This article was originally published in We Are Explorers.
Today, few secret pristine spots remain secret, or pristine, for very long.
Take only pictures and leave only footprints.
These are perhaps the two most broad and important nature conservation commandments for explorers to follow. There are few things more satisfying than keeping a slice of nature a joy forever.
And there are few things more disappointing than arriving at a beloved waterfall only to find that rubbish has been left behind, moss has been trampled on, and the tree on the left smells like toilet.
The most instinctive reaction, perhaps, is to blame it on those other people, those less educated than ourselves on the value and correct treatment of nature. And yet, today more so than ever before, we are complicit in outcomes well beyond those we imagined our actions would lead to.
Whenever we tell someone about a favourite trail or hideout, word spreads. Whenever we post about it on social media, word multiplies. This is negatively affecting places of great aesthetic and natural value – several examplesshow that, the more Instagram exposure a site receives, the more it can get damaged over time.
Weirdly enough, there are a lot of people out there who love how nature looks but still treat it neglectfully. Not to mention the fact that many spots simply can’t handle that much foot traffic.
Sure, we can say that our intended audiences are people with good habits like ours, and that there will always be those out there who will be driven to copy our money shot without observing the same rules we do. Instagram is full of mindless posers.
However, we are not so different to them if we don’t learn to shoot and post responsibly. To do so requires leadership.
What Is Slow Travel?
Slow Travel is a movement that aims to bring a greater appreciation of people and cultures into the tourist’s journey by injecting it with the temporal pace of everyday life.
Like its predecessor, slow food, it was conceived of as a way to counteract the tendencies of fast consumption, a la McDonalds and Topdeck tours, not through antagonistic opposition but rather by making the opposite form of consumption–the idle, mindful type–more appealing.
“Sure, we can say that our intended audiences are people with good habits like ours, and that there will always be those out there who will be driven to copy our money shot without observing the same rules we do. But we are not so different if we don’t learn to shoot and post responsibly.”
If people are spending more time at each place, then they are spending less time in cars and planes, and more time interacting with local people and businesses, and learning about the culture and challenges of each place.
Despite its generality, it was the perfect philosophy for a period when the world’s most popular destinations were getting overcrowded, and when platforms like WWOOF and Couchsurfing were facilitating a more personal travel experience.
Rather than attaching ethical weight to people’s leisurely experiences, Slow Travel aims to create situations where one’s mere presence can lead to a greater understanding of local values.
The phrase itself conveys this concept effectively, whether it is used in a late-night hotel conversation, a mainstream travel magazine, or on Instagram. The growth of Slow Travel has coincided with a greater geographic spread of tourism and with a greater diversity of tours and experiences, just look at #slowtravel on Instagram.
What would Slow Travel look like, if it was applied to nature?
If Slow Travel has slowed down the pace of tourism in built-up areas, perhaps the same can apply to natural areas. There are two ways to apply this philosophy here.
The first is to recognise the indigenous nation that each place lies within and the historical struggles of indigenous people to maintain their way of life.
The second is developing an awareness of the natural values of an area, especially those that may not immediately catch the eye and learning about conservation efforts in an area. In other words, ecotourism.
On both accounts, this level of engagement makes people more likely to observe the principles of Leave No Trace.It also makes people consider more destinations than the ones appearing the most on Instagram. The great thing is that making people more critical can also make them more creative.
“If Slow Travel has slowed down the pace of tourism in built-up areas, perhaps the same can apply to natural areas.”
The Next Step?
If you’re already engaging with your destinations in this manner, then great! Nature will thank you, and your experiences are probably more fulfilling. The next step is to incorporate the #slowtravel philosophy into the way you communicate your experiences.
The information on Instagram, Facebook and websites like We Are Explorers is hugely influential to those planning a nature trip. This is especially true of international visitors, who would not otherwise have heard of a spot and also of those deciding whether to follow the crowd to the popular destinations or seek a different trail.
The idea that someone would want to visit Lake Oberon in Victoria on a one day round-trip might seem absurd, but chances are they simply don’t know any better.
As we invite others into a precious natural environment, let’s make it standard practice to tell them about the traditional custodians of the land, its most vulnerable natural aspects and how they’re being protected (or how to protect them).
Be Proactive In Your Use Of Social Media
This level of responsibility is particularly important since the amount of trips to nature have increased by double digits both in NSW and in Australia overall, as has been the case in the last few years. Not to mention the fact that the National Parks and Wildlife Service have seen their funding and staff cut in recent years.
If your nature posts are getting a lot of traffic, chances are that you are as much the face of nature tourism as that government agency and that your reach extends well beyond your group of like-minded nature lovers.
Instead of looking on at the virality of poser photography in dismay, let’s use it as an opportunity to lead people towards slower, more mindful and more sustainable forms of tourism!
View this post on Instagram
Loved visiting Balaka Falls with @pvalle5645 in the early hours. Waterfalls, creeks, canals and drains remind me that even the most imposing concrete jungle is well integrated into the borderless, timeless flow of water. This suburban gem lies in the land of the Dharug people. Hunts Creek is a colourful wildlife sanctuary home to the endangered Purple Heath. #waterfall #Sydney #slowtravel #naturephotography