Who knows travel better than those who have dedicated their lives to it? In this series, 7travel talks travel & tips with industry experts. Learn the best travel tips, what mistakes not to make, and what destinations should be on your to-visit list.
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t see a story in the media about a tourist - or even a post from someone we know - making some kind of faux pas about misappropriating culture. But in this day and age, we are too wise and aware to continue making these mistakes. As travellers, it is our duty to be respectful to any culture we interact with during our trips, whether they are at home or abroad. Better yet, we should feel and embrace the responsibility to support local communities, especially Aboriginal and Indigenous communities, as we travel. At 7travel, we admire the great work that the TreadRight Foundation, not-for-profit working to help safeguard the planet, wildlife & people for generations to come, as a joint initiative between The Travel Corporation’s (TTC) family of brands.
In admirable support of The TreadRight Foundation and KARI Foundation’s first artisan grant in Australia, providing travellers, immersive indigenous experiences to offer a better understanding and appreciation for the culture and community that have existed in the land that we now call Australia for at least 50,000 years. Sarain Fox, Canadian Indigenous activist, actor, artist, TV presenter and TreadRight partner, sat with 7travel to delve into what it means to travel respectfully and how to create meaningful travel experiences.
As part of a new generation of young and empowered indigenous women and through your impressive work in activism, you have been able to travel the world. Do you have a favourite destination?
It really is amazing - I get to travel around the world and visit Indigenous communities, which feels like visiting home. One of the destinations that sticks out to me is when I visited the Big Island of Hawaii as there was a volcano eruption. The lava started to flow while we were there and we were watching nature totally take over. But what accompanied the lava flow was all of the stories that came from the Hawaiian people - it’s not just lava flowing from a volcano, it’s part of their creation story. It’s so grounding to be surrounded by community and learn from then at the right place at the right time.
You’re now an Ambassador for the TreadRight Foundation, which lives by an ethos of ‘Make Travel Matter.’ What does that mean to you?
When I align with an organisation, I like to see a proven track record of meaningful impact. I’m so grateful to be able to partner with a foundation like TreadRight, who does such great work. Their programs are broken down into so many robust ways to interact with the local communities.
But what’s most critical to me is the exploration of why we travel. Travel should create meaning in your life. It’s about going beyond the comfort zone. When you get to a certain point in your career, people often cater to your comfort zone. But I think it’s important to learn constantly by pushing the limit and have truly immersive experiences.
Remember how it felt when you met your best friend? That’s what travel and interacting with local communities is. Unless you’re immersed in a culture, you’re not really visiting a destination. When you connect human to human, you allow for ‘nation to nation’ building. And those personal connections create meaning and that’s what travel is all about!
Also, one of the things I’m so excited about with TreadRight Foundation and Kari Foundation is the opportunity the organisations create for Contiki Cares, AAT Kings and Trafalgar travellers, to be able to interact with Aboriginal communities where they’ll be able to have the opportunity for an immersive experience which allows to participate and learn about Aboriginal art. Working closely with Aboriginal artists for this project in turn, supports the micro-economy that already exists in the local environment, which uplifts the community. This is one way to leave a really positive mark and effecting positive change. No matter where you travel, if you seek out locally made souvenirs, you’re supporting sustainability and the micro-economies.
Why does it make a difference when we forge real connections in person instead of reading about it or learning about it from the media?
In order for us to access our humanity, we have to see each other. When we’re one step removed, we don’t get to have an organic connection, one that we’re really capable of. So when we’re travelling, we can’t just seek out a good time and pop through. It’s like someone coming to stay with you, staying on your couch, and not even saying hello!
It’s an incredible privilege to travel and to interact with other cultures and communities. If you travel with humility and curiosity, you allow other people to tell you their story instead of superimposing your version of what you imagine it to be.
Can you share tips for acting appropriately when meeting Indigenous communities for travellers who haven’t had that chance before?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! We often make the biggest mistakes when we’re try to act like we know and have all the answers. When you’re engaging with Indigenous or Aboriginal communities, find someone you can ask what the appropriate way to be. Indigenous people have their own stories and we have largely been not allowed to tell the stories ourselves. So creating opportunities for learning and exchange - that notion of nation to nation building - is so important.
The other concept I always go back to is nothing about us without us. If you ever have a question about whether or not something is appropriate, go with your gut. Most of the time, the answer is definitely no.
When those travellers return home, how can they continue to embrace the new cultures without being insensitive?
Listen to the narrative. When people share their knowledge and their stories, you have the freedom to share it as well but you don’t own it. When you travel, you don’t take ownership of the culture or the experience. Think about it like lending - they lent you the experience. Be conscious of how you take from others. It comes down to this easy saying: take only pictures, leave nothing behind.
And don’t yourself or be hard on yourself about doing everything right. As you travel, stay humble and open to learning.