Isn’t responsible travel all about becoming a better traveler? Once you learn more, you change and adapt your travel style so that you make more positive impact and less negative impact.
Being curious, talking to the locals, and talking to others about what you’ve learned are all part of it.
In today’s interview with Kay Kingsman, founder of the travel blog, The Awkward Traveller, she talks about exactly that. She has a deep passion for decolonizing travel and uplifting local voices and perspectives of the places she travels. She even has her own non-profit!
This inspiring lady has been featured in Forbes, Travel Oregon, Buzzfeed and Dame Traveler, and it’s an honor to have her chat about my favorite topic over here at Brainy Backpackers.
So let’s get to know Kay a little bit more before we begin the interview.
Meet Kay Kingsman
Kay Kingsman is a travel blogger based in Portland, Oregon USA. Her day-to-day involves balancing her job in research and development at a tech company, as well as tackling her engineering grad school program.
But she’s also a blogger. And on the blog, when she’s not recounting her hilariously embarrassing adventures abroad, Kay shares tips, resources, and information to make travel more relatable, accessible, and attainable.
Kay also founded The Global Dreamers Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to sponsoring travel experiences for young adults in the USA and Canada.
Interview with Kay Kingsman
What does travel mean to you?
I didn’t grow up traveling. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who did. Travel was something I accidentally fell into; during my undergrad, I had to study abroad to complete a requirement for my dual degree.
I found that travel opened my eyes to how differently the rest of the world operated – not inherently better or worse, but differently.
I also discovered that certain social constructs around race, gender, sexuality, vary drastically across cultures. Perspectives on both history, and even the format and tone it is taught, is a result of our environment.
Travel will always be a luxury to me, but it also fuels my curiosity about how the world works. I am passionate about anthropology, especially from a local perspective, and with every new travel experience, I am enriched with knowledge.
Travel helps me be a more well-rounded and insightful person. I also love to taste all of the different chip flavors I can find abroad, haha!
What does responsible tourism mean to you?
In short, responsible tourism means there is some sort of positive impact as a result of your travel.
Now, in my opinion, that positive impact could be related to the environment, the local economy and people, or even your own mindset towards these practices.
So, if you travel somewhere and decide to stay at an eco-friendly lodge, or shop from small-businesses, or take tours and classes given by local people, or donate to a non-profit in the community… That all falls under the umbrella of responsible tourism.
However, that is all easier in theory than in practice. So as a blogger, I assume the responsibility of trying to find these avenues of responsible tourism available in the places I visit, and then share that with my audience so that they can have an easier time being a more responsible tourist when they visit.
Responsible tourism has longer lasting effects than just planting a tree or buying an artist’s handmade souvenir. At its root, responsible tourism is sustainable, meaning it does not contribute to the compounding depletion of local resources or creating roadblocks for the community’s well-being.
By refocusing your travel practices to be more responsible, you are helping ensure that the community can continue healthily and happily – and that other travelers are able to experience the same!
When did you first start to be conscious about the way you travel and the effects your travels have on your destination?
I only started learning about responsible and sustainable tourism recently (as I’ve only just started traveling recently haha). But, in a way, my own curiosity for learning about new places first led me to unknowingly practicing sustainable travel habits.
For example, if I had the choice to stay in an upscale fancy resort or an unknown locally-run boutique, I naturally gravitate to the boutique. Plus, the price is usually lower!
But as I began to travel more frequently, I followed other travelers on social media who brought up traveling responsibly, especially with concerns to animal cruelty and “green” travel practices like carbon offsetting.
No one is the perfect responsible traveler when they first start out, but thankfully there are lots of other travelers excited and willing to share easy resources and information to help you make more responsible choices while traveling. Once you know better, do better!
Have you traveled to a specific destination that you found especially sustainable that you would like to recommend to other travelers?
I’ve traveled to a few places that surprised me, but in a way, that is just due to my American perspective.
For example, many countries in Central America are extremely progressive in terms of environmental conservation, yet they often aren’t highlighted in the environmental space and stay in the shadow of Western destinations just recently implementing the same practices.
Costa Rica was one of the most sustainable countries I’ve ever visited. They’ve had eco-lodges before “eco-” was even a buzzword in the travel space.
What do you do to travel responsibly?
There are different ways to travel responsibility, and my first concerns are usually accommodation and tours.
I try to look for accommodations that are locally-owned or have some form of “give-back” initiative.
When Airbnb first started, I remember that they generally had more affordable rates, but combined with their increased pricing and problematic housing conflicts with local residents in high tourist areas, I have cut back on using Airbnb as much.
That said, Airbnb can also be helpful to renters in low traffic areas (or like casa particuliares in Cuba) so it’s just useful practice to look into how Airbnb affects the area you are traveling to.
Another way I try to travel responsibly is to book tours and excursions operated by local organizations and companies.
Usually, the tour is smaller and more in depth by nature, but you also have the opportunity to learn about the place’s history and culture from a more well-rounded viewpoint. Plus, your tourism dollars are more directly going back to the people and places that welcomed you.
I’m actually not the biggest fan of animal encounters in general (I am terrified of most things haha), but if you do a tour that involves animal interactions, be extremely skeptical until proven that the tour does not engage in unethical animal tourism.
What are your top 3 advice to travelers that want to travel more responsibly?
Like I said, no one is just BORN a responsible traveler. But that’s what sustainable blogs like Brainy Backpackers are for – to learn!
Support local businesses
My first piece of advice would be to support local – ESPECIALLY Black and Indigenous businesses.
Your tourism dollars will shape how that place markets itself. If everyone eats at the same three popular restaurants and sleeps at the same chain hotels, those are the places that will get showcased on travel brochures, travel blogs, and tourism itineraries.
Make an effort to branch out to smaller businesses in the area. Also keep an eye out for businesses owned by Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
Statistically, they have lower loan approval rates, higher interest rates, and less exposure to tourism traffic -due to prejudices of banks, society, and historical injustices. Be an ally and give those businesses your attention as well.
Decolonize your perception of other countries
My second piece of advice would be to decolonize your perception of other countries. Recognize that today’s global economy is a direct result of colonization.
Lesser-developed countries are not in their current situation solely because of themselves; these are countries that are recovering from centuries of colonization and pillaging of both their land, people, and resources, some of which are still happening today.
Open your mind to learning about the places you visit from a local’s history perspective and enjoy your experience for what it is, not what you want or expect it to be.
Don’t judge someone else’s travels
My last piece of advice is to not judge someone else’s travels. I KNOW I KNOW, I just spent this whole time talking about how traveling responsibly is awesome and you should do it but…hear me out.
Traveling itself is a privilege – traveling responsible, at the moment, is not always as accessible to everyone.
Some people have dietary restrictions, and eating at a known chain restaurant is more comfortable than trying to guess if a menu in another language is safe for them to eat.
I mentioned that the tourism market in Costa Rica is extremely sustainable, however, many eco-lodges were not wheelchair accessible.
Also, we’re all still learning how to be better.
So before you jump down someone’s throat online for their travels that might seem shallow or “basic,” humble yourself, be considerate, and approach with openness and kindness.
If you learn anything from travel, it’s that you will never know everything, especially about other people.
See more from Kay
Now, this was inspiring or what? I love how Kay focuses on being humble, curious, not judging, and always strive to become a better traveler!
Tell me, what was your biggest takeaway?
Other interviews you might find interesting:
- Keep the locals in mind – An interview with Coritta Lewis
- Talk to the locals – An interview with Samantha Anthony and Veren Ferrera
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