Amanda: On Traveling The World As A Form Of Activism
Overtourism is at an all-time high. According to The World Tourism Organization, global tourism is expected to rise by three-to-four percent in 2019. That’s great news, right? More people are expanding their viewpoints by experiencing new cultures and contributing to different economies around the world.
As tourism continues to rise, many countries that are not equipped for a population boom are dealing with negative impacts; ecologically, socially and economically:
May 28th, 2018: A pilot whale washes up onto the shores of Southern Thailand and a team of veterans find 80 plastic bags lodged in its stomach. The whale eventually dies after a 5-day rescue effort.
2018: The European Union reports that a boom in Airbnb real estate in Reykjavik, Iceland is making it difficult for locals to afford housing.
Feb 14th, 2019: China bans all tourists from entering its controlled portion of Mount Everest basecamp due to excessive pollution. Tibetan authorities report finding more than 300-tons of trash on the world’s highest mountain in 2018.
So what does this mean for us: the tourists? Do we refrain from checking-off our travel bucket lists? Do we stay home in an effort to minimize risk in countries that are dealing with overtourism?
If we, as travelers, educate ourselves on what it means to be a “conscious traveler,” together we can travel in a more sustainable way.
Amanda Knowles, a 28-year-old traveler from New Mexico, is spreading the word about conscious travel through her non-profit organization, For The World. Amanda started For The World with her boyfriend William Adrian, whom she met at the beginning of her travels in El Salvador. Together, the couple creates social media videos to spread the word about the injustices they witness around the world. I spoke with Amanda about For The World and her recent experience in Latin America.
“When you travel, you’re really taking so much from the local people and the culture. I wanted to do something to give back.” -Amanda Knowles
Erika: How long have you been traveling?
Amanda: I’ve been traveling since May.
Erika: Where have you been so far?
Amanda: I went from Mexico all the way down to Colombia and I’m heading to Indonesia next.
Erika: So tell me more about For The World. When did it all start?
Amanda: I was volunteering with Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) in San Salvador [El Salvador] and they’re basically working to educate people on the contamination of the water… I made a video for them and I thought, okay well maybe I can do this for different fights and different organizations, so that’s kind of how it got started.
Erika: Can you tell me more about the water project you were working on in El Salvador?
Amanda: So many people are getting sick because they’re not drinking filtered water, and so they [CIS] go to these communities where people don’t have the same resources as the people in San Salvador [the country’s capital] and they teach them about the contaminated water; give them water filters, teach them how to use them and care for them.
They’re also fighting in the political realm against the privatization and over-exploitation of the water. There are companies there that are taking all the water and so there are communities that don’t have access to it during the dry season.
Erika: Something else you’ve been very vocal about is the negative impact that last year’s political unrest in Nicaragua had on their tourist-based economy. Can you tell me more about your recent experience there?
Amanda: Essentially when the political unrest happened, it wasn’t possible really to travel in Nicaragua because of the road blocks and it wasn’t safe. Their economy is really based on tourism and everybody just took a hit. So many businesses had to close, so many people had to flee the country. When I was there, it was so sad because so many people said, “Please tell your friends to come. I’m afraid that I’m going to lose my job.” Everybody was so welcoming and happy to see the tourists coming back.
I spoke with one girl from Nicaragua—she’s a political activist. She thought it was inappropriate for tourists to go when this country is really fighting for their rights… On one hand, nobody wants to support this sort of government, but on the other hand, people need to eat and feed their kids and so where do you draw the line on that?
Erika: What has been the biggest injustice you’ve witnessed on your travels so far?
Amanda: In El Salvador, women are arrested for having miscarriages or any sort of emergency where they lose the baby. They’re accused of murdering it because they have a complete ban on abortions to the point where doctors have to report any sort of miscarriage. Then, these women are sentenced to 30 years in prison with no evidence that they did anything wrong.
This one girl, her name is Imelda. She was raped by her step-father since she was 12-years-old. When she got pregnant at 19, he told her, “You’re not pregnant, because I’m too old to have kids, so it’s not possible.” She has mental deficiencies and she didn’t really understand what was happening, so she went into labour early, passed out from the blood loss, and her mom took her to the hospital. Even though the baby lived, they arrested her for attempted murder… She just finally got free in December and three other women have been freed because of different feminist groups there that have been fighting for a really long time.
This is a problem that primarily affects the poor women because rich women can leave the country to get an abortion, or they have connections in a private clinic. But it’s really a problem for the poor women and the cycle keeps them in poverty without access to reproductive health.
“I love to travel, and I want others to travel, but I want to make sure that us, as a community of travelers, we’re doing it in a way that is sustainable for the communities that we’re going into and for the environment.” -Knowles
Erika: What does being a “conscious traveler” mean to you?
Amanda: You see a lot about the negative side of tourism now… you think about the national parks in Thailand and the Philippines that have had to close because of overtourism. I love to travel so much, and I want others to travel, but I want to make sure that us as a community of travelers, we’re doing it in a way that is sustainable for the communities that we’re going into and for the environment. I want to make sure that we’re leaving a positive impact on the path that we’re on instead of a negative one.
Erika: What advice would you give to travelers who want to travel more consciously?
Amanda: I really think it’s important to buy locally made things and support the local artists when you travel. Make sure the money is going to the people whose county you’re coming to visit. Also supporting tour companies that are aware of these more friendly practices and actively engage in having a positive impact on the people and on the environment. Also when you travel, trying to meet local people instead of just hanging out in hostels or just hanging out with other travelers.
Erika: How do you meet locals when you travel?
Amanda: Different ways – in museums or parks. I like to talk to everybody. The one thing I did notice, and I want to see if it rings true in other places [was] I didn’t feel that women were particularly accessible to meet. I found myself meeting lots of guys but it was really hard to make friends with the local women. So yeah… I’m interested to see if that still rings true as I get into Asia. I would love to meet women because I feel like we can have a friendship on a different level than with a man. Especially in some of these cultures that are “machista.”
Erika: Okay, everyone’s wondering: How to you afford your travels?
Amanda: This was a dream of mine to do a round-the-world trip. I served six years in the U.S. Air Force and I paid off all my debt and then just aggressively saved.
Erika: Do you see yourself going home eventually or making travel a lifestyle?
Amanada: It’s definitely going to be a lifestyle. I would like to do this round-the-world trip and then the plan is to find somewhere I really like and just start a project there. Ideally, I would like to have a couple projects around the world that I could travel between, because when I have kids I would love them to be raised in different places and be raised into the world instead of in one place. That’s the dream… we’ll see.
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