Social consciousness is travelling with awareness and thought.
It’s about knowing and trying to understand the country, (socially, politically, culturally and historically) and not dismissing it for its faults or limitations but understanding why it has them.
It’s also about wanting to be a responsible traveler – impacting positively on local communities. It’s not about selfishly ‘doing’ something but working out the best way to go about it, and questioning if it justifiable to do it at all.
Becki Enright is a socially conscious traveler and shares her insider tips on how you can become one too in this interview…
How did you first decide to travel more socially conscious?
I’ve always been interested in the makeup of a country – the small parts that make up the whole.
It started with school history trips during my teenage years where I traveled to learn about the Third Reich and the Cold War. I became aware of how the past shapes the modern day – the landscape, the people, the culture – and how that all intertwines with all the fun, adventure and interaction you can have while travelling through these places.
Why is it important to travel with a social consciousness?
It’s a personal choice, but I obviously think it is an important one.
Some people travel to let go, forget and unwind.
I’m always thinking. I don’t want to sit in a beach resort unaware of what’s happening outside of it. I don’t begrudge people who do, I’m just more curious. Travel is a means of understanding and shouldn’t be used as an excuse to be ignorant.
Conscious travel is realizing the impact of your visit to the country, and the impact of what you can get back from it.
How do you research ways to travel socially consciously?
I always read up on the history of the country and its present day situation. This helps to determine any limitations to travel, and any potential issues that may arise. It also helps bring to light the common misconceptions travelers have about particular destinations – things that I can investigate and potentially change perceptions of.
Do your research and where you can, utilise local knowledge. It’s invaluable to knowing how to travel in that destination in the most insightful and trouble free way.
What are some examples of ways women can travel more socially aware?
Dressing conservatively, not acting provocatively, and being aware through prior research of any off-limits areas or situations where woman can land themselves in difficult situations. For example, I dress and act very differently in the Middle East than I do in Europe.
A lot of social awareness is common sense. The rest is spending time getting to know your destination – before you arrive and during.
How do you immerse yourself in local cultures?
I’m a big fan of home-stays and family run guesthouses. This is normally the perfect introduction to local life and supports the community. Local people are also, and quite obviously, the best source of knowledge, happy to introduce you to other locals and will provide you with insight you will never find in a guidebook.
Outside of that and seeing the main sights, I like to wander aimlessly, without a map. I stumble upon neighborhoods, visit shops, market stalls, tea-houses and the like.
- I ended up at a church in Mandalay where a nun and I hung out, drank tea and chatted for an hour.
- I’ve sat with street food vendors, communicating only through sampling their delicious food and boosting their pride.
- I’ve lived and worked in Cambodia, in a slum area that’s literally minutes down the road from the Angkor Wat complex.
- I learnt about the dreams and aspirations of a 12-year-old boy in Kathmandu, Nepal, because I stumbled upon the tea-house owned by his grandparents, where he worked.
- I would pick up newspapers and books in Myanmar that showed pictures of Aung San SuuKyi and rejoice with locals that things were changing for them for the better and I tried to understand the modern day Israel and Palestine conflict better by listening to both the Jewish and Arab perspectives when visiting the contested West Bank city of Hebron.
Of course, there are areas of the world you can’t just wander and be so random, or where your instinct tells you that person does not have good intentions. However,the times where you can spend time with a local, however difficult the cultural and language barrier, will be some of the most rewarding experiences of your travels.
What are your thoughts on giving beggars money or gifts?
This is always a really tough discussion. Giving money or purchasing goods may seem like you are supporting these people on the surface, but in the long run it perpetuates the culture of dependency.
As a rule, I normally give them food or I support local charities or organisations that aid community initiatives with the aim of getting begging kids into school and the adults into work.
Of course there are exceptions where your gut tells you it’s ok – where that person has more of a legit business (i.e. the mobile book sellers in Cambodia who are not beggars) – but you quickly learn and feel the difference.
What has been your biggest culture shock abroad?
My biggest culture shocks come from being in places like China, where the pace is frenetic and the language is a huge barrier. However, I thrive on it. You learn to adapt quickly, and it soon becomes normality after a couple of days. Sometimes, culture shock can be exciting and leave you in awe, like in Japan, or break your heart, like in Cambodia.
It takes on many forms, and is not always a negative thing.
What was the greatest lesson you’ve learned on your travels?
Take every opportunity afforded to you while you can because regret is a horrible burden. If the opportunity arises to do something you really want to do, do it… there and then. If it’s to do with money, then spend less later on. If it’s a case of ‘I’ll do it when I come back’, realise that you most probably won’t or that the opportunity may not be there later.
One of my biggest travel regrets is not going to Syria when I had the opportunity, not knowing it would sadly turn into the destroyed, war torn country it is now. I literally think about that all the time.
What one piece of advice would you give for women travelers?
Never see being female as a barrier to travel. Of course there are times when you need to be more cautious or exert more awareness, but in reality, solo female travel is so commonplace now that it really be that much of an issue anymore.
Go and see what you’ve always wanted too, sans buddy or boyfriend. Travel within your comfort zone and step out of it when you know you can and within the limits of safety. Many of the world’s first explorers were women – look at Freya Stark and her journeys across the Middle East!
Modern day society turned solo female travel into an ‘issue’ when really it’s a freedom we should be embracing.
How has travel changed you?
I’m more self aware and confident. I’m carefree and less pedantic. I’m less negative and stressed. Traveling solo means having to work out everything yourself, learn to approach others, trouble-shoot and make rapid decisions. You learn how to harness the power of instinct and revel in freedom.
Travel has also taught me how to approach situations with a more balanced perspective, be more grateful for what I have (the ability to travel is a liberty many people in the world don’t have), listen to other people’s options and find value in them as well as use my experiences to educate others.
Ultimately though, it’s taught me to have fun in droves, love life and not take ANYTHING for granted. It doesn’t get any better than that!
What did you think about this interview?
Join the discussion and leave your comments, tips, and personal experiences in the comments below.
Becki Enright is a British Press award winning travel blogger and writer (with specific Southeast Asia, East Asia and Middle East expertise) and a Travel PR consultant at Borders of Adventure. Her writing focuses on adventures with a social conscience and journeys to change perceptions, with insight into social, historical, political and economic factors that shape the country. Becki regularly reports on misunderstood destinations, and if travelling to a well-established or popular destination, aims to find a different angle on it in order to entice readers to dig a little deeper. Her motto? Travel differently, adventurously, responsibly and with purpose. Find her on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram.