Many travelers have been reflecting on how they interact with the world over the past year due to the forced hiatus caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. For Samantha Bray , managing director of The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), the idea of adjusting one’s own behaviors and decisions in relation to the impact of travel has always been at the forefront of her mind.
“Because travel is—of course—meant to be a fun activity, it is often misunderstood as being simple. It’s not,” Bray says. “It’s extremely complex and requires tremendous coordination between public, private, and civil sectors, involving environmental, social, cultural, and economic components. It traverses various other industries, including transportation, infrastructure, energy, waste management, education, and cultural heritage.”
CREST is dedicated to improving responsible travel, and coordinating between governments and policy makers, tourism businesses, and nonprofits. The organization is particularly focused on the threats of climate change and overtourism, as well as the loss of cultural heritage and biodiversity.
“In practice, responsible tourism operates in a virtuous circle: The tourism industry and travelers operate in a way that takes care of the very characteristics that make a place unique in the first place, ensuring it can continue to be a wonderful place to live and visit,” Bray says. “Using responsible tourism as a tool to steward the distinctive character of place is essentially a destination’s competitive advantage.”
Recent efforts include establishing the Future of Tourism Coalition with a handful of partner organizations, and the preparation of a forthcoming book, Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future. In the field, one project may focus on food waste reduction and biofuel in Jamaica, and another on protecting the environment and rural communities of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula while expanding tourism for economic development.
While it may seem difficult for an individual to make an impact, as a dedicated traveler herself, Bray believes it’s easy to get started. “When I’m planning a trip, I always think about it in terms of what decisions I can make that are kindest to the planet and its people, and how can I make sure the experience I have is as authentic and localized as possible,” she says.
Bray, 32, shared some of her favorite things around the world with Penta.
The perfect meal at home is... butter chicken with garlic na’an. Influenced by the Indian and Pakistani family cooking of childhood best friends, my husband has perfected this dish. I am an able sous chef, and we always make this together for my birthday and other special occasions.
A childhood memory I treasure is... time spent on my grandparent’s farm or on the road with my parents. I grew up in rural Missouri, where my parents were (and are) professional potters. They traveled a lot to go to art shows all over the country, and I sometimes was able to take my schoolwork and go with them. I loved seeing new parts of the country and meeting new people. When I wasn’t able to go, I stayed with my grandparents. I enjoyed climbing trees, riding my bike down dirt roads, learning to drive on my grandpa’s lap as he checked the fields, and helping my grandma in the garden.
The best book I’ve read in the last year is... The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver . It’s the story of a missionary family from the U.S. South that goes to the Congo to “save” the people in a rural community in the 1960s. It’s a helpful reminder to check our ethnocentric views and to open ourselves to other perspectives and human connection. Kingsolver’s storytelling and well-researched content always leaves me feeling like I just took the most interesting history or humanities class.
A passion of mine that few people know about is... knitting! I learned in 4-H growing up, and you’ll rarely find me able to sit down on the couch and just relax unless I am working on a project.
When travel opens up more freely, the first place I’m going is... Ireland. We had planned to go in 2020, and before any trip, I put together a reading list to immerse myself in the history and stories of the destination. I’m all studied up and ready to go as soon as it is safe to jump on a flight! We’re planning to take a trip with Country Walkers , where we are able to walk from village to village and stay in rural villages in between.
The thing that gets me up in the morning is... that travel is the key to peace through understanding.
A person who inspired me to do what I do is... Jonathan Tourtellot . Jonathan was the founder of the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, and he came to my university for the launch of our geotourism program my sophomore year. I was exhilarated by geotourism : tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place—its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents… I now have the opportunity to work alongside Jonathan through CREST and his organization, the Destination Stewardship Center .
The one thing in my kitchen or fridge that I can’t live without is... tea or hot sauce—though not together!
If I could have a drink with anybody, anywhere, it would be... Michelle Obama . I’m currently reading Becoming and admire her fierce determination, courage, and how well she knows herself. I often find myself nodding along as she describes her feelings. I think we would have endless points of connection.
The one thing I’m doing more of to help me get through this difficult time is... yoga. My husband and I took a fantastic virtual class on the “8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga” through Bodhi Surf + Yoga in Costa Rica this summer, and it was just what I needed to stay in shape and clear my mind. I had always been intimidated by doing yoga in classes, and Bodhi’s virtual class was the perfect way for me to learn. I practice yoga three to five times per week now, and it has been a game changer. I also love the mantra we repeat at the beginning of each class: “May all living things be happy and free, and may my thoughts, words, and actions contribute to that happiness and freedom for all.”