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COLUMN: Viewpoint – The benefits of international travel

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When you read this I’ll be in Tanzania spending time with Steinbach friends at a lodge near Mount Kilimanjaro run by former Manitoba residents Darryl and Shirley Peters.

Before I left someone asked me if I thought it was selfish to travel. They were feeling pressure from their religious community to curtail personal pleasure trips because of their harmful environmental impact. Should responsible world citizens just stay home?

I thought about that as I packed for Tanzania. Although I knew my trip would contribute to the warming of the planet many things I’d do if I stayed home would be ecologically unfriendly too, like turning up the heat in my condo, driving my car, and eating imported foods.

Travel has expanded my world view and taught me so many important lessons. I can’t imagine giving it up. I know you can read about other countries, and watch films about them, but I’ve discovered those things pale in comparison to the new understandings and insights you gain from actually visiting a place.

I think international travel helps you become more open-minded and progressive. It fosters relationships that can bring about positive change in our world. I was not surprised to learn the American states with the highest percentage of Donald Trump voters were the same states with the lowest percentage of people with passports. I attended a panel discussion hosted by Canadian Mennonite University after 9/11. One panellist proposed world peace might best be achieved if every eighteen-year-old on the planet was sent to live and travel in a different country for a year.

I know we all need to make personal sacrifices to aid environmental sustainability but the changes that must happen to really turn things around are huge alterations in infrastructure systems, manufacturing systems and delivery systems. Those require committed governments. Perhaps far more influential an act on my part than cancelling my Tanzania trip is to cast my vote for political parties that take global warming seriously and are investing in things like cleaner and cheaper methods of transportation.

For those of us who choose to still travel to international destinations there are things we can do to mitigate its negative environmental impact.

Fly economy class. A first-class or business ticket creates four times the amount of carbon emissions. Flying economy is what makes travel affordable for my husband and me.

Reduce your luggage. The heavier it is the more fuel is burned carrying it. Just having carry-on-luggage seems the best for us. That way our bags can’t get lost either.

Stay in one place rather than continually travelling. We have discovered that spending longer periods of time in one location is the best way to get to know a country and connect with the people living there.

Take a close look at the places you will be staying. At Dashir Lodge, where will spend our time in Tanzania, they generate 95% of their energy from wind and solar sources. Their water is recycled to irrigate their banana plantation and the vegetables and herbs they serve guests are grown in their own organic gardens. They provide employment to many local people.

It might be best for the planet if I stayed close to home for the rest of my life. But I’m not prepared to make that choice right now and I’m not sure feeling guilty about it is helpful. I look forward to the day when we can travel in a way that is less damaging to nature and humanity. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to make my travels as environmentally friendly as possible.

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