For the next in our interview series, PALA Meets, we’ve spent some time with the lovely people behind Soul Travel. Ellie Cleary has been in the travel industry for well over a decade, working for some of the world’s largest travel brands. Since 2015, she’s been travelling the world full-time promoting responsible tourism through her blog, Soul Travel. In 2017, she met her partner Ravi Rane, and together they now blog about the positive impact of travel, not only on ourselves, but on the destinations we visit and the world around us.
Ellie and Ravi, thanks so much for chatting to us. For many people, the idea of travelling and blogging sounds like a dream way to make a living. What led you on this path and is it as glamorous as it sounds?
Hi and thanks for having us first of all! Yes it definitely sounds like the dream doesn’t it. There’s also been a lot of glamorisation around being a “digital nomad” which doesn’t necessarily help communicate a more…real… picture. First off, we feel very happy to be doing what we are doing – but the best part really is being able to help spread the word about more sustainable and ethical travel companies and accessories – such as Pala. There’s so much going on in the world of responsible travel, but it can be hard to find all the information. So that’s what really led us on this path – to help communicate how responsible travel is possible. Working from the beach sounds great, but we actually don’t do that (and btw sand in laptops? Not so practical :-D). Blogging has been a lot of hard work, and we find it easier when we have a fixed base – we’re now based in Toronto, Canada.
The goal of the blog is to promote the concept of sustainable travel and to showcase responsible tourism options. Why is this so important – what are the dangers of mass tourism?
One of the most obvious things we see in so many tourism hotspots are the crowds – the sheer number of people crowding a place. Which doesn’t make for a pleasant experience for anyone, and of course the problems that it causes – such as erosion of delicate historical sights, kids skipping school because they can make more money selling trinkets to tourists (to name but a couple) are numerous.
Beyond the crowds, one of the problems of mass tourism is also our behaviour as tourists. How much do we actually care about the place we are going to, and the people that call it home vs just getting an instagrammable picture of ourself there? Mass tourism provides little benefit to local communities and people – with the vast majority of money spent by visitors staying outside of that country and into the profit lines of large multi-national travel companies. Where as travel that is more independent and local directly gives back to the places we visit: locals can earn a living through tourism and share some of their culture with us. That’s what we like to think of as a win-win exchange.
Ultimately, it’s a numbers problem. We are all travelling much more than ever before, and far more people around the world have the resources to travel (although not everybody, and we still regard travel very much as a privilege). The number of international travellers is forecasted to increase to 1.8 billion international arrivals by 2030 (UNWTO) so the question is: how are destinations going to cope with this? And how can we as travellers try to make sure our impact is as good as possible. The second question is what we primarily try to answer through our blog posts.
Don’t you need time and money to travel sustainably and stay in luxury eco lodges? How can we travel responsibly on a budget?
This is such a great question. It’s certainly true that the eco-friendly or more sustainable options that get most visibility and airtime are the high-end options. After all, who doesn’t want to go and sleep between organic cotton sheets in an environmentally friendly jungle lodge in Costa Rica?
But the truth is, responsible travel is possible on any budget. In fact, we’ve often found that travelling in a more responsible way saves us money as opposed to costing us extra. And that’s because for us responsible travel is often about fitting in with local life and trying to travel alongside locals. We’re die hard fans of train rides: they don’t just come with a better view (than flying); but we’ve also made some great friends on long train rides. Taking public transport is just one example of responsible travel that doesn’t cost extra.
When it comes to accommodation, couch-surfing or hosted airbnbs (we’re not supporters of non-hosted/shared airbnbs where you stay with locals can be a great way to get an introduction to a new place from the local point of view. And they’re usually far cheaper than bland chain hotels.
Last but certainly not least,there are also many simple guesthouses, small hotels, homestays and farmstays that may not market themselves as “sustainable” or “eco” but are locally owned, and often offer a unique insight into local life as well as personable and friendly service. This is our favourite type of accommodation when we travel – and again, these are usually modest in price. You can even “Woof” (work on an organic farm) in exchange for accommodation in Europe if you’re looking to be away for longer!
These kind of adaptations can be made to any kind of trip – you don’t need to be travelling for months on end to adopt a more responsible type of travel.
For anyone who may be just starting to consider how to travel more responsibly, do you have any advice on how to approach your travel planning?
Luckily, more and more is being written on this topic and travel companies are being forced to get more transparent on what they do to create a better impact. The flip side of this is that more and more travel companies are using “eco” for marketing benefits, without necessarily doing a lot.. so doing your research is really important.
A great place to start is our Sustainable Travel Resources. Definitely grab a guide book / e-guide / read up on where you are going *before* you head there as this will help understand the history, places and cultural norms of the place. Even places that we think of as being quite similar to home can have different cultural practices and a little respect of these goes a long way, as does a few words of the local language.
Plastic waste has already become a huge problems in many countries, but especially developing ones. We never travel without our refillable water bottles, our Steripen water filter (great for trekking or countries where you need to treat the tap water), metal straws and re-usable bags. Small efforts like this go a long way if more of us do them.
Ellie, you’ve visited more than 40 countries. Where is your favourite place to travel and where is still on your bucket list?
Well one thing is for sure – the more places we are fortunate enough to go to, the more places we want to visit or go back to! India holds a very special place in both of our hearts of course – Mumbai is Ravi’s hometown and where we met, and I fell in love with India during my first visit in 2015.
We’d love to explore more of the silk route and the ‘stans (the architecture looks incredible, for one) and we’d like to travel more into Africa next year – particularly countries such as Ghana, Botswana and Namibia who are becoming globally recognised for their sustainable tourism efforts. So let’s see where we end up!