Finding Perspective Through Responsible Travel - The Good Life Blog

The concept of mindful travel has become synonymous with sustainability in recent years, but what does it really mean? Following a trip to Jordan to visit the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative, we caught up with Ellie and Ravi from Soul Travel blog, to find out how responsible travel enables them to gain perspective and practise mindfulness on the road.

 

Soul Travel Ellie and Ravi

The mission to define responsible travel

The Soul Travel blog was born in late 2015 when Ellie took her experience of working in the tourism industry and combined it with a passion for seeking out and promoting sustainability in the travel space.

“I really enjoyed working in travel but was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of sustainability in the tourism industry. Soul Travel was born from that.”

Ravi joined the Soul Travel partnership last year after the pair met through their travels in India. Together, they have been travelling the world, visiting sustainable travel operators, promoting good causes, but most importantly, providing useful and actionable advice on how to travel responsibly.

“Our guiding mission is to help filter down what responsible or sustainable travel really is. [Sustainable travel] is a concept which is being spoken about a lot more over recent years, but there are also a lot of people, or companies, that are jumping on the bandwagon of sustainable travel just for marketing efforts.”

Following a ‘voluntourism’ (when individuals travel to developing countries to carry out volunteer work) experience in Cambodia when she was younger, Ellie discovered there are many companies that profited from the volunteers, whilst the communities did not.

“It opened my eyes to the fact that we think that we can do good when we travel, but it’s not always that straightforward.”

Ellie explains that despite the increased awareness of sustainability to the average traveller, authentic ‘eco-tourism’ or volunteering companies can be hard to find.

“We want to give people useful, actionable information about what they can do and where they can go that really gives back when it comes to travelling.”

 

What to look out for in a responsible travel operator

“Consumers should really look for a company that talks about their commitment to sustainability and can give concrete examples of what they do.”

With the growing awareness and demand for sustainable travel operators, research is everything when it comes to choosing a company to book with. With the rise of ‘eco-hotels’ or ‘eco-tours’, it is becoming more important that consumers are well-informed about what those companies are actively doing in the area of sustainability.

Soul Travel landscape photograph

“Consumers should really look for a company that talks about their commitment to sustainability and can give concrete examples of what they do.”

“The first thing that we advise people to look for, is a company’s sustainability policy. There are different ways that companies can be doing something in sustainability. For some people, that might be supporting environment – for others that could be giving back to the local community.”

Once a company has been chosen, the next recommendation is to look for examples of what is being done in the destination you might want to visit. That could be in the form of supporting the protection of a local culture or providing local employment. Each person can have a particular area of interest.

“What we like to look for is whether companies encourage or allow people to take local transport and interact with locals. Rather than just going to the top 10 tourist destinations, we want to know if there is an opportunity to experience real local life,” says Ellie.

 

The link between responsible travel and mindfulness

“To be mindful when you travel does not mean that you have to do three hours of yoga a day. It’s more about immersive experiences, so really looking for those connections; laying yourself open to new connections and opportunities as well as being mindful of your impact on local communities.”

Whilst writing about sustainability and providing advice on how to travel more responsibly, Ellie and Ravi also write a lot about mindful travel. Describing the link between the concepts of sustainability and mindfulness, Ellie suggests that the concept of ‘mindful travel’ is fairly subjective.

“Responsible travel, sustainable travel and mindful travel are pretty similar concepts. Of course there are nuances, but in essence, they are the same – it depends on the person.”

Soul Travel Ellie Ravi in Jordan

Conscious that some people may view mindful travel as something related to spirituality, Ellie believes that it can be more about searching for real connections to a place, culture or person.

“To be mindful when you travel does not mean that you have to do three hours of yoga a day. It’s more about immersive experiences, so really looking for those connections; laying yourself open to new connections and opportunities as well as being mindful of your impact on local communities.”

Ravi stresses that finding those immersive experiences doesn’t mean totally cutting off from your normal standard of living, but rather taking the time to experience the local lifestyle.

“It doesn’t mean that [finding mindfulness] can’t be in a luxurious environment as well. It’s more about being conscious and taking the time to really understand the place that you are visiting.”

Sustainable travel can have a hugely positive impact on the local communities and environment. Whilst it may not be easy to travel sustainably all of the time, the more that he travels, Ravi has realised what impact his presence can have on a local community – and the importance of spreading that awareness.

“Travelling in a conscious way has a huge impact on the [local] communities…you then want to encourage other people to be more conscious and explain the consequences of travelling on a regular basis.”

 

Finding real human connections in Iraq Al Amir, Jordan

 

“When we visited Iraq Al Amir, we found that the interactions we had with the people helped us to connect so easily, and provided us with the perspective of how travel really matters and what a difference it can make to their daily lives.”

A recent example of when Ellie and Ravi found a real connection to the local people and places includes a trip to the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative in Jordan.

woman weaving in Jordan

The Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative is a project that trains local women to make a range of cultural handicrafts, which in turn attracts tourism to the area.

Ellie and Ravi explain that travelling to meet the women at the cooperative changed their perspective of the country and also demonstrated the positive impact that sustainable tourism can have on a local community.

“When we visited Iraq Al Amir, we found that the interactions we had with the people helped us to connect so easily, and provided us with the perspective of how travel really matters and what a difference it can make to their daily lives. The interactions were so positive and inspirational; it was a positive exchange of learnings on both sides.”

“There, you have a real opportunity to engage with people and get a window into their everyday life, which is not something that you’d get from ‘bucket-list travel’,” adds Ellie.

Following the rise of tourism to the local area, the women involved in the Iraq Al Amir project have had their quality of life changed for the better.

“[The women] are really inspirational to their own local communities, they are local heroes… With more outside visitors coming to Iraq Al Amir, the woman had got more respect from the men in the village.”

Both Ravi and Ellie found that the experience of really connecting with the local women gave them a rewarding feeling of perspective. With projects like the Iraq Al Amir cooperative making a positive change to communities and facilitating the opportunity to connect with local people, travellers can become more aware of how their actions impact others.

 

How mindful travel can change your perspective

Speaking about the impact of travel on the world, SoulTravel is passionate about sustainable travel being a force for good. Ellie believes that travel not only impacts the community but also contributes to the individual’s personal development.

“People are thrown into situations outside of their normal environment, which can make them become a lot more aware. The potential of travel to transform us, and to transform a society, is huge.”

Soul travel Ravi india beach

After leaving India and travelling a lot more of the world, Ravi explains how travel has transformed his perspective on the world.

“One thing I have learned from my travels is that you really don’t understand anything about communities until you travel there.”

He explains that he has met Western people who have described his country of India as ‘dirty’. It was not always his view, until he had travelled further and listened to other people’s perspectives.

“Travel is a means to educating yourself, and can give you perspective about the difference you can make to the people, places and land that you travel.”

Following his experiences of other countries and other people’s views, Ravi now tries to spread awareness to the local people and communities about the consequences of their actions.

“Starting a conversation can really help to spread awareness…Most of the time, people are not even aware that their actions are not contributing to a greater good.”

 

Finding space for mindfulness when on the road

When travelling on busy schedules and outside of a normal habitat, it can be hard to make time for reflection or stillness. When asked how they find mindfulness on the road, Ravi and Ellie explain that it comes down to making a commitment.

“For those who are keen to expand their mind or consciousness, we recommend doing twenty to thirty minutes of meditation. It can be hard with early starts, but if you make that commitment, it’s really good to start the day with those minutes of stillness… If you’re somebody that just wants to get away from it all, go and connect with nature.”

Soul Travel couple responsible travel nature

Ultimately, finding time and space for mindfulness can start by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

“Go a little off the tourist path in the destination you’re visiting. Maybe that means travelling alone when you wouldn’t normally. Perhaps it’s even turning your phone off for a few days, that’s something we particularly value.”

Ellie and Ravi are the couple behind Soul Travel blog. Their mission is to make responsible travel accessible and easy, spreading opportunities to travel more mindfully and form real connections through travel in today’s world. Read more about their trip to Jordan with Trafalgar and their visit to the Iraq Al Amir Treadright Foundation project.

You can visit the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative on the Jordan Experience trip with JoinTrafalgar, powered by TreadRight.

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