There's a school of thought that suggests we should be taking fewer flights, travelling less and spending our holidays at home. Its proponents say that travel for its own sake is both selfish and self-destructive, but there's a counter-argument. Responsible tourism is an overwhelming force for good for the planet, and I've seen the effects, first hand.
On an Exodus trip to India dedicated conservationist Raj Sharma told me that without the tourists, the value of the tiger would be merely the sum of its parts - coat, teeth and whiskers, worth a couple of grand to a Moghiya poacher. Then he took me down the road to the village school - where a cricket team comprised of smiling 14 year olds annually humiliates an Exodus eleven - and said 'this too would disappear.'
On another trip, this time to Kenya, a Masai teacher showed me the school, the stand pipe, the books and uniforms funded by donations from Exodus clients, and in Peru a porter said that regular work on the trekking trails meant he could pay for his wife's medical treatment and send his daughters to school, giving them the opportunity to break the bonds of poverty.
I've heard similar tales from Ovahimba in Namibia, Bedouin in Jordan and Sherpas in Nepal, but it's not just the locals who benefit. I've watched Englishmen weep when confronted by the overpowering beauty of an Antarctic iceberg and others fall into an awestruck silence before Svalbard's shrinking glaciers. All came home as ambassadors for these vulnerable wildernesses.
I could have used this foreword to enthuse over Exodus' itineraries, to describe the passion of its guides or even to go into detail over some of its more interesting hotel choices, but I think there's a more important message.
It's this: don't stop flying. Don't stop visiting the far-flung and exotic. Don't stop taking your hard-earned to people whose lives and futures depend upon it and don't stop getting out there and bearing witness to the changes our planet is going through. Just make sure the tour operator you're travelling with cares as much about the world as you do. I can vouch for this one, because it does.
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