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Responsible travel, another angle

I love my digital camera. I can zoom and snap and it’s lightweight and fits in my pocket. My days of lugging three lenses and tripods through the jungle are happily over but I’m finding digital access is changing the travel experience and our interactions and it’s not always for the good.

A friend of mine was chatting with me about her recent trip to Ethiopia. She’d been shocked by the people in her group. They clicked their way from village to village in the Omo Valley, barely looking up from their cameras and mostly ignoring the people they were visiting. Lining them up, shooting and then moving on, like a series of firing squads! I had a similar experience last year when I visited Tajikistan, a Country full of roads less traveled. It’s a precious part of the World, barely touched by tourism. Hotels are rare (we stayed mostly with local families) and in three weeks of travel I only found two places where crafts were being sold. In this emerging tourist economy we were pioneers but often not good ambassadors. Dollars were being traded for photos and some people were addicted to photographing anything and everything. If you were to piece their still photos back to back, you’d have a movie. Too many photos. No need to worry about getting the perfect shot as the law of averages was going to give them something. On another trip, I was walking through an Iranian village an hour before sunset. The widows were leaving the graveyard, where they spent their days chatting, and were weaving their way home. The late afternoon sun highlighted the patterns in their dresses and I must admit it was a special moment. I would have loved a photo but I sensed that it was intrusive. Not long after, our guide informed us that photos were forbidden but that still didn’t stop one of the group suruptitiously stealing photos when he thought no one was looking.

Unlike film, digital storage is cheap and we can click, review and repeat ad nauseum. It seems we have not only lost our kodachrome but our focus too. There are lots of reasons to travel and photography is just one of them. See the wider angle. We hear lots about responsible tourism these days. Travel companies compete for responsible awards but this is where one person (click) one person (review) and one person (repeat) can make a difference. Ask not what travel can do for you but what you can do for the country that you’re visiting. Instead of paying for photos, buy something in the market, perhaps a hand made broom or fruit and share this with someone who looks like they might need it down the road. Pack jump ropes and balls to play with the children in the hill tribes. Travel with a Polaroid camera (yes, you still can find film for them) and share photos. Give back. After you return home, help fund a micro loan in the country that you have just visited. By being involved, you’ll get more out of your travelling experience and, you never know, you could get better photos too!

Maz at Explore Worldwide

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