Responsible travel looks like having a personal water bottle, shopping at small businesses, eating at local restaurants, respecting cultures, and protecting wild places. It’s finding ways to have a positive impact on the economy of a small town while learning from your experiences and adventures there.
Responsible non-travel, in the time of COVID-19, looks quite similar: relying on yourself sustainably, finding ways to support local businesses, respecting local people, and protecting special spaces. It is safeguarding small communities by preserving their resources. It’s observing temporary guidelines to stay at home.
Let’s look at why the destinations you dream about or love enough to continue visiting need you to stay home for a while— how you can practice responsible non-travel.
Don’t take a road trip
The draw to travel in the spring is human nature. The impulse to change travel plans from flying to a big destination to hitting the road for a rural destination seems logical at first. Though it sounds like a great way to get outside and have an adventure without sharing air with a jet full of strangers, it’s still not advisable. Every stop you make along the way will have ripple effects on those towns, and your destination will feel your presence on a magnified scale as it responds to the urgent medical demands of COVID-19.
Buy supplies at home
Though toilet paper memes are prolific, the fact of the matter is that unnecessarily scooping up more than you need—be it hygiene products, canned vegetables, or bottled water—isn’t a laughing matter. This is particularly true in small communities with limited supplies that arrive on infrequent deliveries.
By staying off the road through this, you’re doing your part to make sure the elderly woman in your favorite climbing town can get her produce and that the big family in your favorite lakeside community doesn’t run out of hand soap.
This new take on sustainability will make it easier for those local stores to provide for its neighbors. It’s also a great way to support your local stores at a time when they really need it.
Shop local—near and far
We always recommend you shop locally while you’re traveling, and now we’re encouraging you to do the same at home as part of your non-travel. Look into ways that small businesses in your town have adapted—perhaps you can order date night food for curbside pickup or work with a local artist to spruce up your new home office.
You can extend the shop local principal to your travel aspirations. Some destinations, like Visit USA Parks’ own hometown of Lander, Wyoming, have found ways to “shop local” without setting foot in local shops or restaurants. Purchase gift cards online to use when you do visit later or buy art to help feed your plans to visit later.
Respect locals’ needs
Before you hit the road, think about the stops you’d have to make, and the ways that you may unknowingly spread disease. Consider what a sharp rise in novel Coronavirus cases might have on a town without a hospital. Respecting local cultures in this time of responsible non-travel isn’t so different from what you think about when you are traveling. Ask yourself: How will my vacation or visitation choices affect the daily lives and health of the people who live here?
Protect wild places with non-travel
If we all heeded the impulse to escape to pristine, wide-open spaces now, they wouldn’t be uncrowded for long, and we’d all be at risk once again. Furthermore, our impact on the land would be difficult for land management agencies like the National Parks Service to mitigate. Let’s make things a little easier for heroes like park rangers and saguaro cacti by giving them some space for a while. After all, it’s their natural state to have some alone time.
Don’t drain limited resources
We’ve touched on this already, but it’s worth repeating: Just because you feel safe in a car alone and hiking outside a cute town in the desert, doesn’t mean your actions are safe. Resources—from paper products to hospital beds to healthcare workers—are already strapped in many rural communities. Is taking that camping trip now worth increasing that strain?
Responsible Non-travel means postponing, not canceling
Responsible non-travel doesn’t mean canceling travel plans and trying to turn off your wanderlust. It just means taking each of the above precautions until your movement and presence won’t put others at risk of contracting COVID-19. Heed the guidance of authorities both where you live and where you plan to travel in the future. Don’t cancel, just postpone. Keep planning and daydreaming.
If you have already booked a trip, instead of canceling and demanding a full refund, accept a voucher or reschedule for a later date. Help businesses that rely on travel hang on over the next few months if you can by keeping your plans—just keep them fluid until we’re all well and can enjoy travel appropriately again. Then carry the lessons from this saga forward as you resume your travels.