My friend Tom who works with the London Zoo created a new word that recently got added into the English Oxford Dictionary. He’s a post-doc researcher that works closely with penguins and became a self-acclaimed “penguinologist.” If you google the term, he’s the second hit.
Likewise, I had the idea to invent a new word. I have a dialect of English my friends call Katrin-speak, but this is isn’t a word I’m pulling from my bad English vocabulary – its more like a philosophy of travel that I’ve adopted. “Lotourism.” Its a theory of tourism that isn’t captured by any other, one word. After completing my MA thesis on the discrepancies between defined and actualized ecotourism, I realized the term ecotourism is a vague, green-washed term, whose definition is undecided among academics, and sometimes unidentifiable in practice.
I liked to think I was an ecotourist, also called an alternative tourist, sustainable tourist, or an environmentally friendly tourist. But then these terms lead us to more definition inconsistencies, since “eco” and “environmental” and “sustainable” are all buzzwords overused and often misunderstood.
I like to think I travel sustainably, but not just natural resource sustainably – Im financially resourceful, with minimal luggage, staying with locals, and traveling slowly but steadily over short-haul distances.
Im not really a backpacker, since I avoid hostels and hate being defined by the stuff in a bag on my back. Im not always a tourist, since I try my best to camouflage into my surroundings and see things from a local perspective. I’m definitely a traveler, but so is the American guy sitting in business class flying to Dubai for a 2 hour business meeting before returning to London via Dakar for dinner in England’s most authentic Turkish restaurant. So I’ve realized there are different types of travelers, doing different types of travel, and when asked how I travel, my new answer is “I’m a lotourist.”
Lotourism is, in a nutshell, is kind of like ecotourism, redefined and on a budget. It is travel that is low-impact, low-cost, localized, and lonely.
1.) Low-impact: your footprint on the natural environment is minimal, which means your carbon footprint is low, your use of exhaustible or non-renewable resources is low, you create minimal or no waste, you dont contribute to the degradation of natural environments, your touristic activities and choice of transport/accomodation/or anything else travel related is based on an educated, informed decision to be as low impact as possible. Your footprint on the local culture or host is minimal, which means you learn and engage in cultural exchange so far as you do not negatively impact any local traditions or customs, you are a low-profile and low-maintenance guest, imparting little change or judgement except for what is beneficial or desired.
2.) Low-cost: you travel on a tight budget, which requires you to avoid tourist traps like all-inclusive vacations, hotels, and organized tours. You avoid shopping and buy almost nothing but necessities, spend your money on simple travel (preferably terrestrial, like trains or buses, going short distances rather than long-haul flights), and stay with locals that you know through friends, family, or travel communities like couchsurfing.
3.) Localized: you stick around in an area long enough to know it, see every corner (especially outside the city center or touristic attractions) and the surrounding suburbs or country side. You stay where you want to be, living a day in the life there. You spend your money in such a way that financial resources go directly into the pockets of locals (locally-owned businesses, local guides, surrounding farms instead of imported/mass produced foods) and you support the local economy (avoid international tour operators or foreign-owned companies in all your purchasing decisions).
4.) Lonely: last but not least, travel alone. Travel by yourself to be better immersed in your surroundings, alone with your thoughts and feelings to fully take in, process, and understand your new environment. Be vulnerable, meet local people, avoid speaking your own language, catering to the needs of a travel companion, or doing anything that you don’t feel like doing or going anywhere you don’t feel like going.Leave your Lonely Planet at home and just ask people for help as you go, talking to as many strangers as you can. Don’t stay in hostels where you’ll get swallowed up into a group of other tourists, don’t travel with a tour group or on a big bus with “rich tourists, coming your way” printed on the license plate. Travel more spontaneously, irresponsibly even, at the mercy of a local tip, with the adrenaline-rush of taking the wrong bus or the long bus, ending up on the wrong train, showing up in a place you have no clue about, learning from scratch and not a guide book. You can go for as long or short as you want, book one-way tickets, have undefined destinations, a flexible schedule, and a trip planned only one day ahead at a time.
So, for any other lotourists out there, get the word out on the new word. And, if you get it and you like it, spread the word so more lotourism can exist in this traveling world of ours.