People often talk about wanting to leave a place exactly the same way that you found it so that it is preserved for future generations. While it sounds like an ideal goal, there are a lot of factors that make that pretty much impossible. We have been fortunate enough to have visited a couple of indigenous villages that try to remain as untouched as possible, but just our arrival to their village will leave an impact. It isn’t limited to remote locations, every place that you visit, your presence and the decisions that you make have impacts that you are likely unaware of.
For example, when we went to visit an Embera village in Panama, our guide purposely took us to one of the further villages that isn’t visited as often. Our decision to buy or not buy crafts can change the prosperity and status of the village compared to those in the area. The fact that they are selling crafts to tourists is a change to their lifestyles. How they see us dressed, the conversations that we have with them, the information that we share, all had potential consequences long after we left the village. The women of the Embera villages now where tops when they previously didn’t just because of the tourists that were visiting them and conforming to their cultural norms.
Even when going to major cities, the decisions that we make to visit a particular site or not visit can determine whether a site remains available in the future. There are places where visitors are starting to be limited because of the concern over the damage being caused such as Machu Picchu and Everest Base Camp. Even the conversations that you have once you return home, the places that you recommend, the off-the-beaten path locations that you describe can have determine whether more people return in your wake.
We all know that traveling changes us, makes us world citizens, but we don’t often think of the impact that we make upon the places that we visit. We aren’t suggesting that you stop traveling and there is nothing wrong with trying to limit the changes that your visit will cause, but it isn’t possible to visit a place without leaving a footprint. Have you ever thought about how your travel has changed the world instead of just how it has changed yourself?