How to Be a Tourist Without Being an Asshole With Travel Journalist Sarah Clemens

The pandemic has skyrocketed travel cravings, but booking a trip to a place you’ve seen on Instagram could have a negative impact on local communities. This week, we’re learning to be more conscious travelers with the help of travel journalist Sarah Clemens.

Listen to this week’s episode for Sarah’s advice on how to find exotic destinations that aren’t “over-touristy,” and how to explore the places you plan to visit for more informed choices, such as staying at local accommodations.

Sarah is a travel writer and former editor for The Wall Street Journal and news director for Travel + Leisure. She is also the author of Away & Aware: A Field Guide to Mindful Travel .

Listen to The Upgrade above, or find us in all the usual podcast locations including Apple Podcasts , Google Play , Spotify , iHeartRadio, and Stitcher .

Highlights from this week’s series

Sarah on why we need to plan our vacation more carefully:

We traveled a lot. It’s very simple. It’s so cheap and there is no reason to think twice. And besides, I must add, do you have social media? Social media is huge. It just messed things up too. And one of the things that confuses this further is travel because the destinations are becoming popular. They are pretty. They are photogenic influencers who post photos of them. More people want to go there … So there are many destinations in the world that have just seen such an influx of tourists that it is really destructive. Some of these places include Venice, which is quite well known. The islands of Barcelona in the Philippines, Maui, part of Hawaii, some national parks, even especially during the pandemic, when people did flock to fewer places of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. They welcome more tourists than they can reasonably receive, and maintain local infrastructure and quality of life. This is really important when you are talking about a place like Barcelona. One of the things that initially attracted people here is such a wonderful place and quality of life. But as soon as you run away from this place with tourists, and houses turn into views on the left and right, and local shops do not close and are replaced by things intended for tourists, this local quality of life begins to deteriorate. And the very reason people love this place in the first place just disappears.

How to use social media differently to become a more thoughtful tourist:

And here’s how social media can be a really powerful tool, and not just use social media to find inspiration: I encourage people to look for context. So don’t look at the influential tourist who shows you a pretty picture and it’s like all the trash and the crowd is cut out of it, right? Look for people who live in Hawaii. Search for people who live in Hawaii and are committed to the well-being of the place and see what they have to say about the impact of tourism. In fact, there are people, even in Hawaii, who are spreading the word about how to be a better tourist, how to be more respectful, how to act more carefully.

On how to benefit the local economy when you visit:

Local overnight stay, local cuisine. These are two on the ground, big things. In terms of accommodation, in fact, many of the hotels we may know about are not owned by locals. Local residents work there. In many cases, the people who work there are locals in low-paying jobs, right? They often don’t run the hotel. They don’t own the hotel. They don’t get the ROI, but they run servers serving pools and maids. But if you choose a small, locally owned property, it can indeed keep significant financial power in the hands of the local community, which is very important in my opinion. The same goes for food, food in small restaurants, food in local restaurants. There is a farm at the table, which means that you not only support the staff and owners of these places, but also support the local agriculture.

For more tips from Sarah on how to be a better tourist, we recommend listening to the entire episode.

Episode transcript


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