After the Hurricane: Why we owe it to the Caribbean to continue to travel
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we take and give to the places we visit. You can barely finish reading one “Praying for…” status update before reading another “Our hearts go out to…”. Sitting comfortably in Canada, I have no fears that a hurricane, tsunami or earthquake is imminent. I’m not worried about how I’ll rebuild my life without personal treasures or people I care about. It’s clear to me that to be in this position is a luxury.
But so too is the way many of us live our lives even when Mother Nature’s fury isn’t at the top of the news cycle. If we’re honest many travelers treat the Caribbean and Mexico as a place for pretty pictures and tropical drinks, white sand and blue seas. We flock to the islands’ richest areas, the ones created for our tourist dollars and tend to steer clear of the poorer, day-to-day lives of the people in the places we visit. It’s not a judgment, just an observation.
I’m not innocent of it either. I remember being incredibly affected by the book Little Bee many years ago. I was moved to write then too. The premise of a protagonist who dared to step beyond a hotel’s ivory walls and meet the locals, for better or worse, really resonated with me. It’s how I’d like to travel too. But it isn’t always what happens.
Post-Hurricane Caribbean Travel | Beyond the Beach
Sometimes I’m in a destination where the nature of the story that I’ve been asked to write focuses on the superficial. It is a story meant to entertain. That’s okay too. The issue, in my opinion, isn’t that the tourism spots exist, it’s that sometimes we forget to recognize the people who exist beyond ensuring our vacations go well. That kind of tunnel vision happens a lot.
It’s unfortunate because meeting the people and exploring the realities of local day-to-day life, has often netted me some the best memories. I like when I can do it with a new-to-me friend or local tour guide. Someone who can offer some insight into what I’m seeing. I’m not interested in poverty tourism where people are on display like animals, I’m interested in true connection and interaction that I can learn from and share. Sometimes that’s in visiting a neighbourhood off property, sometimes it’s chatting with the bartender or the housekeeper on site.
While that has always been the goal, these past few weeks (and the earthquake/hurricane damage they’ve brought with them) have made it especially clear that as travellers we have a role to play in the lives of the people who live in the places we claim to love. We need to do our part for those bucket list destinations that are now bailing themselves out of hard times.
And while yes, they need our donations. (Please see below for ways you can help.) Consider also the small but important act of not turning your back on the very things that you loved about these places in the first place.
Post-Hurricane Caribbean Travel| Book It Now
Visit Antigua, Dominica, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and so many others who along with their homes and loved ones, may have livelihoods that depend on your admiration of that white sand beach and spicy food. Spend your dollars on the ground. Donate while you’re there – your money or your time or both. Reach out to the hotels before you go and ask them how you can help.
Of course, you’ll need to be prudent. Check ahead to make sure your destination of choice is ready for visitors. The truth is many are or will be in the months ahead.
Go. When you can; where you can. And remind them that you haven’t forgotten the memories they gave you and that you are more than willing, especially now, to help them rebuild their lives by making new ones.
Here are a few places you can find updates on islands you may be considering:
All islands: http://caribbeantravelupdate.com/
Puerto Rico: http://puertoriconow.seepuertorico.com/
US Virgin Islands: https://www.visitusvi.com/
British Virgin Islands: http://www.bvitourism.com/
Antigua & Barbuda: http://www.visitantiguabarbuda.com/