Jamaica & Sustainable Travel: Who Really Is the Best Traveler?

To say that I am embarrassed about most travelers is simultaneously conceited and an understatement.

I typically lump travelers into four categories:

-Those who will notify you of any past or future plans without being solicited.

-Dependents, too afraid (or too lazy) to venture off without a guided and planned tour.

-Extremists, those who will only travel for a particular reason.

-Non-converted, those who take their home amenities and atmosphere with them to different locations.

 

I am probably (unjustly, hopefully) seen as a notifier, never mistaken for a dependent, shun extremism, and never seek advice from a non-converter. Bring in the case in point of my recent stay in Jamaica, a location picked mostly for logistical reasons that fell through a month from our flight check-in time.

Leading up to our experience on the island we asked around (after already purchasing tickets and a place to stay) and received less than warm responses. Mainly friends, family, and otherwise complained about the constant bribery the police took against tourists, or the lack of safety, or even accusing the people of stingy friendliness. All of these statements from friends or acquaintances can make a mind wander. Obviously we were putting down money that once spent we meant for it to provide 100% or more of value in return.

On arrival we made it through to find our driver, Michael, waiting. We introduced ourselves and waited for the van to pull around while breathing in the tropical air, already a far cry from the rainy cold we had originated from. From the conversation at the very start we should have realized just how accommodating and friendly everyone on the island would be.

Even as we went around the island to eat, shop, or play we were always asked the same question, “Which resort are you staying in?” When our reply was “We are not staying in a resort, but in a villa in Runaway Bay.” the Jamaican always changed their tune, not strongly or too noticeably, but just enough for us to recognize a different treatment we were in store for. Why this happened I am still wondering.

  1. Resorts employ more locals than villas.
  2. Both villas and resorts are typically owned by foreigners.

My assumption is that resorts create boundaries, they are built to keep people in, not let them out. A heightened sense of awareness is created when you are in alien environments, but in villas, with trust in the staff and house, you feel as if you are home. Not too mention that traveling from New Orleans to the Caribbean back to New Orleans made me feel as if I was never too far from night’s sleep in my own bed.

It’s the same with “travel experts”. What type of travel and are they really taking into account any of the effects on locals…not just the effects on themselves? Your profile picture is you lounging with a drugged up tiger in Thailand wearing a Singha t-shirt. This tells me that you travel selfishly. That you care to see the country from your vantage point and only dip down artificially to cultivate the image of your accepting a culture.

My focus on the travel and tourism industry is centered around sustainable travel. Weighing the options available to a traveler to ensure the utmost priority is given to activities, food, and lodging that directly impacts the local’s economy, not culture.

Yes, as tourists we are seen as a revenue stream and will in return be handled with care much like a commodity. The culture is different, but that is why we travel. To encounter how others live their similar lives differently. Jamaica is still shrouded with uneasiness yes, but where in America can you visit and not say the same? It is merely the similarities dressed up as new circumstances that drive us travelers to experience.

 

Some books written by people much smarter than me on travel:

Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

Candice Millard, A River of Doubt

 

 

Previously written for Medium.