like you, those of us at The Travel Corporation have been watching closely for signs of progress on vaccines against Covid-19, even as we implement the innovations for traveler hygiene and wellbeing described by Gavin Tollman in October’s blog posting. While each of us will need to decide exactly when we are ready to journey onwards, one thing is clear – we will travel again. Difficult and frustrating as this year has been, it has not diminished our desire to travel. If anything, this time of limited movement and isolation has increased our desire for the freedom to explore distant destinations and rediscover the world.
For this month’s blog post, we thought it fitting to look forward, wondering what might be different when we do travel again. The challenges we face in life transform us, leading to learning and growth, and that is especially true with challenges of the magnitude of those we have been through this year, which have had such an impact on all of us.
How might this period of time shape our future travels?
For insights on this question, we turned to TreadRight’s Travel Ambassadors, Céline Cousteau, Sarain Fox, and Ami Vitale, three of the most inspired and inspiring travelers in the world. They represent the three pillars of our company’s non-profit, TreadRight Foundation – Planet, People, and Wildlife, respectively. We invited each to tell us a little about what this time of limited travel has been like for them – and their thoughts on when we travel again.
“People protect what they love.”
This is what my grandfather taught us all. I believe this is why immersive travel experiences are so important, for they help us come to know our beautiful, fragile planet – and fall in love with it.
I have been thinking about this more lately, from my home in a small village in southern France. Since I returned here from travels last March, my journeys have been local, as you can see in this TreadRight video. As I write this, France has just entered a second lockdown.
We are but one of so many places that have slowed down or shut down now, which is especially difficult for communities worldwide that depend on travel and tourism. So many people are suffering, faced with uncertainty and loss of employment. While I am TreadRight’s Planet Ambassador, in truth it is impossible to see our planet as disconnected from people and wildlife too. During this pandemic I have thought particularly of the challenges faced by the women of Iraq-al-Amir, a TreadRight sponsored project in Jordan. Having worked with these women to build a business selling their beautiful, authentic creations to travelers, including guests of TTC brands such as Uniworld, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Trafalgar, and Contiki, I know this past year has been exceedingly difficult for them.
Challenging as it has been, my hope is that this pandemic will serve as a reset for us humans, helping us to appreciate what a magnificent privilege travel is, and how fortunate we are to live on Earth. I have always thought of humans as just another species on our planet, one of many, but we’ve rarely seen ourselves in this light, nor have we treated our planet with the love it deserves. Now, as we see how an unseen virus can impact every country/culture/people/ population in the world, let us take this as a powerful reminder of just how interconnected we all are.
My hope is that when we do travel again, we will do so more thoughtfully, consciously, and intentionally. Businesses, for example, may discover that while some meetings ultimately require a flight half-way around the world, others can be as well accomplished on a video call. Travel should be special, a chance to go to places and have experiences that can only be done in person. And, when you do go somewhere – make the most of it.
This process of re-thinking travel is one that TreadRight and TTC have been engaged in since well before the pandemic. It led to the TreadRight Pledge to Make Travel Matter – if you’ve not yet taken it, I invite you to do so, as a guide to your future travels. But please, don’t just sign it – let it be a mantra that moves you to take action. I also invite you to look at the plan we have just released, How We Tread Right, our ambitious five year sustainability roadmap, which also identifies the 11 of the 17 United Nations’ sustainability goals which we will continue to contribute to and benefit. And, when we travel again, we will be introducing many more special Make Travel Matter (MTM) experiences over the next several years.
As you consider your future travels, I further invite you to think of the many ways to ensure your travel has a positive impact. Start by bringing your own water bottle and cutlery, as encouraged by our single use plastics elimination initiative. Rather than shopping for new clothes before you travel, buy them when you arrive, thereby supporting local businesses in these destinations. Give back to local initiatives when you can as well.
Most of all, when you do travel, take the time to really connect with the people you meet. Listen to their stories, then bring them back to share with others. So you – like my grandfather and I – can be an ambassador for our planet, helping others learn to love and protect it – when we travel again.
When I was two years old, my mother did something radical. She gave me a name. Not the kind of name that goes on your birth certificate – a name to connect me to our people, who are storytellers.
It is a name with many meanings – Truth teller. Reconciler. The star in the East. Light at the end of the dark.
As TreadRight’s People Ambassador, it is my privilege and responsibility to be all these things, starting by telling you the truth about how this pandemic has impacted native communities we support. While not an easy truth, per the other meaning in my name, there is light at the end of the dark.
For my people, this is not our first pandemic. As with so many indigenous tribes just a century or two ago, those early settlers arrived with diseases including tuberculosis and small pox that killed many of our people. Some of these were intentional, offering infected blankets as “gifts.” Our grandparents tell stories of these times. They therefore make us sensitive to what we may bring with us, whether we know it or not, when we travel.
Covid-19 is a virus that teaches us all this same lesson. We must all become more conscious of what we carry with us when we travel. As the name TreadRight implies, this is our purpose. While I’ve always tried to be a conscious traveler, these past months have given me an even greater understanding and appreciation of what it means to have the privilege of visiting another person’s homeland, knowing the harm we can do if we are not careful.
TreadRight exists to make travel a force for good, as in the example of a project I have worked with here in Toronto, Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School.
Based at the Bata Shoe museum, the project is a win-win situation. Artisans create beautiful footwear, and receive one hundred per cent of the proceeds from their work. What’s more, they teach traditional methods to indigenous students and visitors from around the world, so the culture is passed on. It has been a regular stop for guests of TTC companies such as Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Contiki, and Costsaver. The picture above is of me learning from my dear friend Sage Petahtegoose, a craftswoman and teacher at the school. You can also see a short video we made about the school here.
The arrival of Covid-19 instantly ground the classes to a halt, shutting down the program. Very soon, sixty per cent of the staff, including Sage, were laid off. I think of the challenges that Sage and others have faced with the loss, both of income and of shared culture. This is just one of many such TreadRight programs around the world promoting indigenous culture through crafts, including Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, (Peru), Ock Pop Tok Village Weavers (Laos), and Tria, Etc. (Greece). All these programs await the return of travelers, though I am pleased to confirm that TreadRight did fund all of its projects this year.
And yet, such challenging times bring gifts as well. I have noticed that with offices closed and people working from home, vulnerability has become more acceptable. We are becoming more honest about who we are – our race, our gender, our diversity. Now is a time when we are invited to see the truth. This attitude toward openness and honesty is good for the world. It lets us open our doors to the world and share our stories.
This has been the case for me, personally, as a storyteller. I have long meant to make a documentary telling the stories of my Auntie Marie, the oldest living matriarch in my family. I have just completed “Inendi,” which tells her story. What’s more, as you can see in the picture below, I was able to hire Sage as camerawoman for the film, another outlet for her creative spirit.
This is the way it is in hard times – even when doors are closed, the creative spirit finds a way. That is the spirit which keeps me optimistic. It is the star in the east, the light at the end of the dark, and the one that will guide us – when we travel again.
Nature has sent us a strong message with this pandemic, reminding us just how small and deeply interconnected our world is. This is a powerful moment to reimagine our relationship to nature and to one another.
In the early days of the pandemic, we were hearing heartwarming stories. It seemed that wildlife was getting a much needed break from humans and thriving in the era of lockdowns. Finally, we thought, animals were able to roam freely in our cities and national parks!
Unfortunately, the reality was much different. Tourism is what has largely funded major conservation projects around the world, protecting wildlife, restoring habitats and creating awareness. When travel crashed this past spring, so did the much needed protection for these animals and ecosystems. Contrary to popular belief, an empty national park is not always a good thing for wildlife. During this pandemic we have seen a dramatic rise in poaching in wildlife parks. What people need to understand is that tourism is what keeps wildlife alive in many parts of the world – including giant pandas, as in my photograph below – and international travel is essential for that. You can see examples of this connection in TreadRight projects such as Wildlife SOS, the WCS Big Cat Fund, and The Endangered Wildlife Trust.
When we travel again, I hope people will focus on traveling responsibly, to destinations that act to sustain wildlife areas, choosing companies that put money back into supporting habitats and ecosystems. We may also wish to think about the range and pace of our travels. When we go abroad, rather than trying to see it all, we need to slow down and really engage with one place at a time. In addition to reducing our environmental footprint, this kind of travel is what allows us to truly build relationships with people and places, creating authentic connections.
My own travels have slowed dramatically since the start of the pandemic. I have lived out of my suitcase and on the road for many years, and for the past few years have been home no more than 21 days in a year. The pandemic changed all that overnight, as it did for the rest of the world, when my work came to a grinding halt. Difficult as this has been, there has been an upside as well. Like so many these times, I have turned my attention to exploring my own back yard. For me, that is Montana, which is rich in wildlife, as you can see in this TreadRight video and the photograph at the very top of this blog, as well as the one below, taken in Centennial Valley.
While this pandemic has been devastating in so many ways, it has also shown us how we are able to unite and act as individuals for the collective good. This is a moment when we can look outside ourselves and take individual action for the good of the planet. With the sudden stopping of travel this year, I wanted to find a way to raise much needed funds for communities and conservation. I reached out to some of my favorite photographers and asked for their support to start a fine art prints sale. Have a look at Printsfornature.com, where you’ll see stunning prints by some of the most acclaimed photographers in the world, who have all donated their work. All these prints are available for purchase for holiday gift giving, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Conservation International. It is a unique way to collect fine art for a fraction of what it normally costs, and your purchase will be helping wildlife around the planet.
In the end, saving nature is really about saving ourselves. Our fates are linked and interconnected. We all need to do all we can to care for the plants and critters that inhabit the earth. They are fellow travelers, and our only friends, in this cold dark universe. Our future happiness depends on them.
Let us keep that in mind – when we travel again.
When We Travel Again
When We Travel Again…We shall go forth with renewed gratitude for the amazing gift that travel can be – and the awe that comes from finding ourselves at home in places we have never been.
When We Travel Again…We will see the world through new eyes and deepened appreciation for this truly magnificent planet we all share. Not only will we take in the sights, but we will hear the sounds. Breathe in the smells. And savor the tastes – all waiting to be experienced.
When We Travel Again…We will do so with renewed joy and purpose – Joy as we create memories that last a lifetime, and purpose that comes from knowing our travels play a crucial role in the recovery of communities we visit around the world.
When We Travel Again…We will venture forth with open hearts, letting ourselves be guided by wonder and curiosity ready to connect to those we meet along the way – our hosts, our guides, and our fellow travelers, joined together in a journey of discovery.
When We Travel Again…We will make travel matter more than ever before. Knowing that how we travel is just as important as where, as we explore this wild and precious planet we call home, meet people around the globe who welcome us into their homes. And discover magnificent wild creatures whose homes we visit.
When We Travel Again…We will journey to places both near and far with those we love – our partners, our parents, our children, and grandchildren and dear friends, some we’ve known for years – and others we have yet to meet, making memories all over the world. When the time is right, we shall go forth again. Until then, we shall do what we have always done – and dream of distant shores. For while something deep inside us sleeps, we know the sleeper will awaken –
When We Travel Again.