Coldnoon: Quarterly of Travel Poetics

Article published in Volume I, Issue III

Lotourism: Low Impact, Low Cost, Localized, & Lonely – The Ecotourist on a Budget and Redefined.

I studied ecotourism and wrote my masters dissertation on the discrepancies between defined and actualized ecotourism since I have always battled with the ‘ecotourist’ identity. 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.

After completing my thesis, I realized the term ecotourism is a vague, green-washed term, whose definition is undecided among academics, and sometimes unidentifiable in practice. I like to travel, and I love the natural world we live in, but often times by carbon emissions and ecological impact contradict my obsessive compulsive desire to go all over the place, taking boats, planes, cars and buses at an unsustainable rate. It’s easy to feel guilt about my carbon footprint but also unclear where I can accept accountability for planes and buses that will take their routes with or without me.

However, it is possible to have an ethical travel consciousness without identifying as an ecotourist. Ecotourists pay more for greener experiences and off-set their flights by planting trees, but for sustainable tourism to become a thing of elitists is not fair. Ecotourism has also been set aside from culture tourism, offering strictly nature and adventure getaways in wild areas, but humans are an intrinsic part of nature and the true ecotourist should still be touring the cities and villages people call home. Mass tourists take their flights and book their all-inclusive hotels or cruises but travel intensively for only one or two weeks. My travel style has fused and forgiven aspects of both styles of tourism, into something I have coined “lotourism.” It is a philosophy of travel for the weary backpacker who wants to see the world and everything in it. They do not pay more, but pay less, and see more, over longer periods of time, with fewer modes of transport taken by traveling locally and avoiding long-haul flights.

I had the idea to invent a new word to describe the way I travel since it doesn’t suffice to say I’m a backpacker, just a traveler, a tourist, or an ecotourist. I want a word that describes my travel mentality and approach to seeing the world in a more sustainable way. 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 and want more people to share. “Lotourism” is a theory of tourism that isn’t captured by any other, one word.

I like to think I travel sustainably, but not just natural resource sustainably – I am financially resourceful, traveling with minimal luggage, staying with locals, and traveling slowly but steadily over short-haul distances. I can live off $10 a day or less in some places. I never stay in hostels or hotels, but couchsurf and make new friends everywhere I go. I have one small backpack and all my possessions and necessities for 3 months in it, a 35L 20kg bag.

Im not really a backpacker, since I avoid backpacker 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 adopt the local way of living, eat where locals eat, dance the way they dance, dress as indiscriminately as possible, and don’t say much unless I’ve learned the local language since I never want to be that white girl screaming English in slow motion to someone who has no idea what I’m saying. 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, but redefined and on a budget. It is travel that is low-impact, low-cost, localized, and lonely. So, for any other lotourists out there, get the word out on the new word. And, if you understand the idea, agree with the philosophy, and like the way it works in travel, spread the word so more lotourism can exist in this globalizing, traveling world of ours.

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