Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leaving a place as you found it

I love the idea of apartment-swapping.  It is such a great way for people to travel for a bit less money than a hotel or even a hostel, and there is something about staying in someone's home that is not only instantly more relaxing than staying at a business, but also can offer another way to learn about the place you're in. I found this little piece on Apartment Therapy, about leaving someone's home as nice as when you found it when you participate in an apartment swap.

And it got me thinking about that long-standing question: does travel actually leave places as we found them?  And should it?

It's a question first-world travelers always ask when going to developing countries, often tied up in feelings of pride at their open-mindedness to go to such destinations, embarrassment at how much wealth they actually do possess, curiosity/frustration/awe/irritation at local customs, and often all these at the same time.  But it's so much more than deciding whether to give handouts while on vacation...

In Koh Tao, Thailand, where I learned to scuba dive, was it cool that the (almost entirely foreign) dive community was working to save the coral, or is it awful that they have caused all this damage over the years?  Is it an economy worth sustaining given how few Thais are actually involved with it on the island?  Should we all just, well, go home?

How about my colleague in Tanzania, who wished that the women who traveled to work with her organization would wear trousers (we were told to wear long skirts to respect local traditions)?  She said that if we would dress in trousers, and bring that idea to her town, then it would open up the freedom for local women to wear trousers if they wished.  Is that our place?

Do we want to leave places the same, or do we want to change them for the better?  Given that travelera are transient people who do not live with the consequences of change, are we within our rights to try, even if asked?

This picture (and of course I've lost the link... apologies) has nothing to do with the topic at hand and everything to do with the awesomeness of whale sharks, which are in the water off Koh Tao and which I am determined to experience firsthand sometime...

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