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Trailblazers Q&A: Sophia Musoki Shines A Spotlight On Ugandan Food

Sophia Musoki A Kitchen In Uganda

Trailblazers, checks in with creatives from around the world to share their story. On this edition, we welcome Sophia Musoki of A Kitchen In Uganda.

Sophia Musoki, A Kitchen In Uganda

Sophia Musoki is a Ugandan though currently living in the Caribbean. She’s enjoyed working with her hands for as long as she can remember, crafting things and sewing clothes. In 2012, she started blogging, focusing on Ugandan food from 2014 onwards at A Kitchen In Uganda. Her work has since been featured on CNN and she was a finalist in SAVEUR Magazine’s 2018 Blog Awards. Continue Reading →

In Trailblazers/ Travel

Trailblazers Q&A: German Food and Wine Writer Christie Dietz of A Sausage Has Two

Christie Dietz A Sausage Has Two

Photo by Tetyana Lux

Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.

Christie Dietz, A Sausage Has Two

Christie Dietz was born in London, but after moving about a bit, working in various creative (and uncreative) jobs and doing a fair bit of traveling around the world, she moved to Wiesbaden, a beautiful spa town in the heart of Germany’s Riesling wine region, with her  German husband in 2010. She’s settled there for now, and in Germany for good, as she just acquired German citizenship. Her work as a freelance writer focuses on German food and travel, both featured on her website, A Sausage Has Two, and other publications that to date have included The Guardian, Fodor’s, Time Out, EATEN, and National Geographic Traveller Food.

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In Trailblazers

Trailblazers Q&A: LGBTQI Activist and Writer, Heather Cassell, of Girls That Roam

LGBTQI Activist Writer Heather Cassell Girls That Roam

Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.

Heather Cassell: Girls That Roam

Heather Cassell is an LGBTQI activist, writer, and co-founder of Girls That Roam. She co-founded the digital media site with her girlfriend, Geena Dabadghav, in 2012. Heather is also a freelance travel writer, international LGBTQI news columnist, and a general assignment reporter with the Bay Area Reporter.

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In Trailblazers

Trailblazers Q&A: Marina Qutab of Zero Waste Vegan Travel

Marina Qutab Zero Waste Vegan Travel

Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.

Marina Qutab: Zero Waste Vegan Travel

Marina Qutab is the creator of the eco-lifestyle brand, Eco Goddess, and is a zero waste vegan influencer in the eco-conscious lifestyle industry. She is better known as Eco Goddess on social media, and champions the ‘green girl lifestyle.’ The co-founder of the first zero-waste shop in Southern California, she has been advocating for a more just and thriving planet for over eight years.

Her inspiration for becoming a zero waste vegan lifestylist arose after her life-changing experience at the young age of 10, visiting her father’s home country Pakistan. Here she was exposed to environmental degradation at an alarming rate and extreme poverty. Upon becoming ill and blowing her nose into a tissue one night where she witnessed black mucus from the air pollution, she knew it was her calling to work towards building a more conscious, just, and sustainable world.

She motivates thousands of conscious lifestyle seekers from around the world to make healthier, more compassionate lifestyle choices and is the author of Zero Waste Vegan Travel which was released in November of 2017. Her eBook was in Amazon’s Best Sellers Top 10 list in the first month of publishing in the categories Waste Management and EcoTourism.

Without A Path Socially-conscious travel seems to be increasingly popular. What are your impressions?

Marina Qutab talks Zero Waste Vegan TravelMarina Qutab When I hear the words “socially-conscious” and “travel” in the same sentence, my eyes, heart and mind light up. This way of traveling is not just a trendy, do-good activity. It is a way of navigating the world in a more fulfilling, authentic, and mindful way.

In our fast-paced society, travel is an essential part of our everyday lives. And with modern technology, traveling has never been more affordable and convenient. As a deep green environmentalist, who exercises the zero waste vegan lifestyle daily and can fit nearly a year’s worth of my trash in a single mason jar, I questioned how sustainable and doable my wanderlust was.

And yet, growing up in a multicultural home of Pakistani, European and Spanish descent, I learned from a young age the value of authentic, one-on-one cultural exchanges for peace and global understanding.

Frustrated by feeling ostracized within my own community of environmentalists, and the frequent response of, “No Marina, you can’t be a world traveler and environmentalist,” I embarked on a quest, as many of us do, to find some answers. Turns out there is a whole movement gaining traction where travelers identify as socially-conscious travelers, and their journeys are conducive to a progressive world. By evidence of my own documentation and travels, I am a living example of how through simple lifestyle choices, you can travel the world and maintain a vibrant, peaceful and thriving planet.

WAP Tell us about Zero Waste Vegan Travel.

MQ Zero Waste Vegan Travel, my eBook that I released on November 11th at 11:11 AM, is a practical, relatable travel guide based on my personal, walk-the-talk experience of living a zero waste vegan lifestyle. This book is not intended to make a reader’s life harder, but rather simpler, happier and healthier To touch upon both lifestyle components, zero waste and veganism, I have split the book into parts, beginning with my personal definitions of each term. Each part of this book is rich with information, including Zero Waste Vegan Lifestyle Hacks, Alternatives & Tips, Recipes, Your, Complete Travel Checklist, Money-Saving Strategies, and more.

This book presents the tried-and-true ways to a “green girl” lifestyle filled with more compassionate, health-focused choices that are in alignment with Mother Earth. I share with you what has worked and what has not while navigating my travels and experience as a ZWV lifestylist.

WAP What inspired you to get more involved in making videos about this topic?

MQ I have always been a visual learner. There is something special about communicating through a live experience and more intimate interaction with your audience, as opposed to just words on a page.

I studied film in university, but it wasn’t until my junior year when I took a narrative video journalism class and was required to pick up a camera to tell the story that I felt completely in my element. What I loved the most was that our class could all be given the same topic to build a story around, yet no two videos in the end were created the same.

WAP How do you wrestle with encouraging people — either directly or indirectly — to travel knowing in doing so your fans will leave behind a carbon footprint?

MQ I was the self-entitled environmentalist at one point in my life, judging others for their lack of sustainable lifestyle practices, annoyed by meat eaters and the non-vegans, intolerant of unconscious consumers who bought conventional products. But then something shifted in me. How was I going to affect change in such a harsh manner? The truth is, I couldn’t. When I shifted my approach to encouraging people in a more compassionate, relatable tone, the number of people I influenced dramatically increased.

I began agreeing with the feelings of others. I got on their level. I avoided speaking as a superior. I refrained from minimizing or correcting them. I reminded myself: everyone starts somewhere.

I began breaking down their obstacles, addressing their challenges and eliminating their misconceptions of the lifestyle. I let them talk. Baby steps, I reminded them. No big lifestyle change will be effectively made overnight. It takes patience. It takes making new habits and sticking to them. It takes motivation, whether that be a friend, a mentor, or a sticky note on your wall.

I began publicising through social media how happy and fulfilled this lifestyle made me feel. This “walk the talk” mechanism illustrated value. It made the lifestyle seem more attainable and desirable. And alas, the “well if she can do it, I can do it!” mindset is born. You see this over and over again.

Zero Waste Vegan Travel

WAP Food is ingrained into cultures around the world and in many places, it’s considered rude not to accept an offering of food. How do you handle that situation without offending your hosts?

MQ I love this question because I have a lot of experience learning it and living it. In the Fall of 2016, I completed my studies abroad in the Middle East. Excited to experience the people, places, food, and culture, I went into my new life abroad with an open mind. Because my dad is from this part of the world and my mom is Spanish and European, I learned how to handle cultural differences at a young age.

I stayed with a host family who hardly spoke English. Great, I thought. Now it is going to be even more difficult! To my surprise, it wasn’t. I handled my food preferences by first expressing my deep gratitude for the offering. Then I would politely say I had a food allergy or sensitivity to animal products. This is so much different than saying “Eww! That’s a dead animal!” or “I don’t eat animal products because it is against my moral compass!” The host will rarely be offended by a food allergy and can respect and honor your preference in a different light.

WAP Is your mission to encourage everyone to become vegan or do you think there’s a middle ground? Because it seems to be vegan is a luxury that wealthier nations and peoples can certainly embrace, but that’s a near impossibility — logistically, financially, and when considering health — for poorer families around the world with fewer options or substitutes for animal protein.

MQ My mission is to show people that there’s a way to find balance and a deeper sense of happiness and fulfillment in choosing a conscious-minded path. Geographic and demographic disparities certainly play a role in determining how much of the zero waste vegan by which you can live. The amount of waste you generate and the types of foods you consume are not nearly as important as understanding your purchasing power and the impact you have.

Every person can adopt changes that are possible and accessible in their lives. Even the smallest of changes towards a more sustainable and mindful existence will have a positive effect on our society and the world as a whole.

WAP What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since getting involved in zero waste vegan travel?

MQ How surprisingly simple this lifestyle has become never ceases to amaze me. When I began my zero waste vegan journey, I did not make impulsive or drastic decisions nor do I suggest that route. I took my time to feel what it would be like to transition my life from conventional to conscious living. My initial thoughts while entering into this lifestyle were, “Ugh, this is going to be a lot of work and I am going to have to give up so many things I love.” Quite the opposite, actually! This beautifully transformative experience led to a euphoric sense of freedom, a greater sense of purpose, and an overall healthier and happier wellbeing.

WAP Do you have a favorite vegan travel destination? (Is there such a thing?)

MQ My favorite vegan travel destination thus far is where I am living now, naturally: Southern California. The amount of fresh, local and seasonal produce is to live for. Plus, there is an abundance of plant-based restaurants. My favorites include Café Gratitude, Peace Pies, and Kindred. Then there’s the plant-based fast-food restaurant for when you have the munchies, Plant Power.

Zero Waste Vegan Travel items

WAP How can the travel industry decrease its waste and help those areas that have been negatively impacted by mass tourism?

MQ To decrease waste, the travel industry can begin by supporting carbon offsetting programs which compensate for emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. A public announcement highlighting the perks of offsetting at the beginning of each flight would remind all passengers to do so after their flight.

Secondly, on planes, the crew can serve organic, healthy snacks and other items only in recyclable or compostable materials. As for utensils and straws, airlines can introduce reusable or compostable utensils. The amount of waste produced by the packaged snacks and products handed out throughout the plane ride is startling. According to the International Air Transport Association, airlines produce an average of 5.2 million tons of waste in a year and will produce over 10 million tons annually by 2030.

For the materials that are recyclable, flight attendants should be incentivized to carry out proper recycling procedures. According to one of my close friends who is a flight attendant, she says most flight attendants send recyclables to a landfill because there is no proper instruction on how to discard the materials. In addition, she says there are no incentives or benefits for making the eco-friendly choice. In their eyes, it is just an extra effort and work.

Airlines can also look into options for running the planes on biofuel or other renewable energy sources.

Moving on to hotels and/or places to stay while traveling, facilities can greenify their operations by looking at how they dispose of their gray water and if they compost; their waste overall and how much of it is recyclable; the bathroom fixtures and toiletries; if there are in-room recycling bins; how they can conserve energy such as using energy efficient lighting and Energy Star appliances; environmentally friendly energy source alternatives such as solar energy or hydroelectric power; a linen-and-towel-reuse program with incentives for guests; and quality of the restaurant food. Big facilities like hotels can also research how to qualify for an accredited certification program, such as Green Key, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED certification. The most holistically green hotels support the three pillars of sustainable tourism: social, environmental and economic.

Ad­ven­ture-tour operators can arrange green modes of travel and adventuring, including cycling, hiking, biking and walking. Then there is public transit, such as trains and buses. Information regarding public transit should be readily available for travelers in the airport, hotels or in the surrounding areas. However, their impact on the environment depends on such factors as route, fuel type and passenger load.

In the big picture, travel companies can make a commitment to no new development that does not have a positive impact on ecosystems. Sure, they can prohibit the use of straws and plastic lids at resorts to protect marine life, but the biggest positive effect will come from travel companies encouraging ecotourism. This kind of tourism is a responsible way of traveling to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education. Ecotourism is about uniting communities, conservation, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement, participate in and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following ecotourism principles: Build cultural and environmental awareness and respect; Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts; Provide direct financial benefits for conservation; Minimize social, physical, behavioral, and psychological impacts; Create financial benefits for both local people and private industry; Construct, design and operate low-impact facilities; Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to travelers that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ environmental, social and political climates; Recognize the spiritual beliefs and rights of the Indigenous People in the community travelers visit, and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

Marina Qutab Interview

WAP Could you offer a tip for readers who want to travel more responsibly in general?

MQ As many of the readers of my new book can attest to, I am a firm believer in the two-step method. First, Evaluate and next, Make the Move.

Evaluate how you travel now. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How much waste do I currently produce while traveling?
  • Where is my waste coming from? Here are some possibilities: food packaging, food waste, water packaging, morning routine, makeup, hygiene products, etcetera.
  • What do I use on a daily basis and how much of it is necessary? For example, do you need your morning coffee or tea in a plastic cup with a plastic straw?
  • What can I comfortably switch out? This could mean bringing cotton sacks or reusable jars to the grocery store to buy your food in bulk, eliminating packaged items. Or perhaps switching out your plastic toothbrush for a compostable bamboo version. You will find that gradually, you can comfortably switch out more and more.

Next, Make the Move. Begin your journey to zero waste veganism by downsizing, responsibly disposing of unnecessary things, and filling your diet with organic, seasonal, local and vibrant plant-based whole foods.

Here’s a simple switch that will make you feel like a zero waste vegan badass: Carry a Zero Waste Kit with you everywhere. This is essentially a bag with all of the tools you need to be zero waste. Some may need their kits more than others, so it is truly just learning when and where you will need it. The number one reason people fail at this lifestyle is because they do not appropriately plan and are unprepared. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” so start off strong and you will learn from there.

Here is what will go in your kit: A reusable set of utensils; A reusable napkin; A reusable glass/bamboo/metal straw; A reusable water bottle; A reusable mug; A food storage container (for leftovers or takeout); A cloth bag (for your muffin/croissant/sandwich); A reusable bag (for grocery shopping).

WAP What’re you most looking forward to in your work and travels?

MQ To connect with people. Above everything, I love connecting with others and empowering them to make intentional lifestyle choices. It’s a ripple effect.

Hearing their stories, learning their ways of living, bonding over our similarities and differences, enjoying new foods and cultures and so much more. This topic of zero waste vegan travel is a novel, rarely discussed topic, making it an excellent conversation starter and opportunity to learn and grow with each other.

I very much look forward to the day when we can all partake in exploration and travel in a new way– one that connects us as a people, deepens global understanding abroad and in our local communities, and maintains a vibrant, peaceful and thriving planet.

All photos courtesy of Marina Qutab

In Trailblazers

Trailblazers Q&A: Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet

Margherita Ragg The Crowded Planet

Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.

Margherita Ragg: The Crowded Planet

Margherita Ragg is the co-founder of The Crowded Planet and comes from Milan, Italy, but is now in the United Kingdom where she has spent the better part of the last nine years traveling — first part-time and then full-time from 2014 onwards. Her passions center around hiking, ecotourism, good coffee, tasty street food, cats, and when her schedule allows, sleeping in.

Without A Path Off the beaten path travel seems to be increasingly popular. What are your impressions?

Margherita Ragg I think off the beaten path travel has become a necessity nowadays. Overtourism has ruined many places and increased the rift between travelers and locals, yet at the same time, tourism has the potential of doing wonders for communities. I think it’s sensible to travel off the beaten path, but we need to be careful because, in the age of ‘viral’ content, it’s very easy to flood formerly off the beaten path locations with visitors, which can have negative consequences.

WAP Tell us about The Crowded Planet.

MR We started The Crowded Planet as a way to share what we are passionate about, namely hiking, adventure, nature, unusual destinations, and photography. I also work as a freelance journalist and The Crowded Planet has become an outlet for stories we wanted to tell, but we couldn’t find an outlet for, like our Grindadrap in the Faroe Islands piece, which has attracted a fair bit of controversy.

Margherita Ragg The Crowded Planet Hiking

WAP What inspired you to get more involved in writing about sustainable travel?

MR I think it was witnessing terrible animal cruelty while on our first trip to Asia in 2009; the fact that everyone seemed nonchalant about riding elephants, drinking civet coffee, and all that. Things have definitely improved since then, but there’s still a lot to be done. I was recently in southern Africa and activities like lion encounters are still routinely offered. Also, sustainable travel is not just about interacting with nature, but also with communities. I still see travelers routinely disrespecting local cultures or using sacred places as a backdrop for their insta-perfect images without sharing info about the significance of that place. I think much still needs to be done to educate travelers about how to interact responsibly with local cultures.

WAP How do you wrestle with encouraging people to visit alternative destinations with the carbon footprint your readers will be leaving behind?

MR This is a really tough one. We can’t give up flying altogether so we try to limit long-haul flights to only a few a year. For instance, I have seen travel bloggers fly from Europe to Asia for a week-long campaign, then fly back to Europe for another project, then off to Asia again. We wouldn’t do that. We would choose to be involved in fewer things but not move around as much. Also, sustainability is what got us into long-distance hiking. We’ll never achieve carbon-neutral travel, but long-distance hiking is as close as we can get.

WAP What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since getting started?

MR In terms of blogging, it was the amazing level of support offered by the travel blogging community. It truly is one big family. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nasty people here and there, but generally speaking most people are just amazing.

In terms of travel in general, it’s how quickly a destination can move from being unknown to becoming overwhelmed with tourists. We saw that happen in Svaneti, Georgia, and Jericoacoara, Brazil. What were once small villages became hot destinations, overrun with tourists in a matter of years, upsetting the balance of local life.

Margherita Ragg The Crowded Planet Horseback Riding

WAP Do you have a favorite off the beaten path travel destination?

MR This year we visited Kyrgyzstan for the first time and really loved it. We worked with USAID to promote examples of community-based tourism. Instead of creating infrastructures and giving them to western companies to run, they’re left in the hand of locals, creating empowerment and employment opportunities. The fact that locals are left to run things directly means that locals are able to benefit first hand from tourism income instead of simply becoming employees of western-owned establishments.

WAP How can the travel industry both preserve off the beaten path travel destinations and help those areas that have been negatively impacted by mass tourism?

MR I think control and careful management are key. I think the most effective way to preserve off the beaten track destinations is involving locals, not just using them as cheap labor, like in the Kyrgyzstan example. To control overtourism, many African locations limited tourist numbers in national parks by charging exorbitant daily fees. It certainly worked, but it cuts out an entire section of the traveling population — those who aren’t able to afford those fees. I think capping numbers, like it’s done on the Inca Trail, is fairer, but then again, there probably isn’t a perfect solution.

WAP Could you offer a tip for readers who want to find off the beaten path travel destinations and travel responsibly?

MR Search out locations where tourism is still in the hands of locals and be very careful to respect local norms when posting on social media. It’s true that a picture can speak a thousand words but sometimes images can be misunderstood. Always share stories, not just pictures.

WAP On a happier note, what’re you most looking forward to in your work and travels?

MR This is the time of year when we plan our travels for the year ahead and so far we’ve confirmed Mexico and possibly Canada for spring/summer 2018. In the fall we’ll head back to Asia, but nothing has been planned yet. I’m so excited to see where the industry will be heading, too, even though sometimes it’s so hard to keep up!

All photos courtesy of Margherita Ragg

In Trailblazers

Trailblazers Q&A: Megan Mullan of Half This World Away

Megan Mullan Half This World Away

Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.

Megan Mullan: Half This World Away

Megan Mullan and is one half of the traveling duo behind Half This World Away. Originally from Scotland, she’s been traveling and living overseas since 2011, most of the time with her husband in tow.

She had her first taste of travel when she moved to Madrid to teach English and spent one year in living in the Spanish capital. Since then, she’s lived in New Zealand and the Czech Republic all the while traveling throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Without A Path Off the beaten path travel seems to be increasingly popular. What are your impressions?

Megan Mullan For me, off the beaten path travel is the most rewarding and satisfying way to travel, so it doesn’t surprise me that more and more people are putting down the guidebooks and discovering places on their own. More often than not, I end up disappointed with the hyped up destinations or landmarks, yet I adore the feeling of stumbling across somewhere; a place, a viewpoint, a little-known town, that feels like mine. Even if it’s only for a moment or two.

WAP Staying with a Vietnamese hill tribe seems to be pretty off the beaten path. Tell us about that.

MM My husband and I fell completely in love with Vietnam on our first trip there nearly five years ago, and even today it still remains one of our favorite countries we’ve ever visited. We wanted to delve a little deeper into this beautiful contrast of a country and felt that staying with locals was the most authentic way to do this. We hiked through the rice terraces of Northern Sapa for around a day and then stayed with a Vietnamese Hilltribe who showed us their way of life. We cooked with them in a tiny kitchen over an open fire, ate with them, and slept in their home.

Although they didn’t speak any English (nor do we speak Vietnamese) it was amazing the way we were able to communicate together. The people we met were completely self-sustainable; the community grow their own food, raise livestock, make their own clothing, and even brew their own alcohol!

Megan Mullan Half This World Away Interview

WAP How did staying with this family compare to other aspects of traveling Vietnam. Presumably, you stayed at more traditional hotels?

MM Staying with this family was a completely unique experience and we really got a glimpse of what a hand-to-mouth life was like and how thousands of people live throughout Vietnam as well as the rest of the world. It was a very authentic experience and probably one most people don’t get to have. Of course, we stayed in hotels and hostels whilst traveling the rest of the country, but our time in Northern Sapa was probably the most rewarding and memorable.

WAP What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since you started traveling?

MM The kindness of people. We’ve been to some incredibly remote and poor nations, yet so many locals have gone out their way to help us. Even though we didn’t speak the same language and we looked different, we’ve had complete strangers give us lifts when we’ve been stranded or walk us to our hotel when we’ve been lost, for no other reason than simply to help. That is probably what I love most about travel, the ability to connect with different people from all walks of life.

WAP Do you have a favorite off the beaten path travel destination?

MM There are some incredible places I’ve visited in Northern Scotland, tucked away in the highlands where you can easily go days without seeing another person. We visited a beach on the West Coast of Scotland where you can only drive so far and then need to walk for 90 minutes along a dirt track and eventually the path turns and you’re faced with these huge sand dunes, rugged cliffs, and roaring waves. That was pretty incredible. It was so unexpected that you almost forgot you were still in Scotland. It’s quite ironic that despite traveling all over the world, what I have been looking for was on my doorstep the whole time.

Megan Mullan Half This World Away Trailblazers Interview

WAP How can the travel industry both preserve off the beaten path travel destinations and help those areas that have been negatively impacted by mass tourism?

MM This is a tricky one and something I’ve struggled to find the answer to. On the one hand, I love finding off the beaten path destinations and writing about them and sharing them with my readers. I love to promote undiscovered places, however, that means these places won’t stay very undiscovered for very long. I think its all about sustainable tourism; and ensuring the local authorities have the correct tools to preserve and control tourism.

This year, for example, the Peruvian government have brought in much-needed sanctions to Machu Picchu, and whilst this may be slightly less convenient for travelers, it is a much-needed step in the right direction to preserve Machu Picchu for the generations to come.

WAP Could you offer a tip for readers who want to find off the beaten path travel destinations and travel responsibly?

MM Don’t plan, ditch the guidebook, jump in the car and just go. It doesn’t matter if you get lost or if you have nowhere in particular to be. Some of the most spectacular places we’ve visited have happened by accident. And when you do find these hidden gems, then buy from local vendors and eat in family-run restaurants. Give back to the community and stay away from the corporations and chain hotels.

WAP On a happier note, what’re you most looking forward to in your work and travels?

MM In January we are visiting our sixth continent with a four-month trip planned around South America. This is a region we have always wanted to visit and finally 2018 is the year.

In Trailblazers

Trailblazers Q&A: Chris Backe of One Weird Globe

Trailblazers Chris Backe One Weird Globe Interview

Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.

Chris Backe: One Weird Globe

Chris Backe bounced around from job to job for years until he found an English teaching job in South Korea. That job in Seoul in 2008 started a new chapter in his life and coincided with the launch of his blog, Chris in South Korea. At first, it was just to keep friends and family informed on his travels. He’d travel someplace new every weekend he wasn’t teaching and update his blog.

Some years later, he felt like he was running out of places to see and started looking for lesser-traveled sights. This led to his guidebook, Offbeat Korea.

After meeting and marrying a Canadian in South Korea, the pair moved to Thailand where he started a new blog, Chris in Thailand. Before long he realized he couldn’t start a new blog everytime he changed countries, so he re-branded to today’s One Weird Globe and focuses on the weird, the bizarre, the unique, and some of the craziest places in the world you’ve probably never heard of. Besides sharing his experiences, he comments on life as an expat/digital nomad and has written dozens of itineraries and guidebooks for people who want to see the weirder side of the world for themselves.

Without A Path Off the beaten path travel seems to be increasingly popular. What are your impressions?

Chris Backe When hasn’t it been increasingly popular? Travelers today want something different, something unique. Some can put their finger on it, while others just don’t want to feel like they’re going to the same places as everyone else. No one wants to feel like they’re going on just another cookie-cutter tour.

The good news: Because it’s increasingly popular, tours and offerings are springing up all over the place. I had a fantastic experience with the Tour of Communism in Bucharest, for example. It’s a small group tour with a local guide that walks you through the history — and legacy — of Communism in Bucharest.

WAP What inspired you to start talking about off the beaten path travel?

CB As has often happened, I began to get bored. South Korea is a wonderful country, but it’s only about the size of Portugal or Indiana. Traveling somewhere new almost every weekend for years meant I was running out of known, interesting places. That’s when the search for the offbeat began. This would have been around 2011. I’m three years into an awesome life in Korea, and I’ve begun to scour everything I can get my hands on. Korea was at a crossroads when it came to tourism, still trying to figure out the best way to market themselves and their destinations. (I’d argue they still are now, but that’s a different story.) The nation, the province, the city, and the national levels of government were all producing brochures and content, and the lack of coordination was obvious. That actually works to your advantage, though, since each level of government ended up talking about different places instead of the same ones. Read all the levels and you’ll discover a lot of interesting places along the way.

Chris Backe One Weird Globe

WAP What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since you’ve started traveling off the beaten path?

CB On some level, it’s been surprising how many (or how few) people we’ve seen while traveling. In some cases, a place I thought was ‘offbeat’ was actually a common stop for a tour group. A great example of that is the medical museum at a Bangkok hospital (NSFW) — very weird, very well known, and very much worth the visit.

WAP Do you have a favorite off the beaten path travel destination?

CB How about the umbilical cord shrine for King Sejong’s children? It’s in the middle of nowhere South Korea and is the sort of place that’s difficult to reach by public transportation. Once you’ve arrived, however, the setting may not be entirely what’s expected. You have to scratch the surface to gain a fuller appreciation for the place. If you don’t, you’ll feel like you spent two hours to reach a place you could see in five minutes. There’s plenty going on, however, and I’ll let my post speak for itself.

WAP How can the travel industry both preserve off the beaten path travel destinations and help those areas that have been negatively impacted by mass tourism?

CB On some level, it’s all the balance. The industry and the various governments of the world have a responsibility to preserve their heritage, and unfortunately, that sometimes means limiting access or numbers. That’s fine by me, especially when there’s so much more to see. The travel industry can do more to shape a traveler’s path. Instead of going to Big, Well-Known Place, they could easily be showing people a better, cheaper, lesser-known place with more history or significance. People think they want to go to Big Well-Known Place, but why?

Let’s take Machu Picchu as an example. It’s an expensive ticket, expensive train ride, and because it’s Peru’s golden egg, they’re milking everything they can out of it. I pass. While in Cusco, we did what I dubbed the one-day Cusco Archeological Tour. This isn’t my invention, by the way. Cusco sells a one-day ticket to four wonderful historic stops that are all along the same rural highway. You can walk from one place to another if you don’t mind a few kilometers of downhill walking, or jump on the next passing bus to save some time. Take the bus to the first destination (Tambomachay), then enjoy and walk your way down.

WAP Could you offer a tip for readers who want to find off the beaten path travel destinations and travel responsibly?

CB I’d argue these are two different things for the most part.

‘Travel responsibly’, personally, means ‘do your homework’ and emulate the locals, for the most part. Research ahead of time so you know how to get there, and do some reading so you can appreciate the place more. Offbeat and lesser-traveled places don’t always have the budget to create the sort of explanations (or translations) you might find at bigger museums.

Do you want to find off-the-beaten-path destinations? Start by asking yourself what’s weird and offbeat to you. This is different for everyone, and that’s OK. Since I’ve often been asked ‘what is weird,’ I wrote a page to answer that common question.

WAP On a happier note, what’re you most looking forward to in your work and travels?

CB Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time designing tabletop board games (the industry uses ‘tabletop games’ because a lot of games in this space have no board). It’s something I’ve gotten really excited about, and I see myself designing games as I travel — and perhaps designing games about travel.

We’ve spent most of 2017 in Europe, and we will spend the first part of 2018 here as well. Beyond that? Western Asia is gradually opening its doors to tourism, and we still need to take in the insanity that is China at some point.

I’m also working on a book currently entitled Becoming a Digital Nomad, which will give the reader a step-by-step guide to test (and transition into) the digital nomad lifestyle. You don’t need a $2,000 program in some exotic-sounding location, and you don’t need to ‘apply’ or get some sort of ‘degree’ or ‘certification.’ You just do it. I’m hoping to release it around March 2018, which will be the 10-year anniversary of when I left the U.S. and started this whole journey.

In Trailblazers

Trailblazers Q&A: Luke Mackin of Wild Sumatra

Pendung Semurup Waterfalls

Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.

Luke Mackin: Wild Sumatra

Luke Mackin calls himself an “American by passport,” but was actually born and raised in the Philippines and feels most at home in the Southeast Asian archipelagos. In 2010, he founded Wild Sumatra as a way to promote ecotourism and support conservation and communities in the most off the beaten path parts of the Sumatran island. He lives and focuses most of his time in Kerinci, a place he describes as a highland region of idyllic rice fields and small villages, surrounded by mountainous jungles and volcanos — home also to Kerinci Seblat National Park, one of the largest protected areas in all of Asia where tigers, gibbons, and hornbills can still be found.

 

Without A Path Off the beaten path travel seems to be increasingly popular. What are your impressions?

Luke Mackin I honestly am not sure if that’s true! I feel like the vast majority of travelers these days are more interested in capturing those famous Instagram shots of the same handful of places, only visiting places with lots of information online, and where internet is easily accessible. There aren’t many bloggers that go truly off the beaten path – there just aren’t sponsors available in such areas — which feeds into the lack of information online that everyone craves. Travelers also seem to want convenience. If the experience or accommodation can’t be booked easily in some app, then forget about it. Obviously, by its very nature, there aren’t many conveniences like this when traveling off the beaten path.

In Sumatra specifically, with cheap flights replacing the overland routes that backpackers used to take, tourism really dropped off in the late 90s. In the same period, tourism continued to explode in Bali with places like Kuta, Seminyak, and Ubud at or exceeding carrying capacity.

With the problems of overtourism recently being in the news in places like Barcelona, Vienna, and Thailand, and the conservation benefit that ecotourism can bring to the world’s remaining forests, now more than ever do we need those brave travelers willing to step out a bit into the unknown.

The Kerinci Valley and Lake Kerinci

WAP Tell us about your ecotourism project.

LM So, the Kerinci region of Sumatra is really remote. There are only three roads into and out of this region, and it takes an eight-hour drive to reach the nearest city. The Kerinci Seblat National Park completely surrounds this highland valley, which is a bit like a donut hole in the center. There aren’t many places in the world where a large protected area (13,791 km2 — an area 2.5x the size of Bali), encircles a populated area on all sides. It’s tremendously beautiful and diverse as well with lush rainforests, wetlands, unique lakes and waterfalls, active volcanoes (including Mt. Kerinci – the highest in Southeast Asia), cinnamon, tea, coffee plantations, and perfectly green rice paddies. Because of its isolation, the local culture is also still really strong with traditional festivals, dress, dance, and song all being highly valued. But sadly, in spite of this richness and due to its isolation, the challenges traveling here and the lack of information online, very few visitors pass through every year.

I started Wild Sumatra in 2010 in order to support local guides and rural communities interested in developing ecotourism and to help them market their services and the region and connect with would-be travelers. With a growing population in this valley, and limited land, the economy needs to diversify beyond agriculture in order to preserve the forests and wildlife here. I feel strongly that for this to succeed, it must be community-based and led, hence I see my role as one of support and advocacy. The guides I work with are all their own bosses who I assist and work with only at their request.

WAP What inspired you to get more involved in this region and why do you want more people to visit? Are you concerned at all about bringing too many people there?

LM The remaining rainforests of Southeast Asia area really under constant threat. Sumatra has some of the largest tracts of rainforests left, filled with incredible wildlife like Sumatran tigers. But every year we see more and more lost. Besides the tragedy of seeing species completely vanish off the face of the earth, something I am passionate about stopping, there is also a very real human cost. The almost yearly issue with haze, resulting from slash and burn forest clearing, sickens and kills tens of thousands every year. Drought is more common as are landslides and flash flooding when the rains do come. I felt like ecotourism in this region, being economically disadvantaged but so rich in natural beauty, could provide a dual benefit to both these rural forest-edge communities and the conservation of one of the few truly wild places left on earth.

I’m not too concerned about overwhelming this place with tourists any time soon. As I mentioned, this region is gigantic and the barriers to coming here are pretty big for most people, so I don’t foresee mass tourism ever really being possible here. That said, we make sure to limit the amount of people that join a trek to a maximum of six, and I am constantly working with local communities to find new interesting treks to spread around the visitors that do come as well as to spread around the economic benefit.

We are also currently trying to think through and come up with solutions for the trash issue that sometimes plagues Mt. Kerinci, especially around local holidays. We do not want it to get like Mt. Rinjani, a much more popular climb for local and international tourists due to its proximity to Bali. The culture of “leave nothing but footprints” is still in its infancy in much of Southeast Asia, although I’m happy that the guides I work with and their guests take active steps to clean up after themselves and regularly after others as well.

Rice Terraces Sumatra

WAP What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since getting started?

LM I certainly expected moving to and starting a business in rural Sumatra to be difficult in an abstract, naïve kind of way. But exactly how difficult, I wasn’t prepared for. From just learning the language and how to do daily life to making the right connections to the almost impossible bureaucracy, it was far more challenging than expected. I think I’m also surprised at how discouraging the work can be at times. I remember one time feeling so excited by how a community seemed to embrace the idea of nature-based tourism with seemingly a lot of traction with a particular trek and itinerary being made, only to one day get a report from one of the guides that a huge section of the trail had been completely destroyed by illegal logging, effectively ending that trek option. Ecotourism here is definitely a slow growth endeavor, and sometimes it’s just not fast enough to keep up with some individual bad actor’s greed. When that happens, it’s incredibly demoralizing – those forests are lost forever.

WAP Do you have a favorite off the beaten path travel destination?

LM Other parts of Sumatra I’ve had the pleasure of visiting have been fantastic. The Bengkulu province a little bit south and west of where I work, Rimbang Baling in Riau province and the islands around the Mandeh region of West Sumatra are all far off the beaten path, but really spectacular places worth visiting. Growing up in the Philippines, I’m also definitely partial to boarding a bangka in that country and finding some small deserted island beach to relax on and snorkel around.

WAP How can the travel industry both preserve off the beaten path travel destinations and help those areas that have been negatively impacted by mass tourism?

LM I think preserving off the beaten path destinations is all about making sure things are community-based and led and that the maximum amount of economic benefit remains within that area. Using foreign-based, profit-focused companies that don’t have boots on the ground or real relationships with local people I think is a recipe for harming the culture and environment of a place.

I feel one of the best ways to help areas impacted by mass tourism is to start to promote more off-the-beaten-path areas, like you’re doing. Most travel blogs and outbound tour operators continue to funnel people to the same spots when there is a wide world to explore filled with endless beauty and wonder.

Kenduri Sko Festival in Semurup

WAP Could you offer a tip for readers who want to find off the beaten path travel destinations and travel responsibly?

LM I feel like I’ve heard the popular sentiment, “don’t plan, just go with the flow” a whole lot. But the reality is that if you’re going with the flow, you’ll take the path of least resistance and end up going where all the other tourists and backpackers are going. To really, truly go off the beaten path, it often takes serious intentionality and planning, especially in a place where you can’t speak the language. Transport is more difficult, knowing what sites are worth visiting is more difficult, finding guides is more difficult. Off the beaten path places are really everywhere. The places where most tourists go is an incredibly small list. So, it’s not really a matter of having trouble finding an off the beaten path place. Just stick your finger on a random place on a map and it’s pretty much guaranteed to be off the beaten path. But rather, the trouble is figuring out how to travel there.

Traveler forums like Lonely Planet or backpacker groups on Facebook can be a good place to get ideas, mostly as a starting point for crossing off places that are frequently mentioned and for starting research on places that are rarely mentioned. Asking locals, expats, or long-term travelers for ideas is also a good starting point. They often have spent enough time in a country to know where the hidden gems are. And again, to be responsible, find companies that are based locally, know the culture, and have a component of investing in conservation and the communities they work with.

WAP On a happier note, what’re you most looking forward to in your work and travels?

LM I really enjoy taking exploratory trips here in Kerinci. As I mentioned, I’m always looking to expand into new villages, which often means climbing some new mountain or taking some ancient rainforest trail to a hidden waterfall or hot springs known only by the people of that community. The feeling of exploration and adventure is incredibly exciting, especially when I’m lucky enough to come across wildlife that I may not have encountered before. And then seeing a community take ownership, to see the guides develop their skills, and see the tangible conservation and economic benefits that eventually start trickling in is really rewarding. It’s a slow, long-term process with lots of difficulties and mistakes — mostly by me — along the way, but that hope for a better world is what keeps me going.

All photos courtesy of Luke Mackin