As many of us rush to book flights and grab that quaint, outdoorsy Airbnb, it's time for us to think about travel, and how we go about it. The concept of traveling better has increasingly become a topic of conversation — and rightfully so. We've seen the issue raised by mainstream publications like the New York Times, which asked, "When, if ever, is it unethical to visit a country?" and The Washington Post, which offered tips on how to be a socially conscious traveler. Too, travel bloggers and experts have taken it upon themselves to do that work, with Two Dusty Travelers and Mapping Megan exploring the idea of ethical travel.
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But there's been a gap: What if you also want to travel without doing the same old same old? Enter Travel North America: (and Avoid Being a Tourist). Authors Jeralyn Gerba and Pavia Rosati have compiled a travel guide that acknowledges the major trends of where people want to go, and both leans into them and subverts them.
If you're dreaming of a week at an Austin spa that your cool friends haven't heard of yet, they have you covered. If you have a vision of cabins and trees, they've got it handled there, too. If you have no idea what to pack, or what hobbies and activities translate well to outdoor travel, they have your back, with succinct lists in pleasing colors. The book is a pleasurable read, with gorgeous photos throughout and funny asides. You'll feel less like you're being shamed for your love of boutique hotels over roughing it in the wild, and more like you're in safe, understanding hands.
When it comes to travel, Rosati tells Hunker, "Trust your gut! No one knows what you like better than you, and that should weigh as heavily into your decisions as an expert's advice. (Including this one!) Recommendations are just that — recommendations, not gospels."
It's unsurprising that Gerba and Rosati have brought us the North American travel guide we need this year. They're the founders of an award winning travel website, Fathom, and are putting years of wisdom into this text. Thoughtful chapters like "Stay to Give Back," which helps readers "embrace hotels making smart, sustainable choices that contribute positively to the local community," offer unique takes on travel. It's not just about which hotel has the best tub. It's about which hotel is going to help you do good work while checking out gorgeous views — sustainably.
"Tourism has immense effects on communities large and small and we've seen how a destination can suffer without proper infrastructure, rules of engagement, and local environmental protections," Gerba tells Hunker. "Unfortunately, the industry can be exploitative; tourists have been given carte blanche to do and act however they please. Bad behavior takes a toll on local economies, the land, and quality of life for its inhabitants — often the people who suffer the most are the ones who don't have anywhere else to go."
In that vein, Gerba and Rosati also help readers escape in their own backyards, whether they live in Colorado or Florida.
Another twist on the travel guide? A focus on relationships. The book's seventh chapter, "The Company You Keep," encourages readers to remember that travel isn't just about what you pack, but about who you bring.
"They say that the people make the place," Gerba says. "Who you travel with determines how you travel (and where, when, and what you do once you get there). Then, there are the people you meet along the way. Spontaneous interactions can be the most serendipitous and make for the most lasting memories."
In one of my favorite asides, the authors offer, "We'll get to where you should go in a minute, but first, a quick public service announcement: remember to be considerate of other people when you travel."
It's a note that should feel obvious per standard travel platitudes, and yet it feels rare to have the message so clearly and unwaveringly proclaimed. In a time where so many of us are rushing to get back outdoors and finding ourselves waiting in long lines and competing for views and resources — like getting The Shot for social media — it feels necessary and valuable for Gerba and Rosati to remind us that we're not the only ones out there.
It's doubly beneficial as mask mandates shift in some places and not others — and as parts of the world welcome a return to "normal," while some are still struggling to get a vaccine. If we've learned anything in the last year and a half, it's that we can all stand to be reminded to take care of each other.
"Regenerative travel is where it's at!" Gerba says. "We need to leave each place a little better than we found it."
If and when you feel ready to step back into the world — whether you're visiting Indianapolis, Indiana or a 1000-plus acre farm in Pennsylvania, grab yourself (and your travel buddies) a copy of Travel North America: (and Avoid Being a Tourist). Even if it simply lives on your coffee table for a few months, it'll leave you feeling welcomed, challenged, and inspired.