Chances are that somewhere on your computer, in a long lost journal or in the back of your mind, there’s a list of places you still want to explore. Maybe you’ve listed Paris, Amsterdam or New York, New York; but have you considered going off the beaten track, saving money and making a difference by taking your next trip as an eco-tourist?
Eco-tourism (in case you’re new to the concept) is about travelling to developing countries in order to help strengthen that country’s economy. The money spent travelling creates jobs and helps communities to grow, while intrepid adventurers (OK, tourists) get a great holiday in return.
I spent my earliest years of study saving frantically to spend a few months travelling around Europe. When I finally had the money, I decided that I didn’t want to spend it all on one holiday. Instead I spent four life-changing months in India without depleting my precious savings account.
In India the landscape and people are so diverse, that you feel as if you may as well be touring different countries. I remember riding my rented bicycle down the ancient, cobbled lanes of Varanasi and thinking that it reminded me of pictures of Paris that I’d fallen in love with. I spent a night in the desert under more stars than I could fathom and I went paragliding in the mountains of Darjeeling where I could see the Himalayas clear and enormous on the horizon.
And though I had the best time of my life so far, the trip wasn’t all about me.
When you travel to a country with a weak economy, every cent that you spend goes toward developing the communities that you visit. And if the good karma isn’t enough for you, the money that you spend travelling will go a lot further in poorer countries than in wealthier ones.
My favourite memory from a trip to Timor Leste in 2011, was dining with friends on the sands of a stunning beach at twilight, eating the most delicious, freshest fish that I have ever had the absolute pleasure of tasting. For the twelve of us this cost less than $30.00 AUD, including a generous tip. Timor Leste is less than a four-hour flight from Darwin!
Of course though, these savings don’t come without some drawbacks.
If you choose to travel somewhere that struggles with poverty, chances are you will eventually be confronted with the awful realities of those living in need. It can be painful, especially when our lives are beyond comfortable in comparison to other’s’, but it also reminds you how lucky we really are.
It’s also likely you’ll have to deal with some lower standards of luxury. Particularly in India, I had to be flexible and adapt to a way of life that is so unlike ours in Australia. Everything works differently. While at home it might be unacceptable if the power cuts out and Wi-Fi isn’t working, it’s commonplace in India and they won’t understand why you’re so upset about it. The same goes for hot water being ice cold, chaotic traffic and the occasional disparity between food received and food ordered.
If those are the sorts of things that are going to ruin your holiday, perhaps consider staying a resort for the majority of your trip. A resort in Timor Leste however, is still going to be cheaper than a resort in Hawaii, and still has a good dose of that feel-good eco-tourism factor.
If you choose not to spend your days relaxing on the beach though, and venture out into the magnificent and unknown world, your efforts won’t go unrewarded.
While on my trip in Timor Leste I met incredible people and was witness to extraordinary sights. The beaches are truly stunning and as it isn’t yet a world famous tourist destination, I had those beaches almost to myself.
Not only was I enjoying the culture, the scenery and the adventure, I felt fantastic knowing that the money I spent was going somewhere positive. I’m still saving for that trip around Europe, but before then I’ll be heading back to India and Timor, and I also have plans to travel Africa and Nepal.
Inspired by Mardy’s story? Start planning your getaway with these gorgeous hotels…
The Farm, Jaipur, India – made almost entirely from spare parts and salvaged furniture. Rooms start from ₹8,500 (approximately $140.00 AUD) per night.
The Sofala, Goa, India – the perfect base from which to discover Goa’s Portuguese heritage first hand. Rooms start at ₹5,100 (roughly $85.00 AUD) per night.