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Once the time is right to travel again, doing so through a lens of kindness will be more important than ever.
And while the pandemic has sadly led to a devastating loss of life, historic unemployment and damaging economic suffering, it has also shown us the importance of helping to heal what was already broken before COVID-19 — such as the issues of wildlife and human trafficking, climate change, overtourism, biodiversity loss, deforestation, poverty, inequality and much more.
We have been given the chance to take a closer look at what is essential and what it is we deeply value. We have received an education on the delicate nature of our planet and community. And we have learned that we are all intimately connected.
Our eyes have been opened.
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The pandemic has brought to light the importance of the power of nonprofits and charities to help heal communities. Local food banks, blood banks and organizations that provide support to essential workers have taken on a greater level of importance.
The pandemic has also opened our eyes to the many well-documented reports of unprecedented improvements in air quality and greenhouse gas emissions (the largest annual fall of carbon dioxide emissions in history, as reported by climate science and energy policy publication Carbon Brief) — a positive side effect of what happens when we all stay home. However, while the massive global cut in carbon dioxide emissions is significant, experts say that it still may not be adequate for meeting goals set by the Paris Agreement to keep global warming from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
Should the climate emergency go unaddressed, future zoonotic (virus that lives naturally in an animal) disease outbreaks may become the norm, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. By minimizing climate change and protecting habitats, we may be able to avoid future pandemics.
Lastly, the pandemic has heightened awareness around the terrors of the wildlife trade. It’s also brought forth a chance to reconsider our values when it comes to animals and food. With many slaughterhouses forced to stay open — regardless of being coronavirus hot spots and endangering workers — many Americans have been inspired to reassess just how central meat is to their lives.
As we continue to face both a global health crisis and a climate crisis, this is our chance to commit to new ways of moving around the planet that are slower and more thoughtful. We can reshape the way we travel to a more holistic view made up of four pillars: individual wellness, healthy communities, environmental sustainability and animal welfare.
Individual WellnessWhen we practice kindness to ourselves and embrace self-care and wellness, it’s possible to grow a deeper consciousness toward practicing kindness to others and the environment.
While there is no magic bullet to finding a wellness routine that will work for everyone, here a few starting points:
- How can I start a gratitude practice, which is known to evoke physical and psychological health benefits and empathy for others?
- How can I integrate more plant-based foods to increase my health and reduce my carbon footprint?
- Which destinations and lodging options are actively working to advance the wellness of guests?
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When we practice kindness to ourselves and embrace self-care and wellness, it’s possible to grow a deeper consciousness toward practicing kindness to others and the environment.
Healthy CommunitiesSupporting local charities and nonprofits in destinations while traveling — from food banks to wildlife sanctuaries — plays an important role in healing communities. Also, avoiding crowded destinations and supporting small, local businesses is an excellent way to make a positive impact while traveling.
Consider the following items:
- How can I support nonprofits and charities when I travel?
- Are there meaningful, short-term volunteer opportunities in the destinations I plan to visit?
- In what ways can I show kindness to local communities?
- How can I avoid overcrowded destinations?
Environmental Sustainability Regarding kindness for the environment, you may reflect on taking one long trip per year instead of frequent short trips, in addition to purchasing carbon offsets. Public transport and train travel are also great options. Lastly, leave no trace by refusing plastic as much as possible, and be sure to carry reusable water bottles, bags and cutlery.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How can I reduce or eliminate my carbon footprint and commit to zero waste?
- What sustainable and socially responsible hotels or other lodging exist in the places I want to visit?
- How can I travel slower and more mindfully?
RELATED: What Is the Real Definition of Sustainable Travel, Anyway?
Animal WelfareBy traveling through a lens of kindness for animals, we can ensure tourism dollars do not promote the suffering of animals through entertainment, hunting, purchasing of animal parts or the illegal wildlife trade. Instead, tourism dollars should be a means to support wildlife and the conservation of habitats.
Incorporate these factors:
- How can I be an ethical consumer and ensure my actions do not promote animal suffering?
- In what ways can I ensure my travels support wildlife in the wild and conservation efforts instead of captivity?
- How can I support destinations that also respect all animals?
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Jessica Blotter is CEO and co-founder of www.kindtraveler.com, and a speaker and writer on sustainable tourism. She also serves on the board of directors for the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) in Washington, D.C.