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?
We were back in Washington DC last week, which is a place that we are very familiar with. The National Mall is a park that extends between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capital, which is approximately 1.9 miles long. It is obviously a huge draw for tourists that visit Washington DC as the Washington Monument sits at the heart of the park and the White House and Jefferson Memorial are also very close by. There are several walking paths throughout the park and vendors are there selling ice cream, water, and other items. There are also many food trucks in the surrounding area.
It isn’t just a location for tourists, but the National Mall is also a popular place for locals to come and enjoy the scenery and to walk, jog, and bike along the many paths. On nice days, you will find many families and couples out enjoying the weather and relaxing in the park. Since we have been to all of the museums and seen all of the important sites on previous visits to Washington, we decided to enjoy the park as the locals do, simply walking along the Reflecting Pool and having a relaxing day in our Nation’s Capital.
Many of the most important museums are located in the general vicinity of the National Mall as well, including the Smithsonian Museums. We also walked through Lafayette Square, which is on the other side of the White House and then walked passed the White House on our way to the National Mall. If you’d like to go to one of the historic restaurants in Washington, we’d recommend going to the Lafayette Square area where you can find many restaurants with a colorful history. Even if you are visiting Washington DC for the first time, it is worthwhile taking your time while you are at the National Mall and taking your time to truly enjoy it and relax.
We have been fortunate to have had many great mentors throughout our lives who have imparted words of wisdom to us that have molded our thoughts and actions. Most of the best advice that we’ve received apply to all parts of our lives, whether with family, work, or traveling. Usually they are amazingly simple and yet very powerful when applied consistently. Hopefully you’ll find them to be as useful over time as we have found them to be.
Treat others as you want to be treated (the golden rule) – Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we treated EVERYONE that we met in the same manner that we hope and expect to be treated. Sure, we learned this rule as children, but it is probably the most important piece of advice that hopefully all people can learn. Whenever we travel someplace, anyplace, we want to learn about the customs and traditions of the locals. We respect their religions, beliefs, and social expectations. Having an understanding and respect does not mean that you have agree with or do things that conflict with your own personal beliefs, but you must have empathy and understand where they are coming from. You would be surprised how much better your experience will be if you are friendly and honestly express your desire to understand the culture of the place that you are visiting.
Make decisions quickly and act upon them – This doesn’t mean that you don’t do your due diligence and get as many facts as possible before making a decision, but too often people become paralyzed by fear of making a mistake or spend so much time thinking about the decision that the opportunity passes them by. We have a lot of military in our family and the motto for an officer on the battlefield is that the only bad decision is no decision, this is surprisingly true of life in general. Will this lead to some mistakes? Sure, but you don’t grow and learn without making a few mistakes. More often than not, just deciding to go someplace and making it happen has led to some of our best experiences. If you wait for all of the stars to align and the moment to be perfect, you’re likely to miss out on some of the best experiences of your life.
Never stop learning – Learning is growth and the moment that you stop learning new and interesting things is the moment that you stop truly living. Obviously it is hard to go through life and not continue to learn new things, but don’t just learn through osmosis, actively seek out and find new things to learn that might interest you. Pick a country that you’ve never heard about and learn as much as you can and then go visit there. Understand the history of a place, what has influenced its culture, the leaders of the past and the regional forces that shape their current beliefs and society. Learn as much of the language as possible and use it when you visit.
Strive for continuous improvement – None of us are perfect and those people who think that they are should be avoided like the plague. In all aspects of life, we periodically seriously reflect on our current state and consider how we can improve in our relationships, work positions, health (mental and physical), as well as our travel goals and expectations. Even during our travels, we will ask ourselves if we’re seeing the most relevant and interesting sights that mean the most to us or are we just following a list from a guidebook? Are we talking to the locals and getting the best advice on places to see and food to eat? We’ll come home from a trip and talk about our experiences and what things we could have done better and use that information on our next trip.
Step out of your comfort zone – It is easy to get complacent and accept the normal routine, whether at work or in your personal life, but some of the most rewarding opportunities come from pushing your limits. That might mean doing an activity that makes you uncomfortable, like zip-lining, parachuting, or just spending the night in a forest. We’re not suggesting that you pursue dangerous activities, but just that you try something that perhaps you’ve never previously considered. It might be going to a country that makes you uncomfortable, but it could be as simple as trying food that you’ve never heard of. Growth comes from new experiences that most likely reset your image of what you’re capable of doing or achieving.
There isn’t anything earth shattering here, just simple concepts that, when followed consistently, will improve your life and our case, our travels as well.