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It’s a personal belief so powerful that I sometimes find it hard not to be preachy. Or to ignore others’ lidded gazes, warily gauging me like I’m a circus barker purveying foul-smelling hair tonic. I really must therefore ask: Can anyone explain why many travellers roll their eyes when asked about the value of local or community-based travel (CBT)?
Is it that we can’t work around the same compost-rich uncertainty that also gives ecotourism a bad name despite the growing mass of evidence to the contrary? “CBT is for hippies who like sleeping on mud floors,” I’ve been told. “We prefer the certainty of real mattresses and laundered sheets.”
Hm. You know, I’ve got no quarrel with that. Many mud floors are totally overrated. In any case, travellers should definitely know their comfort zones’ boundaries. But I seriously think that too many people are missing the point. Or points. Fears of living like Neanderthals, already a bit unreal, are blinding us to far more profound economic, social and cultural realities. Besides, many mattresses (and stiff sun-dried sheets) are sometimes more re-purposed curtain than certain. So I thought I’d climb to my pulpit (hair carefully tonicked into place) and bust a few myths about ‘going local’.
The bed’s far less important than you think
Local travel and CBT are not about the bed you sleep in or your guide’s diplomas; rather, they’re about the authenticity of your travel experience. They’re not about the dollar-value of a room or whether the clean-toilet ribbon’s properly placed; they’re about your experience of the cultural richness of a place and the degree to which you get under its skin (and let it under yours). Just as important, it’s about you spending your money so that it flows to the people you meet – those genuinely part of a host community – not offshore tourism-industry fat cats.
Travel doesn’t happen on a different planet (not yet anyway)
Too many of us forget (or ignore) that tourism is a form of consumption. Just because a vacation lets us drop our guard a bit doesn’t mean it should be consumption without conscience. Most travel articles gloss over this and only perpetuate the problem. With climate change, culture clash and social upheaval prominent in every day’s headlines, isn’t it high time travellers understood non-traditional travel for its actual pluses, not its misperceived minuses?
Making friends is a good thing
I think most people would prefer to visit a place in the company of a native friend. Local travel banks on this notion that a passionate and knowledgeable insider can deliver truly meaningful experiences that also makes a positive impression on the hosts. They gain you access to people and places well off the beaten track, introduce you to community and wildlife activists, and add momentum to a progressive approach makes places magic without doing any harm.
Whether booking in advance or searching for enticing distraction once arrived, do as more and more people are doing: seeking out the worthwhile services that dabble in the local-travel trade. I encourage you to name your preferred poisons below. Yes, go ahead, tout your own tonics and together we can start ogling back the oglers.
This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Lonely Planet Travel Blog hosted by Yahoo!7. It anticipated the launch of the Local Travel Movement, represented on Tripatini by the Local Travel Group.