Why We Travel: The Birth of a Sustainable Tourism Doco

It’s freezing.

The clear, cloudless sky I’d spent so long admiring earlier in the day has given way to a bitey frost, it works all the way to my bone. I’d pull my blanket up to my face, in an effort to retain some body heat, if it weren’t drenched with camel piss. “Well, this was a shitty idea”, I cringe. My internal dialogue mocks me. I’m in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. I’ve spent the day floating above picturesque sand dunes, atop a jewel-coated camel and am now camped at a nomadic site in the middle of nowhere. It’s this point I realise the fundamental difference between travelling and holidays- holidays are easy, you take one when you need to unwind, travelling, on the other hand, is about pushing yourself. For all my complaining at the time, I look back and remember the engagement I felt, every sensation in my body and the environment around me. I can still hear the waning fire crackling beside me, smell the stale camel urine which was slowly freezing on the outside of my blanket, taste the desert dust crusting around my mouth.

These are worldly experiences, something I fear future generations may find harder to come by. With tourist receipts, worldwide, totaling US $575 billion, tourism is one of the world’s largest industries. It’s time we begin to consider the way we interact with our global cultures, environment and economy; we need to adjust the way in which we interact with the world when we travel and begin to consider the mark we leave behind.

The idea for a documentary about sustainable tourism had always been in my mind. The evolution of consumerism, particularly in the developed world, is a mindset that’s often taken on holiday (think Phuket, Thailand, which has now become a destination of vice). Holiday-makers fly in, exploit a weak currency without consideration to whom receives the money, leave rubbish, display a lowered sense of ethics with an “anything goes” attitude and then pack up and go home with little regard for the consequences. Local communities, who often idolise the lifestyle we represent in the developed world, see this as acceptable behaviour or an opportunity to make money. They adapt their cultural ethics, economy and environment to accommodate the influx of tourists. It’s not hard to see this isn’t a sustainable practice, and soon, it’ll become almost impossible to seek any form of spiritual nourishment from travelling.

I’m sitting in a dusty Internet café in Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, squinting at my computer screen through a haze of cigarette smoke; elbows firmly planted on the computer desk, I press my hands to my ears in a vein attempt at blocking the deafening jostle of daily life that’s occurring on the streets, not more than 3 metres from me. After a month of restricted Internet in Iran, it’s my first chance to check emails. I receive a message from Tom (my co-producer). We haven’t seen each other in 12 years and I’m curious about his motives. He tells me he’s left his job in fossil industries to pursue “greener” pastures and is interested in working together on a documentary. I’m in the Middle East to give my post university-graduate life direction, and up to this point, I’ve been more confused than ever. I admire his personal conviction, giving up a well-paid job in lieu of making a positive change; I know he’s the best person I can team up with to produce this documentary.

Riding across India with a totally carbon neutral emission count is an extreme idea- not something we expect everyone to replicate. It’d be impractical to expect you all to go out and camp under the stars and only eat foods you’ve bought from local farmers, but the point we hope to impart, with Contiki Conschmiki, is a refreshed look at what it means to be a global citizen in a contemporary context. My travel mantra is: Many people making a small change will equal a big difference. Obviously it’s difficult for any one person or organisation to lessen the impact tourism has on our favourite travel destinations, but if we inspire each person who sees our film to eat one meal next holiday from a local food stand rather than a chain restaurant or to spend a day volunteering in a local initiative rather than visiting a theme park, I think we’ll have satisfied our purpose.

Thanks for reading,

Hairy Backpacker