Almost everyone has heard the final lines of Robert Frost´s famous poem The Road Not Taken. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
While many of us might find inspiration in these words when it comes to making some momentous decision in life—where to move to, what university to attend, what job offer to accept; Frost himself offered that the poem was more about encouraging people to find meaning in the everyday, inconsequential decisions in life.
When it comes to travel, very few people ever choose the “road less traveled.” We have guidebooks, travel agents, Trip Advisor and hundreds of other resources that essentially help us plan our trip following from the well-trodden paths of others. Instead of entering into new places with the resolve to understand the reality of the community and the people who live there, we search for places of fantasy where castles in the sky help us escape our own reality for a few days.
The problem with this sort of travel is twofold. Firstly, the tourism industry, instead of being a needed source of income and empowerment for marginalized, small communities around the world, has been essentially monopolized by large corporations. Secondly, instead of experiencing the marvels, curiosities, and sensations of other cultures, contexts, and places, our travels most often take us to places where one might experience a different climate, but the same lifestyle and culture.
Taking the “road less traveled” when planning a vacation implies making the extra effort to not simply read the reviews on the five star hotels on Trip Advisor, but rather find ways to truly engage the reality of the places you visit, connect with local culture, and allow yourself to absorb the awe that comes with truly experiencing a place different than your own.
The Ethical Implications of Finding the Road Less Traveled
Whether you book an African Safari, a snorkeling trip in the South Pacific, or a trek to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, your local guide is most likely nothing more than an underpaid employee of some international tourism conglomerate who has been given a script by his employers to supposedly “enchant” tourists with the oddities of the place you´re visiting.
While many UN studies find that tourism has the potential to positively affect the lives and livelihoods of small communities around the world, other studies admit that the nature of most tourism investment and the lack of authentic participation and protagonist role of impoverished communities cause much of this investment to leak away from poor destinations. In this scenario, the potential economic gains from tourism, instead of supporting the poor, end up concentrated into the hands of investors in the multinational tourism industry.
There are, however, thousands of small, sustainable, community-based tourism efforts headed and controlled by small communities. The La Laguna Community Eco-Tourism Cooperative in the mountains of northern El Salvador, for example, is an effort organized by local youth to help young people in their community find sustainable sources of income from the tourism industry in order to avoid forced migration to the dangerous urban centers of Central America or to the United States.
By choosing to forego the Marriott or the luxurious beachside resort operated by some multinational tourism conglomerate and opting instead for supporting community-based tourism efforts, you can be sure that the money you spend on travel will be going to support grassroots initiatives that support communities in search of improving their lives.
The problem, of course, is that it´s not always easy to find community-based tourism operators. Most community-based tourist projects aren’t on the internet and if you have no connections to the places you’re planning on traveling, you might have no way of finding authentic community option. Forward Momentum Travel is a travel agency committed to making contacts with people and communities around the world in order to ensure that the benefits from tourism goes straight to the grassroots.