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How Travel Can Help Change the World

By Julia Cosgrove

Oct 1, 2021

From the November/December 2021 issue

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Earthwatch biologists Manoel and Julian plant seedlings in one of the Atlantic Forest reserve’s many plant nurseries.

Photograph by María Magdalena Arréllaga

Earthwatch biologists Manoel and Julian plant seedlings in one of the Atlantic Forest reserve’s many plant nurseries.

Yes, travel can be a force for good. Here’s how to celebrate diversity on the road, travel more sustainably, and have more meaningful trips.

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These days I watch endless episodes of vintage Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with my school-age daughters. “Look for the helpers,” Fred Rogers famously said. “You will always find people who are helping.” That sentiment has resonated with me during the last 18 months as I’ve thought a lot about the word “care” and the role of travelers as stewards and protectors of our planet, one another, and ourselves.

How can our travels make a positive impact during a pandemic, climate emergency, and an economic and racial reckoning? How can we travel sustainably in a way that truly empowers communities, celebrates the rich diversity of the world, mitigates and helps tackle the ongoing global environmental crisis, and leaves us enriched when we return? And most importantly, how is what I just wrote not mere lip service? 

As I think about where travel is going—where travel must go—here’s my attempt at a North Star to guide both travelers and the travel industry today:

  • Travel must intentionally do more good than harm. 
  • Travel must be radically inclusive and celebrate all of us equitably.
  • Travel must strengthen the economic resilience of local communities.
  • Travel must promote empathy and demonstrate that we have more in common than what we think divides us.

Lofty? Maybe. Idealistic? Perhaps—but we’ve devoted our entire November/December issue of AFAR to these themes, from the myriad ways travel can be a force for good, a celebration of Black Cuba, to the ethics of voluntourism, and one writer’s view on her hometown of Minneapolis through an Indigenous lens. As you read these stories, I invite you to ask yourself what fuels your sense of social responsibility when it comes to travel. Please share your thoughts with me on Twitter @jules_afar.

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