Jessica Nabongo offers five tips for conscious travelers

After being “ground zeroed” since March 2020, it’s now time to experience new places and experiences once again for the sake of our well-being. With Ungrounded, you’ll always feel confident, safe, and energized when you venture out.

By sharing our experiences when we travel, we become storytellers. Whether you’re taking pictures, posting on social media, or just sharing your stories with your family and friends, it’s important to be thoughtful about how you tell your travel stories to be a conscious traveler – that is, respectful of the places you visit and the people you meet. My experience of becoming the first Black woman to travel to every country around the world has taught me that it’s very important to view the places and people in our neighborhoods as a global neighborhood and to make sure we do not otherize local people or their culture.

Traveling this way means not using words such as “exotic” or “ethnic” to describe the places you visit or the people who live there. You may be unfamiliar with certain locales, but they are not new per se, and describing them as such implies superiority to natives.

Taking it a step further, being conscious traveler means challenging yourself to question your implicit biases when traveling, and to consider the “why” behind everything you do. The following tips are going to help you be a conscious traveler as you make your way around this beautiful planet.

To assist you in becoming a more responsible traveler, Jessica Nabongo offers 5 tips

1. Think carefully about what you’re going to photograph

While traveling, if you get the urge to photograph someone who appears to be poor and struggling, you should ask yourself why you wish to photograph them. It seems that you won’t be able to justify the urge, which will diminish your motivation to do so.

The best way to become a conscious traveler is to put yourself in others’ shoes.

Being aware and mindful of urges that may be exploitative in nature is what helps me stay aware and be mindful, because we want to be kind to our neighbors. What would be the point of taking a picture of your neighbor at their worst when they are down on their luck? The best way to become a conscious traveler is to put yourself in others’ shoes.

Also, sometimes you may want a snapshot of a street scene or to show what life is like in a place. Providing you remain vigilant in your actions, it can be okay. In the case of single subjects, I always ask permission in advance, which is why my subjects are often looking directly into the camera. The best way to treat others is to treat them as you want to be treated.

2. Avoiding countries for political reasons is not advisable

My support of tyrannical rulers has been criticized as I continue to visit countries around the world. My view is that tourism and politics do not exist on the same plane. It’s my intention to support every person I meet when I visit a country. The government does not have my support. This is my educated perspective on this matter (I have a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and worked for the UN for several years). I don’t believe government, and especially dictatorships, can be equated with the general population.

Several years ago, a Venezuelan woman (who hadn’t visited the country since the 1970s) told me not to visit Venezuela because the country’s resources are limited, and taking them from locals would be unjust. Although I gave him a five dollar tip at the airport when I visited Venezuela, he told me it was his salary. Thus, I paid him an extra $20, which is the equivalent of five months’ salary. There are many ways in which I can make a positive difference to Venezuelans through my presence there. I brought money into the country, which would otherwise not be there, because tourism isn’t very prevalent in it.

[Editor’s note: The United States government does not encourage individuals to visit places deemed dangerous. U.S. places to visit are listed here. Department of State does not recommend visiting because of safety concerns.]

3. Avoid generalizing negative experiences

When you have negative experiences in various places, you should reflect on how you relay them. My own negative experiences are certainly something that I talk about often, but I be mindful that they’re personal and not necessarily indicative of what others will experience, let alone everyone. Rather than evaluating a city or country or continent, I am evaluating the circumstances surrounding my negative experiences.

In Pakistan, for instance, I was groped and harassed and X-rayed by the authorities as I attempted to leave the country. I can separate that trip from the rest of my experiences in that country, even though it was one of the most traumatizing travel experiences I’ve ever had. Pakistan has an incredibly rich history, Pakistanis are kind people, and Pakistan is absolutely beautiful.

[Editor’s note: Pakistan is currently listed as being a Level 3 travel advisory by the Department of State.]

4. Recognize the differences between fears and reality

It’s also important to distinguish between an isolated scary situation – something that is actually happening that is unsafe – and what is happening in your mind. Thus, when I landed in Khartoum, Sudan, I wasn’t able to find my friend at the airport since a sea of men greeted me instead. As I looked around, I noticed there were no women, and I couldn’t find my friend. My heart began to race, and I felt nervous. Nothing had happened to me that would make me feel that fear, but my body told me “alert, alert, alert.”.

Neither my physical condition nor anyone else’s actions contributed to the feeling of being unsafe; it was merely because of my socialization as a woman to feel that way around all men. Given this, I cannot fairly claim that Khartoum’s airport is a scary place; I was scared, but that does not mean it is frightening. As such, it is important to be able to distinguish between actual danger and perceived danger, in order not to damage a place’s reputation.

[Editor’s note: Sudan currently is subject to a Level 3 travel advisory from the Department of State.]

5. Be considerate of the COVID-19 guidelines

Pandemics have changed everything, including how people travel. In order to respect others’ comfort levels, we can wear masks and distance ourselves from others socially-regardless of our vaccination status.

Even if your destination doesn’t require it, there is no alternative to getting tested before you travel now that COVID-19 delta is swirling. Since vaccines have not been readily available in all other countries, taking a vacation does not mean bringing disease with you.

From the age of four, I have been traveling internationally. The first time I went to Uganda with my family as a six-year-old, I had to receive a variety of vaccinations. For travelers to stay safe, it is imperative that they understand that vaccination requirements are nothing new. You should take COVID-19 if you have a chance to, especially if you are considering traveling abroad.

You probably don’t need to visit your desired destination if it is suffering from COVID-19 cases or does not have access to vaccines. It is a good idea to pick a destination where locals have the option of getting vaccinated against whatever you might bring, so as to avoid imposing danger on people who cannot get vaccinated.

As a general rule, I believe that leading with kindness while traveling is even more crucial than ever before. The hospitality industry has experienced a severe financial crisis this past year, so help where you can. Travelers aren’t the only ones who need to shoulder that burden, but for those of us who can, it’s nice to give a little more than usual.

Erin Bunch was told this.

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