“Go to experience culture and nature” — an interview with Everything Everywhere’s Gary Arndt

Over the next few weeks we’ll be running a series of interviews with travel and tourism experts and writers, asking the question: can travel be a force for good?

For the first in the series, we talked to travel writer and photographer Gary Arndt.

Gary is a travel writer and photographer. His travel blog everything-everywhere.com regularly features in Top 10 lists — and was named one of Top Blogs in the World in 2010 by Time Magazine. He has been travelling full-time since March 2007, and has no plans to stop.

WTTC: What do you feel are the most positive effects of travel?

Gary Arndt: The primary personal benefit of traveling is learning about other places and other people. Once you have a personal experience with a place and have seen it with your own eyes, you are less likely to believe the stories you hear in the media and you won’t be afraid of the rest of the world.

From an economic standpoint, travel and tourism is the single greatest way to transfer money from developed countries to lesser-developed countries. Unlike aid, it is encouraging business development and entrepreneurship, and more often than not, goes directly into the hands of the people, not the government.

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What about the negative aspects?

The biggest danger is going somewhere and not engaging with the community. Spending money in ways that do not stay in a community, and not taking time to experience local culture.

How can travellers make sure they have as positive an impact as possible?

Eat at locally-owned restaurants, and stay in locally-owned hotels and guesthouses. Go to experience culture and nature, not just to eat and drink.

Do you think your style of independent travelling is more likely to have a positive outcome than, say, package tours?

In general, yes, but you can have a positive impact while going on a group tour. One of my sponsors, G Adventures, is very keen to only use local hotels, restaurants, and transportation on their tours to keep as much money in the community as possible.

What about adventure or extreme sports travel?

Mostly positive. Adventure travelers tend to spend money locally. They are not likely to stay in global chain hotels and they will get out and engage with the community.

Are there any parts of the world that should be off-limits to travellers? If so, why?

The only places I think should be off-limits are war zones or exceptionally dangerous areas.

Are there are any countries, destinations or travel businesses doing things that particularly inspire you?

I think what Palau has done with respect to protecting their reefs and marine life is something more countries should emulate. That is a direct case of tourism being responsible for greater wildlife protection. Because so much of their economy is dependent on diving and tourism, they have a very high incentive to protect everything.

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What about travellers or travel writers who are helping make the world a better place?

Yes, there are several people who I think are doing a great job in that respect. Shannon O’Donnell has been a spokesperson for responsible volunteering around the world. Likewise, Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott have also championed responsible tourism.

Do you have any personal experiences of how travel and tourism is having a positive impact on the world?

One of the first places I visited back in 2007 was in the Yasawa islands of Fiji. One day I hired a guide to take me up a mountain on the island. It was $10 for a 3-hour hike. While on the hike I talked to my guide and learned that he lived near the capital of Suva and was working at the locally-owned resort to build a home for his family.

I returned to the same resort 3 years later and found that he was now a manager and had built the home for his family.

His story, and many others like that, all are the result of tourism.

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What’s the most positive or inspiring experience you’ve had?

In 2009 I was on Nizwa, Oman. I was at a taxi stand to get a ride back to Muscat. While I was there, a random Omani man pulled up and offered me a ride. He spoke no English. I spoke no Arabic. He drove me 100km to Muscat, bought me dinner and refused to take any money for gas. After he dropped me off at my hotel, I went back to thank him and he was already gone.

I had never seen that level of hospitality anywhere else in the world and really changed my attitudes towards the region.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are the writer’s opinions and do not represent the views of WTTC as an organisation.

Next in the series, we’ll talk to Shannon O’Donnell of A Little Adrift about her experience of responsible tourism and championing volunteering around the world.

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