The more I leave home, the more countries and worlds I visit, my mind expands on the knowledge of the people who are impacted by my travels and the adventure of others. The more I realize how many people are unaware of what kind of harm they may be causing to a group of people or even be unaware of the positive impact they created. But what worries me the most is the negative impact and that is what needs to be known.
While traveling through Thailand in October I came across a story that broke my heart and caused me to have anger towards the stereotypical backpacker.
I made a friend at a guest house in Chiang Rai, literally in the first five minutes of arrival. After we hit it off, we decided to rent a moto from the guest house owner and explore Chiang Rai and visit the famous White Temple. On the way back to the house we stopped on the side of the road to gape at this random rice field that we both admired.
There was a stand with fruit for sale and some other variations of food and as we were purchasing our snacks we engaged in conversation with the vendor. His English skills were very proficient because he originally lived in the town of Pai. Pai is in the north west section of Thailand. If you have ever researched or heard of places to visit in Thailand, Pai is usually in the top five places because of the swanky hippy, backpacker lifestyle it possesses. My friend and I were intrigued as to why he would move because we believed that it would be good business, especially for the vegetarians and vegans that visit there, but we were wrong.
The vendor explained to us that Pai used to be a rural mountain village, with beautiful rolling rice fields (and still is to this day) and only the minimum amount of travelers came by. He said that it was perfect at that moment until the word spread and backpackers took over. Restaurants catering to the travelers began popping up, excursions became a demand, it became a Western paradise. Now, many tourists hot spots transform into just that and that is fine. It happens, I mean, there is a reason why everyone just HAS to go to a certain hot spot.
But what bothered me most about this story is that many of the people who lived there no longer could because the demand of backpackers skyrocketed the prices for the locals. They had to give up some of their land to be able to make more room for the travelers and in the end most decided to leave. Not only did a village lose its culture, it lost it to the backpacker culture and the travelers don't even realize that fact.
After reminiscing on many places that I've traveled too, I realized that I was completely unaware of this in other countries and other cities, just like many of the other backpackers. I want this to end. Personally, I travel for the purpose of culture immersion, the learning of life through another's eyes, to contribute to a community through development, either by business or knowledge sharing.
I understand that not everyone travels this way, and that is perfectly fine, but I ask to just be more aware of the lives that you are affecting by venturing into this unknown land. Don't just go for the pretty profile picture or for the bragging rights, but instead go for the life changing experience or the opportunity to help others. And always remember that you are not traveling to foreign lands, but instead are the foreigner in someones else's life. Be respectful, always.
There is so much more to this world then just a beautiful view.