How To Book Your International Flights

You’ve booked your tour. Congrats! Now, it’s time to book your flights. If you’re a newbie or feeling a bit overwhelmed with the international flight booking process, we’ve got you covered. What follows is a step-by-step guide to the entire process, from where to even begin searching for flights to what considerations are worth factoring into your final flight decision.

First Things First: When to Book

Once you receive the a-ok from our team to book your flights, look at the calendar and see how long you have until you depart. In general, the best window of time to book international flights is about two to three months before your departure date, and even earlier (five months ahead) if you know that you’ll be traveling to a destination during its peak tourist season. 

The Flight Booking Process

When you are ready to book, keep these steps nearby and use them as a guide as you move through the booking process. 

Step 1: Decide Your Dates and Departure Cities

Before you can even begin searching for flights, you’re going to need to know your dates of arrival and departure and the airports from which you want to fly into and out of your destination. For some of you, it’s as simple as plugging in the start and end dates of your Meetup Tour and booking a roundtrip ticket between the same two airports. For others, you may want to tack on a few days to the trip or fly out of a different airport than you flew into. Determine what you’d like to do, set your dates, and then proceed to Step 2. 

If you would like to extend your stay beyond the dates of the Meetup Tour, our team can arrange a stay at the same hotel and airport transfers. Email us at meetuptours@sofetravel.com.

Step 2: Explore Flights and Fares
Now that you have your dates and departure cities decided, it’s time to get a sense of the flight fares and airlines that fly to and from your destination. A good place to begin is Google Flights, though keep in mind that not all carriers or region-specific airlines may be included in the results. For example, the American carrier Southwest Airlines and several large Asian carriers like Air China, China Eastern, Thai Airways, and Philippine Airlines will not appear in your Google Flights results while others like Aeromexico, Oman Air, and Interjet will only show some of their available flights on Google Flights. That’s okay for this first step in the booking process. We’ll go into some alternative flight search tools that encompass a wider breadth of carriers later in this guide.  On the Google Flights page, enter your departure city, arrival city, and exact dates. The default setting on Google Flights is for roundtrip tickets. If you’d prefer to search for one-way tickets, be sure to adjust that setting. When you have everything set the way you want it, click “Search.” You should now see a screen full of flight options. The flights at the top of the Google Flights results are usually the cheapest and most direct. If you scroll further down, you’ll find more options that increase in price down the page.  At first glance, get a sense of the airlines that fly between your home city and your destination and the range of prices. Take note of the airlines with the cheapest fares, the total flight time and/or number of stops, and the departure and arrival times. Keep in mind that these times are listed in local time, meaning the departure time is the time it leaves your city and the arrival time is the local time in your final destination.  
Optional Step: Check for an Even Better Deal

As we mentioned before, Google Flights doesn’t account for all carriers, especially some budget or regional airlines. If you’d like to save money and be sure that you’re paying the cheapest fare, you can extend your flight search to include a few other platforms. We recommend Skyscanner and Momondo, both are flight aggregator tools that include additional airlines in their results. Kayak, CheapOAir, Expedia, and Priceline are also good tertiary flight search options.

For a step-by-step guide to finding and booking the cheapest flight, check out our blog post here.

Egypt Female Tour Network
Step 3: Select Your Flight Itinerary

As you scroll through the flight options and decide your final flight itinerary, pay close attention to the length of any layovers and whenever possible book the most direct flight. As a general rule, don’t book a flight with a tight connection. Any layovers under two hours between the time the plane lands and the time your next flight takes off is risky and could result in a missed connecting flight. 

Also, if you see a “+1” next to some flights, this means that it is an overnight flight, also known as a red-eye flight. If you do decide to take a red-eye flight, double check that arriving the next day in your destination still fits with your Meetup Tour itinerary. If not, be sure to adjust the departure date in the Google Flights field and search again. 

With all of this in mind, make your flight selection and move on to Step 4. 

Step 4: Decide How You’ll Book

Once you’ve settled on the flight itinerary that both suits your travel preferences and fits with your Meetup Tour schedule (be sure to double check this!), it’s time to book. You can take a couple of different approaches here. There are pros and cons for each. 

After officially selecting the departure and return flights you’d like to book on Google Flights, you should arrive at a page that lists both of your selected departure and return flights. Scroll down on this page to see your booking options. Here is where you get to decide if you will book directly with the airline via their website or if you’d like to book via an OTA, like Priceline, Expedia, or CheapOAir. Often the price difference between a direct booking with the airline and an OTA is small. 

Booking with an OTA can sometimes save you a few dollars, but it’s often a headache if anything does go wrong on travel day (i.e. flight delays, cancellations, or changes to your route). For this reason, we always recommend booking directly with the airline you’ll be traveling on (especially if you’re a first-time international flyer), that way you can deal directly with the gate agent or airline’s customer service if something does go wrong. Additionally, if there are any ticket price changes between the time you book and the time your flight departs, you can usually have that difference refunded with a quick call to customer service instead of having to first go through the OTA you booked through. 

Once you’ve decided where you’d like to officially book your flight (directly with the airline or with an OTA), click over to that site using the button in the “Booking Options” list on Google Flights to complete your purchase. 

Step 5: Choose Your Fare Option & Read the Fine Print

Flying nowadays involves a bit more decision-making than in the past. Once you get to the booking page, you’ll likely see a few different fare options with a list of what’s included or not included in each fare. The main difference between the “basic” fare and the upgraded fares is usually in regard to refundability or adjustment of your ticket after purchase, number of carry-on and checked bags included in your fare, the ability to select your seat or be assigned one, meals, and your boarding group. 

It’s worth taking a second to read the fine print under each fare so that you know exactly what you’re getting before clicking over to the payment page. If you’ll be checking bags, it can occasionally be cheaper to purchase a slightly upgraded fare that includes a checked bag and/or carry-on. Run the math and see if it’s cheaper to upgrade or if it’s better to add your bags later as add-ons to the basic fare.  

Morocco desert women tour
Step 6: Review Your Flight Details and Pay

On the review and payment page, you’ll be asked to fill in your information, typically including your full name as it appears on your passport, date of birth, gender, passport number and expiration date, contact information, and payment information. You’ll also have a chance to make any upgrades to your ticket. Sometimes, not always, you can add bags at this stage if they’re not already included in your fare option. Otherwise, you’ll see that option when you check-in online before your date of departure. A word of warning, some basic fare options may not allow you to check a bag or bring a carry-on, so be sure that you’ve read the fine print for your fare option before purchase.

Before completing your purchase, it’s also smart to triple check your itinerary. Make sure that all dates of departure and arrival are correct and work with your Meetup Tour itinerary. When you feel confident with your itinerary and selections, click the “complete purchase” button. 

Step 7: Set an Alarm and Take Advantage of the “24-hour Rule”

Most airlines do allow you to cancel and receive a full refund within 24 hours of booking, so there is still a buffer if you do later realize that you made a mistake. We suggest setting an alarm on your phone at the time of booking for 23 hours later. This will give you a chance to quadruple check that what you’ve booked still works and it gives you some wiggle room to make adjustments to your flight if necessary. 

How to Score a Cheap Flight

Whether this is your first time traveling or you’re a seasoned traveler, this information will prove helpful as you begin to book your flights. Purchasing the cheapest and most direct roundtrip ticket from your nearest airport to the starting point of your Meetup Tour is obviously the easiest way to do it, but it isn’t always the cheapest. If you’re looking to potentially save hundreds on your flights, consider the following tips and process for booking.

When to Book

Depending on how far in advance you’ve confirmed your Meetup Tour, a good rule of thumb is to book as soon as you know you’re going. Rarely do airline tickets get cheaper as your departure date approaches. In general, the best window of time to book international flights is about two to three months before your departure date, and even earlier (five months ahead) if you know that you’ll be traveling to a destination during its peak tourist season. The reason for this is that budget airlines typically offer their lowest rates as a baseline price. As these tickets sell out, the remaining tickets increase in cost.

The Flight Booking Process

When you are ready to book, follow these steps to find the best fare and combination of flights to and from your destination.

Step 1: Perform a Broad Search

A good starting point for this broad flight search is Google Flights. Just keep in mind that not all carriers or region-specific airlines may be included in the results. That’s okay. This initial search is simply meant to give you an idea of the prices and possibilities for getting to and from your final destination. It’s also a chance to experiment with alternative departure and arrival airports that may be offering cheaper fares. We recommend having a pen and paper nearby or your Notes app open as you explore fares so that you can jot down and keep track of all possibilities for later review.

Once you’re on Google Flights, click on the “Explore” tab. There you can enter your departure city and your specific dates. You can also play around with one-way and round-trip flights as well to see which might save you more money for your dates. Oftentimes, it can be cheaper to buy two one-way flights, with your “to” flight being into or out of one airport and your return flight being into or out of a completely different airport. Keep in mind that some of our Meetup Tours do in fact start and end in different cities, so be sure to check your Meetup Tour itinerary before beginning your flight search. 

To start your fare exploring, keep the “where to?” field as broad as possible. For example, if ultimately you know that you need to fly into and out of Lima, Peru, start by searching with “Peru” or even “South America” in the “where to?” field. The reason being that there may be an even cheaper destination in Peru or South America that you could fly into. From there, you can book an often cheaper domestic or regional flight to Lima. The same goes for your departure city on the front end or your arrival city on the back end of your tour. It may be cheaper to fly into or out of another city in your home country and to book a cheap domestic flight to your final destination from there. The key here is to think creatively and explore all possibilities and prices.  

As you’re exploring on Google Flights, it’s smart to have a second or even third tab or window open for quickly plugging in those more domestic or regional flight itineraries. Specifically take note of how much that alternative route costs and if all of the flight times and legs align.

Step 2: Check for an Even Better Deal

Once you feel as though you’ve determined the cheapest flight path to get to and from your destination, it’s time to see if there’s an even better deal out there that Google Flights may have missed. To start, check out some other popular fare finder tools like Skyscanner and Momondo, both of which incorporate some of those budget airlines Google Flights tends to leave out. 

Another good idea is to check prices directly on the website of the airlines you’ve determined are the cheapest, as they may have an even lower fare listed than Google Flights, Skyscanner, or Momondo are showing. 

Finally, it’s worth doing a quick Google search to see if there are any other well-rated domestic or regional airlines in your destination that you haven’t seen come back on Skyscanner or Momondo. If you do come across any airlines that you haven’t yet taken into account, throw in your dates and destinations on that airline’s website to see if they’re offering an even cheaper fare than what you’ve found already.

Step 3: Make Your Decision and Book

At this point in the process, you should have all of the information you need to pick your itinerary and book your flights. Be especially careful to verify the entire route. When it comes to mixing and matching airlines across many sites and tools, mistakes can be made. Run through the itinerary you’re thinking of booking one more time. Make sure all dates and times sequentially flow with enough time between flights in case there are any mishaps or delays en route. Also make sure that you’ve read all of the fine print, especially if you’ll be flying on budget airlines, so that there are no financial surprises later. Things like bag fees, airport check in fees, etc.

Once you feel confident that you have an itinerary that works, book it. Remember that most airlines do allow you to cancel within 24 hours of booking, so there is a bit of a buffer if you do later realize that you made a mistake. We suggest setting an alarm on your phone at the time of booking for 23 hours later. This will give you a chance to triple check that what you’ve booked still works and it gives you some wiggle room to make adjustments if necessary.

Countries with the Strictest Dress Codes for Women

Before traveling to any country, it’s important that you know their customs and rules, which include their dress codes. Yes, dress codes are still a thing even today. And to make sure you adhere to the rules, you’ll need to read about them prior to your trip so you can follow them. In this way, you can avoid dress code violations (which can lead to a fine or, worse, brief imprisonment) and steer clear of offending cultural and religious sensibilities.

So, check out the list below to get an idea of just how strict these countries are when it comes to dress codes for women. In this way, you’ll know what to wear in case you do visit them in the future.

women in modest clothing

Saudi Arabia

The Muslim nation of Saudi Arabia has some of the strictest dress codes in the world, especially for women. The new female dress code passed in 2019 is just as strict — even if it no longer requires female tourists to wear an abaya (essentially a cloak) and headscarf. According to Gulf News, the Public Decorum Code requires women visitors to dress modestly, with their shoulders and knees covered. The code also prohibits women from wearing sleeveless shirts and short dresses.

So, in case Saudi Arabia is part of your upcoming itinerary, it would be wise to buy some sleeved maxi dresses. Liveabout, describes maxi dresses as “typically form-fitting at the top and cut to flow loosely over the body at the bottom.” Even better, they are always fashionable, which is why they have become wardrobe staples for women. They are also available in a variety of fabrics, so you can choose one appropriate for Saudi Arabia’s scorching weather. By wearing these, you’re guaranteed to look stylish while still being respectful of Islamic laws.

Sudan

As Reuters reported, many of the strict social rules that once defined the African nation of Sudan are gradually being eased thanks to Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime being overthrown last year. That said, restrictive laws are still in place, and haven’t been scrapped just yet. This means women still can’t dress freely, as they are not allowed to wear skirts and are advised to dress modestly.

That said, consider wearing loose-fitting cotton T-shirts and jeans when you visit Sudan. This combination ticks the boxes in terms of following Islamic norms on how women should dress up: The T-shirt covers your top part, including your chest and shoulders, while the jeans cover your legs all the way past the knees. Equally important is that you’ll be super comfortable and able to move about freely — perfect for when you explore the country’s archaeological wonders. As a bonus, this simple get-up is just right for Sudan’s hot weather as well!

women in india

Cambodia

Home to some of the most breathtaking temples and ruins, Cambodia is a must-see for anyone traveling to Southeast Asia. It’s rich with heritage sites, warm people, and wonderful climate year-round — so pack your breathable clothes and sneakers. In fact, a visit to Cambodia would be akin to taking a trip in a past world. Considering the country’s tumultuous past, it’s a relatively young nation in the rapidly progressing modern world.

They’ve retained much of their traditional customs, including the women’s code called Chbab Srey, which promotes strict conservatism. This put them under fire, as senior government officials in Cambodia have proposed a law banning women from wearing clothes that are “too short” or “too see-through” and men from being “shirtless” in public. While the law hasn’t yet been passed, it’s gaining significant legal support. And seeing as most places you’ll be visiting are temples and places of worship anyway, it’s best to pack light clothes that aren’t too revealing, covering the knees and shoulders.

Maldives

Maldives, an island chain of 26 atolls, is a tourist paradise known for its pristine beaches. It is also known as being a 100% Muslim country, which means everyone is supposed to dress modestly in accordance with Islamic law. Unsurprisingly, revealing swimwear is banned in public places, but permitted in resorts and so-called bikini beaches.

So, if you’re unsure whether or not the beach you’re in allows revealing swimwear, just be prepared and wear your bikini under a wrap dress that is perfect for the beach. Wrap dresses, as explained in prettyme, are flattering for all body types, as they can highlight your best features. Just make sure to pick one that fits you just right, as anything too loose or too tight would just look awkward. Alternatively, you can wear your bikini under a tunic dress, which is also great for the beach. Tunic dresses are generally made of lightweight cotton or rayon, and they come in a variety of styles and color combinations. They also offer a relaxed fit and can be paired with matching flip-flops.

Ugandan women outfits

Uganda

While Uganda is among Africa’s most culturally diverse countries, it also has strict dress codes. This is particularly true for its female civil servants, who are required to wear sleeved blouses that should cover their cleavage, navel, and back. They are also prohibited from wearing short skirts (meaning, anything above the knee is a no-go). Female travelers like you need to take note of these restrictions, too, as they more or less apply to you as well if you visit the country.

Given this dress code, wearing the T-shirt and jeans combo would be a good idea if you’re exploring Uganda and its expansive national parks. Long trousers and long-sleeved tops, in particular, are highly recommended, as these are comfortable and will protect you from the sun’s scorching heat. Comfortable walking shoes or sandals are a must, too, as you’re likely to walk on dusty, uneven roads and fields. And consider using a pashmina or sarong as well for some style points, and an extra layer of protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Let this list remind you of something you must do before traveling to any country: Find out as much as you can about it! Research about it online, ask for input from your fellow travelers, and call that country’s tourism board or consulate. These steps will allow you to plan out your trip in fine detail, including the clothes you’ll need to pack. It will also help ensure that you’ll enjoy your trip without violating laws or traditions.

Sources :
Gulf News – https://gulfnews.com/world/gulf/saudi/saudi-arabia-your-guide-to-new-dress-code-and-public-decency-code-1.1569829894170

Byrdie – https://www.byrdie.com/what-is-a-maxi-dress-how-to-style-it-4164690

Reuters – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sudan-culture-idUSKBN2132I5

Pretty Me – https://www.prettyme.ph/guides/best-dresses-for-petites/

About the author

Author Photo

Erin Perez

Erin Perez is passionate about all things beauty and fashion. She is interested in the way the industry adapts to new trends and norms. When she’s not writing a new piece, you’ll find her tending to her indoor garden.

Disaster Tourism: Helpful or Hurtful?

When I was travelling through Indonesia, I happened to spend a day in the town of Banda Aceh. There is not much to do over there, my guide told me. The only tourist attraction is part of the trend of disaster tourism. Indeed, Banda Aceh was devastated by the 2004 tsunami. So, the main tourist attraction over there is to stroll through the memories of this tragedy: boats brought inland by the wave even though the sea is kilometers away, various memorials in honor of the victims, and the museum telling the story of this catastrophe. I have to admit, seeing the swarm of tourists snapping selfies made me wonder if this was a way to further understand what happened in this town, or just a grim tourist activity.

What is disaster tourism?

hurricane Katrina dark tourism

Disaster tourism is about visiting the sites of major catastrophes, either man-made or natural. It’s considered a subsection of dark tourism even though the two are very hard to set apart.

According to Erika M. Robb, in an article published by the American Anthropological Association, “dark tourism includes both places with violent legacies and those at which violence is an ongoing reality. It encompasses a wide variety of visitor motivations—educational, memorial, or recreational.” 

It is hard to have an opinion on disaster tourism because it encompasses a very wide range of different attractions: National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum, Katrina Tours, slum tourism, the ruins of Pompeii, the house where JonBenet Ramsey died, the Memorial and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, etc. 

Within those options, some seem like an important part of History, while others just seem unnecessarily gruesome and/or voyeuristic. But they all have one thing in common: violence.

Why does disaster tourism attract visitors?

dark tourism concentration camp

First of all, disaster tourism is supposed to be educational. Indeed, whenever you are visiting a place, you might want to learn more about its history. And even though you might have heard of the tragedy beforehand, it is clear that hearing or reading about something is completely different from seeing it with your own eyes. Most promoters of these kinds of tours are claiming they are raising awareness about the events in question.

Indeed, seeing the cells in Alcatraz federal penitentiary, seeing with your own eyes the skulls of the many victims of the killing fields in Choeung Ek in Cambodia, or even seeing the devastation caused by Chernobyl in Pripyat, Ukraine, can help you better understand the reality of the tragedy. Because even if you know about it, you don’t really fully understand it until you see it with your own eyes.

But it can also be part of a more solemn work of memory, of honoring the victims of the disaster in question.

But can you really fully engage in the educational and memorial part of the activity when you are on a vacation? According to Robb, “there is an obvious tension between undertaking important witnessing work and following a vacation itinerary. How might tourist activities before and after visitation to dark tourism sites frame the experience (e.g., going to dinner at an expensive restaurant, seeing a cultural performance, going clubbing). Dark tourism will, in some cases, result in the transformation of violence into one more attraction, wedged in between more typical tourist activities.”

In the end, it all comes down to your own motivations. Are you willing to engage and learn, or are you looking for a thrill?

Can it be useful for the local communities?

slums of mumbai

Organizing tours in areas struck by disaster can be useful for different reasons. It can be important for the community to raise awareness about the catastrophe and its consequences. It’s about remembering and teaching outsiders what has happened. It can be important for a community to tell their own story.

But it can also have an economic impact. In such areas, the money that tourism brings can help rebuild the community and provide employment for the local population. But then, you would have to be careful in choosing a company that actually helps the community or at least employs locals.

However, not everyone feels positively about tours in their own neighborhoods. For example, after hurricane Katrina, many tourists came to New Orleans to tour the most affected areas, which was not very well received by the residents. Indeed, some locals were shocked that people would actually come over for the sole purpose of snapping a picture of the devastation, as it felt disrespectful to the victims.

How can I choose an activity without causing harm?

Protect the local community

First of all, it’s never a good idea to go to a disaster area right after a tragedy struck. People are mourning, healing, and won’t want tourists taking pictures of their grief. You want to help out? There are many ways to do so from home! If you want to contribute, you can always make a donation to an organization that could use your help. Plus, if you go, you will probably get in the way, bother the local population, and participate in using possibly scarce resources.

You want to donate your time? Check if the community is actually trying to recruit volunteers. Otherwise, you will end up getting in the way. Indeed, you need more than good intentions to help, and you might make it harder for professionals to do their job.

To choose an appropriate activity, like always, research the subject. You will find out whether or not this type of tourism has been well accepted by the local community. You will read different opinions about this topic and you will be able to make an informed decision.

But most importantly, when you go to a disaster tourism site, behave appropriately. That is the main point. Whenever you participate in these types of activities, the way you conduct yourself is fundamental. Always act respectfully and with humility.

Protect yourself

If you need to make sure you are not harming the local community, you also have to make sure you will not hurt yourself.

Some sites might still be dangerous, such as war areas, or nuclear testing sites (like Bikini atoll for example), or even areas right after a disaster (think about the aftershocks of an earthquake for instance).  

But it’s not just about physical harm. Choose your activity wisely: some sites can be very hard to stomach and be very upsetting, be sure to be prepared. Tuol Sleng Museum, formerly S21 prison in Cambodia or Murambi Genocide Memorial in Rwanda might be extremely distressing. Be sure that you are ready for this.

So, should you engage in disaster tourism? I do not hold a definitive answer. It’s a personal choice and it comes down to your own intentions. As far as I’m concerned, you should avoid these kinds of activities if you are just coming for the story and if you are not willing to learn and honor. But I do recognize that it can be educational and important to remember some of the tragedies which have struck humankind. Just because you are on vacation does not mean that you should not learn.

According to Robb, “When atrocity becomes a recreational attraction, visitors are themselves inflicting further violence as they search out unique and “authentic” experiences. Ethically, we must question whether tours undertaken in the name of social justice or global awareness are actually experienced as such or whether they might instead work to mask the recreational, voyeuristic allure of violence.”

Again, it’s all about what you do with these experiences!

Sources :
National Geographic – Seven Years After the Storm, Katrina Tours Cause Controversy – Caroline Gerdes – November 6th, 2012 
Forbes – Dark Tourism: Are These The World’s Most Macabre Tourist Attractions? – Duncan Madden – September 25th, 2019
Tourism Teacher – Disaster tourism explained: What, why and where – Dr. Hayley Stainton – October 19th, 2020
American Anthropological Association – Violence and Recreation: Vacationing in the Realm of Dark Tourism – Erika M. Robb – May 5th, 2009
Women on the road – Dark Tourism: Should Tragedy Become a Tourist Draw? – May 1st, 2018 – Why Indulging in Disaster Tourism Could Be a Tragic Mistake

Should You Go ‘Slumming’ In Your Travels?

Have you already seen announcements from travel agencies offering slum tours? This growing trend is about offering you a way to experience the most underprivileged areas in the world, as a tourist. While many people are claiming this is plain and simple poverty porn, people responsible for this kind of tourism are claiming they are fighting stereotypes. And it seems to be working: according to Forbes, slum tours accounted for about 1 million visitors in 2016. But can this type of tourism really be ethical?

“Slumming” is nothing new

There are records of slum tourism as early as the 19th century when rich Londoners visited poor neighborhoods in order to observe how the other half lived. It even led to the entrance in 1884 in the Oxford Dictionary of the word « slumming ». It soon made its way into the US where visitors could experience the poorest parts of New York and quickly, most big cities.

Organizers were quick to realize the business opportunity it represented. In order to have tourists pay good money, the experience needed to be exciting, so the organizers started to hire actors to play drug addicts or even to fake shootings on the streets! Tourists came for a thrill so, the experience needed to be worth their money! 

These slum tours were obviously making a joke out of these neighborhoods and actively reinforcing stereotypes. However, nowadays, companies offering this type of experience are actually claiming the moral high ground.

Why are people organizing such tours?

No companies offering slum tourism could possibly be taken seriously if they were acknowledging the voyeurism and exploitation their critics often accuse them of. So, they’ve had to add moral justifications to what seems at first glance like a grim tourist attraction.

Generating income for locals

Another argument held by defenders of slum tourism is that it generates money for the community. So, not only would you learn about poverty, but you could actually help raise people out of poverty. 

In 2006, Krishna Pujari and Chris Way started Reality Tours and Travel to visit Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Mumbai (which you might have heard of, since it is the place where the movie Slumdog Millionaire took place). This company gives 80% of their profits to a sister charity, “We do this because a large percentage of our income is generated through the Dharavi tours and we felt that it was right to put most of the money back,” Mr. Pujari asserts to the BBC. 

If you listen to organizers of these tours, it seems like these attractions are a win-win. But are they?

Who really profits?

Giving back to the community seems like a good intention. But are those tours really making a difference in the lives of people living in slums?

According to Forbes : « As far as who makes the money from these tours, David Ways (a travel writer at TLWH) claims that, “Tour operators promise they give money to the people there but in comparison to what they themselves are earning, it’s a pittance.” Fabian Frenzel (professor at the University of Leicester) concurred that the direct economic stimulation in the communities from these tours is negligible ».

It seems like the argument of « giving back to the community » doesn’t hold much ground and looks more like a white saviorish dynamic, rather than a real way to empower a community. According to the National Geographic, the reality is quite far from what the organizers are claiming, as a resident of Dharavi state “We see foreigners several times a week. Sometimes they come and talk to us, some offer us a bit of cash, but we don’t get anything from these tours.”

Each travel agency has its own rules, but it is safe to say that not all of them will have a positive economic impact on the communities they use as entertainment.

Awareness raising

Most people defending slum tours claim it helps raise awareness about the living conditions of its inhabitants. Indeed, it can show the difficulties that people face, but it’s not just limited to that. 

In fact, most tours will stop by community projects, shining a positive light on the ways the community is working towards improving the situation or even on all the small businesses that are thriving. The point is to change the perception people might have of what slum life looks like, and most importantly, o

fn slum residents.

Harold Goodwin, director of the International Center for Responsible Tourism in Leeds says in a New York Times article: « Tourism is one of the few ways that you or I are ever going to understand what poverty means. To just kind of turn a blind eye and pretend the poverty doesn’t exist seems to me a very denial of our humanity ».

If you want to educate, you need to show the whole picture

Trying to show slums in a positive light can sometimes feel a little bit counterproductive. 

According to the Guardian, researchers at the University of Bath have studied Tripadvisor reviews for slum tours and the result is that most visitors seem to misunderstand the challenges faced by the population: « In recounting their experiences on Tripadvisor, the tourists regularly described the townships as productive, vibrant cultural spaces, rich in non-material assets, inhabited by happy and hard-working people. »

« Overall, the majority of reviews represented residents as satisfied with their circumstances, with several reviewers remarking that they thought the children in the townships had better lives than those from privileged backgrounds. »

Another study mentioned in the National Geographic ends up at a similar observation : « Analyzing more than 230 reviews of Reality Tour and Travel in her study, Dr. Melissa Nisbett of King’s College London realized that for many Dharavi visitors, poverty was practically invisible. “As the reviews show, poverty was ignored, denied, overlooked and romanticized, but moreover, it was depoliticized.” Without discussing the reason the slum existed, the tour decontextualized the plight of the poor and seemed only to empower the wrong people–the privileged, western, middle class visitors. »

So much for education! It seems like these tours really manage to show the slum in a positive light, which can help people get rid of some stereotypes. But if the structural issues of poverty aren’t addressed, then tourists are obviously missing a big chunk of the picture.

The main critic: the issue of voyeurism

How would you feel about buses after buses of people coming to your door to observe the way you live and comment on your house, neighborhood, way of life etc.? Some companies are only allowing small groups and forbidding picture taking, but is it enough to make residents feel like they are not watched like circus freaks? Plus, not all travel companies take such precautions.

It is possible to educate yourself about poverty, without visiting a slum in the way that you would visit a zoo. Yes, there are a lot of misconceptions about slums residents, but there are ways to educate yourself about this issue without robbing its people of their dignity. 

Indeed, many people in India are fed up with poverty porn: according to the National Geographic: “Mumbai resident Hemanth Gopinath says: “The educated urban Indian is a tad sensitive about how certain attributes of Indian history, society and culture are portrayed in the western media […] criticism against the tour company in question, is that they highlight a negative aspect of the country to foreign citizens and also possibly engage in profiteering at the expense of the underprivileged.”

Are there cases in which it can be empowering?

A few examples seem to contradict the negative light of slum tourism. The difference lies in a very important distinction: these kinds of tours are initiated by locals. In South Africa in the 1990’s, Black South Africans began offering tours of their own townships to raise awareness about their living conditions and point out the reality of segregation. 

When the idea as well as the execution comes from the community itself, it’s a very different story. The point is to show the whole picture: it’s about fighting stereotypes as well as addressing the larger issue of wealth distribution, politics, racism etc. 

Learning about the hardships of locals is important when you travel and you should absolutely do it. However, using them for your own benefit is a totally different approach.

Planning an interesting and ethical trip is not that easy and you have to think about many things in order to abide by your own moral standards. But we have to do the work to reshape the industry of tourism so that everybody can benefit from it without losing anything on the way, including dignity.

Sources :  
The Guardian – Slumming it? Township tour reviews ‘gloss over poverty’ – Jamie Doward – August 16th, 2020 
The New York Times – Slum visits: tourism or voyeurism? – Eric Weiner – March 9th, 2008 

What You Need for a Safe and Rad Covid Roadtrip

I’ve done A LOT of travel. I not only love it personally, but have a career that affords me copious amounts of paid travel and digital nomadism if I want it. When friends text me, they start by asking, “Where are you at right now?” 

While the pandemic has put a real damper on that movement, I’ve found a safe haven in my 2008 Ford Escape. I’ve always loved a road trip for clearing my mind and working through what’s going on between my ears, but during 2020, it really was a lifeline to friends and family and peace of mind when I needed to make sure the world was still out there. I am so grateful to be able to afford and manage a car in NYC. 

So here’s my list of things to bring along on your road trip, starting with the most important thing during these times. 

Mask | Hand Sanny | Gloves

Cuba,,Missouri,,Usa,-,May,11,,2016,:,Bob's,Gasoline

Duh, a mask. Have several stowed away in the glovebox just in case. 

I don’t stop much on a road trip, unless it’s to get out on a backroad and take a deep breath over some stunning scenery, but when you have to fill up or use the bathroom, wear disposable gloves and/or use that hand sanitizer. I recently got these Everyone bottles of spray hand sanitizer, which come in aromas that aren’t Nail Polish, Vodka That’ll Burn Your Stomach Lining and I’m Choking.  

Snacks

People don’t think about this enough when they’re packing for a road trip. 

Look, I like stuffing a McDonald’s chicken sandwich and greasy ass fries in my face every now and then, just like the best of us gluttons, but I save that kinda thing for short trips. When you’re in the car for a significant portion of the day (my longest is 16 hours), it’s key to eat something other than junk, because your digestive system is already gonna be unhappy and you need both your mind and body to be in the game. And you know, gas stations, even the impressive ones like Buc-ee’s, just aren’t gonna have things that make you feel good about yourself. 

Here’s a typical snack assortment: 

Trail mix – Nuts, dried fruits and this is the kicker, I break up some dark chocolate bars to mix in.

Fruit – No brainer, although you know, maybe not oranges unless you peal them beforehand. 

PB&J – Easy to make, easy to eat. 

Yogurt – I drink those little Activa cups like a smoothie, especially as they get warmer, they’re a bit more liquid. I promise, it still tastes good. 

And do not forget the water!! I take a large reusable water bottle, but also pack 2-3 extra water bottles. It doesn’t go bad, and it sucks to be stuck on the road, not wanting to stop and lose momentum, just because it feels like you just consumed a wool sweater. 

Pillow

After,Sunset,On,The,Pacific,Ocean,Looking,Down,The,Famous

I, for one, cannot wait for our autonomous car overlords so I can really use a pillow in the car, but until then, it’s still good to pack. 

One of those small, decorative ones on your couch can be used behind your back to adjust a little and relieve some pressure and pain. Your favorite from your bed, throw it in, because no matter whether you’re saying at a hotel or crashing with a friend, they don’t always have the right cushion for your pudum. And you want to get a good night’s sleep for another day of driving tomorrow. 

Collapsable Trash Can

Changed my freaking life. Before I had one of these, I’d get off a road trip and have a whole day long cleaning session ahead of me, which you know, sucks when you’re getting off of a long drive and just want to relax. 

The flexibility of a collapsible one means that you can stuff it in between seats and suitcases and it’s not as wobbly as a hard, plastic bin. 

Utensils | Napkins

Aerial,View,Of,Countryside,Road,Passing,Through,The,Green,Forest

Look, the snacks, they’ll keep you going for a good amount of time, but if you’re anything like me, after five or six hours, I’m gonna have to eat a warm meal. Especially in the era of covid-19, you’re either going through the drive-thru or ordering take out. Who says you can’t eat enchiladas or lo mein on a road trip? 

That said, if you’re gonna turn your center console into a table for flimsy take-out boxes, you need plenty of napkins and a sturdier set of utensils than most restaurants provide. I have the K-Bar Tactical Spork in my glovebox. Who doesn’t love all the utensils in one utensil! 

First Aid Kit

Also the name of a great band, but this is something you should just always keep in your car. While you probably won’t use it that often, you’ll be stressed and annoyed in a time of (hopefully) small crisis that you don’t have one handy. 

And you might as well throw a thermometer in there now too. I check my temperature like it’s an OCD tick nowadays, and it gives me peace of mind that I’m not gonna be a patient zero. 

Understanding Cultural Appropriation

In the last few years, you have probably heard of cultural appropriation. But do you really understand what this debate is all about? From Victoria’s Secret models walking the runway wearing Native American headdresses to you wearing a piece of traditional jewellery acquired from your most recent trip overseas, where can we find the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t? 

If the basic concept is quite easy to understand, the difficulty in grasping what it really means lies in the details, and even more, in the context. You are not entirely certain how to navigate this sensitive issue? You want to make sure you’ll be able to avoid any pitfalls during your next trip? Here are a few things you should know about cultural appropriation.

What is cultural appropriation?

man dressed in kimono with fan

If this photo makes you cringe, then we are off to a great start! Let’s start with some definitions. The Oxford Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as: “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

If you want to be thorough, here are a few more definitions which will help you understand the whole debate:

  • Cultural exchange: a mutual exchange or sharing of some elements between two cultures.
  • Acculturation: a process during which a person or a group of persons adjust their own culture/traditions/beliefs by adapting or borrowing traits from the dominant culture.
  • Assimilation: when a person absorbs elements from the dominant culture, to a point where this person is indistinguishable from the dominant group. It is the most extreme form of acculturation.

In the end, in order to know whether borrowing an element from another group’s culture is acculturation, exchange or appropriation, you need context.

According to Maisha Z. Johnson, cultural appropriation refers to a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group”. In other words, to understand cultural appropriation, you need to understand the power dynamic at play.

Cultural appropriation vs. acculturation

To understand the difference between cultural appropriation and acculturation, let’s take an example from the same author, about the use of the English language “When the last living survivors of massacred Indigenous tribes are fighting to save their language before it dies when they do, and Native students are suspended for speaking in their own Indigenous languages, mirroring the abusive US boarding schools that tried to wipe out Native American cultures up until the 1980s, it’s clear that not every person who speaks English does so by choice.

Usually, when elements of the dominant culture are absorbed by minorities, it is seldom by choice.

cultural exchange vs. cultural appropriation

Cultural exchange becomes cultural appropriation when the people whose culture is being “borrowed/appropriated” is left out of the discussion. 

For example, it’s when Valentino uses traditional African hairstyles for their new collection, while having no black model on the runway. It’s when Urban Outfitters uses Native American inspired designs, without any regards to the significance of such designs, and without giving credit to the people who originally created them. 

Basically, it boils down to taking without asking, dismissing the possible meaning of the elements being appropriated, and most of all, forgetting the creators.

Why is it such a big deal nowadays?

woman wearing Native American headl dress

According to PBS, “The concept of cultural appropriation may seem, at first glance, like yet another way we are constructing barriers between people at a time when we desperately need to be building bridges. But, as we look more closely at the entrenched inequality in the history of cultural exchange, it becomes clear that the term “cultural appropriation” is simply giving a name to the exploitation that has always existed and continues to this day”.

Cultural appropriation is about naming a phenomenon that is not at all new, but has been going on since colonization. Whether we are talking about objects stolen and now displayed in European museums or aspects of the culture, the logic behind it is the same.

Nowadays, discussions about power dynamics (whether it’s about gender, class, race, etc.) have left the sole reign of the academic world and made their way into the public debate. Basically, it’s become a mainstream issue. Nowadays, more and more people get called out for doing something that has always been done, but has now stopped being acceptable.

How to avoid cultural appropriation

woman dressed in Mexican clothing

When you’re travelling things can get a little complicated. Because you are immersed in another culture and you probably want to engage in that culture. Therefore,  it might seem hard not to borrow, and thus, appropriate from this culture. But you need to be mindful in order to appreciate, and not appropriate.  

Here are a few practical situations which can seem sensitive:

I want to take part in a celebration or cultural tradition:

Taking part in a traditional or religious celebration can be acceptable depending on whether or not you were invited to join. If you were invited to participate by locals, then by all means, take part! Many people you meet throughout your journey want to show you their culture and traditions, and it can sometimes be rude to refuse.

But just because you were invited doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want. You might not know the rules, and you definitely don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. So, engage as a humble guest, with respect for the traditions and never as a joke. And if you want to take a few pictures, it is essential that you first ask for permission.

I want to buy a souvenir:

First of all, try to only buy from local artists or artisans. You want to support the local population and not big corporations making money using traditional symbols without giving back to the communities they originated from. If you want to be respectful and support locals, then spend your money accordingly!

Be mindful of what you want to buy. You want to buy a traditional outfit to wear as a costume? You want to buy a sacred object to use as decoration? You might want to rethink those choices!

I want to engage in the culture:

If you truly want to engage with the local culture, then first, try to learn as much as you can before your trip. This will allow you to understand a few rules and avoid offending anyone. You want to be as respectful as you can be, and you can never guess what the cultural rules are going to be. If you engage respectfully, then you have the possibility of having  an equal exchange.

Outside of these practical examples, there is a risk of cultural appropriation in many other situations. In order to appreciate without appropriating, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Has the culture I want to borrow from been exploited? Have the people from this culture been discriminated against, been at a disadvantage because of their ethnicity? Are there stereotypes about this culture?
  • Before using an element of another culture, try to understand it first. Learn about its sacredness, its history, etc. The more you know the more respectful you can be.
  • Consider your motivations: if you want to use something from a culture that is not your own, consider whether or not you are going to benefit from it. Are you honoring or are you perpetuating stereotypes?

If you are able to ask yourself the hard questions, then you will be able to navigate cultural exchange without appropriating. And when in doubt, either ask, or just refrain. Avoiding cultural appropriation doesn’t mean that you can only experience your own culture, it means you respect others and their traditions enough to view things from their perspective, and yes, sometimes, abstain from doing certain things.

If your first instinct is to be defensive whenever you hear mention of cultural appropriation, that’s probably a sign that you should question your motives. Most people have already made at least a few mistakes along the lines of cultural appropriation, I know I have! 

The main advice that I can give you is, learn and next time, do better, because in the end, it’s never been about you. According to Maisha Z. Johnson, “It’s about a centuries’ old pattern of taking, stealing, exploiting, and misunderstanding the history and symbols that are meaningful to people of marginalized cultures. The intentions of the inadvertent appropriator are irrelevant in this context.”

So let’s educate ourselves, and eventually, we will collectively manage to do better!




The First Woman to Travel the World

This is the story of Jeanne Barré (also spelled Baret or Barret), the first woman in recorded history to complete a circumnavigation of the globe in the 18th century – and she did it disguised as a man.

The early life of Jeanne Barret

old drawing of Jane Barrett

Jeanne Barré was born in 1740 in a village in Burgundy, France. Her father was a daily agricultural worker, and as such, amongst the poorest members of society. Her mother died 15 months after her birth. There is little known about her childhood, and records of her and her family are scarce. But at that time, no one could have predicted such an extraordinary future.

What we do know is that early on, Jeanne develops a fascination for plants, and learns about their medicinal properties. But it is her meeting with Philibert de Commerson that will change the course of her life. At 22, she is employed by the famous botanist as a housekeeper, close to her hometown. The two develop a special bond, most likely over their love of plants, that would last until Commerson’s death.

According to a biography written by Glynis Ridley: “She was an herb woman: one schooled in the largely oral tradition of the curative properties of plants. Herb women were for centuries the source of all raw materials to be prepared, mixed, and sold by male medical practitioners, and as botany crystallized as a science in the eighteenth century, a handful of male botanists did not think it beneath them to learn from these specialists.

In 1764, Jeanne became pregnant, probably with Commerson’s child, even though she refused to name the father on the official documents. At that time, and possibly to avoid a scandal, she and Commerson move to Paris, where unfortunately, the child dies soon after the birth. At that time, the two start socializing with prominent intellectuals, and eventually, Commerson is recommended to take part in an expedition around the world led by Louis Antoine de Bougainville, as a botanist.

Jeanne on the Étoile

At the time, the French navy strictly forbade women from being on board. But that wasn’t enough to deter Jeanne from accompanying her partner on the Étoile, one of the two ships of the expedition. Who came up with the plan? No one can know for sure, but chances are the two were partners in crime.

Therefore, on the day of the departure, Jeanne showed up dressed as a boy, using the name “Jean”, to be employed as Commerson’s assistant. Commerson, because of the large amount of material necessary to collect and preserve plant specimens, was granted the captain’s cabin to share with his assistant. This detail was actually key to shield Jeanne’s secret, as the cabin had a private toilet facility which allowed privacy.

At this time, Commerson suffered poor health, and a long lasting leg injury made the presence of Jeanne even more crucial, as she was acting as much as a nurse as she was her assistant in his scientific work. In fact, she is probably responsible for most of Commerson’s discoveries, even if she was never credited. She is most likely the one who discovered the Bougainvillea vine, named in honor of the expedition’s leader. At every stop, the pair would disembark and explore the land to collect plant samples, still unknown in the West. Much of their collection is still displayed in various museums worldwide.

During the expedition, Jeanne experienced very hard work, having to carry the heavy wooden plant presses used in the field to preserve the specimens they encountered. She was involved in collecting about 6000 plant specimens. She even often led the expeditions herself, as Commerson’s health sometimes prevented him from going out in the field. Her tireless work had Commerson refer to her as her “beast of burden”.

During 2 years, Jeanne shuts down rumors about her gender by pretending to be a eunuch (a man who has been castrated for social purposes). But eventually, her secret is exposed. There is still uncertainty about how her true identity was revealed, as there are contradictory tales about the event. According to Bougainville, her gender was revealed by the local population when the expedition reached Tahiti in 1768. Other members of the expedition refer to sexual assaults by crew members.

After the unveiling of Jeanne’s secret, she and Commerson decide to leave the expedition and disembark in the Isle of France, a former French colony now known as Mauritius.

Jeanne’s life in Mauritius

Jeanne and Commerson continue their work as botanists on the island of Mauritius, exploring the land and collecting and identifying plant species.

While Commerson has named many plants in honor of friends and family members, it is only at that time that he decides to name one after Jeanne. However, by the time the sample reaches Paris, the plant has already been named, and is now known as Turraea.

Commerson passed away in 1773, leaving Jeanne in a difficult situation, as her resources have become scarce. But if there is anything we know for sure about Jeanne Barré, is that she is a resourceful woman.

Left on her own after a life spent alongside Commerson, Jeanne has to find another way to make a living. She decides to buy a license to run a tavern in Port Louis. Records show her establishment receiving a 50 livres fine for serving alcohol on Sundays!

In 1774, she married a French soldier, Jean Dubernat. Before marrying him, Jeanne has him sign a prenuptial contract, stating that she would keep control of 2/3 of her fortune. After sailing around the world for several years and running her own tavern in Mauritius, Jeanne had not only become a businesswoman, but an independent woman, or at least, as independent as could be at the time.

Jeanne becomes the first woman to travel the world

Jeanne and Jean Dubernat finally decide to go back to France, most likely in 1775, thus completing her journey around the globe, and making her the first woman in recorded history to ever sail around the globe!

After applying to the attorney general, Jeanne receives money from Commerson’s heritage, which allows her and her husband to buy various properties including a farm. Dubernat signs a document stating that he and his wife will share the properties equally, which is again, a very uncommon thing, and speaks volume on Jeanne’s character.

In 1785, Bougainville pleaded for Jeanne to receive a royal pension for her contributions on board the expedition, even though she was never supposed to be on board. The document granting her pension states:

Jeanne Barré, by means of a disguise, circumnavigated the globe on one of the vessels commanded by Mr de Bougainville. She devoted herself in particular to assisting Mr de Commerson, doctor and botanist, and shared with great courage the labours and dangers of this savant. Her behaviour was exemplary and Mr de Bougainville refers to it with all due credit…”.

Even after her secret was discovered, she was still considered with high regards for her contributions to the expedition. She was never punished, but instead, ended up being celebrated for her hard work.

Jeanne passed away in 1807.

Jeanne’s legacy

It is still hard for historians to find details about Jeanne Barré’s journey, as she was seldom credited for her work. Some members of the expedition did, however, acknowledge her hard work, such as The Prince of Nassau-Siegen, a nobleman who was a paying passenger on the ship: “I want to give her all the credit for her bravery. She dared confront the stress, the dangers, and everything that happened that one could realistically expect on such a voyage. Her adventure, should, I think, be included in a history of famous women.”

Her story is amazing in many ways: her fearlessness, her independence at a time when women were merely considered as children as well as her business acumen, make her a truly extraordinary woman.

In 2012, a newly discovered plant species was named after her: the Solanum Baretiae. The credit for her work might have taken a long time, but finally, credit is given where credit is due!

So, next time you feel afraid of taking the leap (whatever the leap may be), think about her and try to channel your inner Jeanne!

Feature: People Call Me Ocean

At the Solo Female Traveler Network, we want to create a community that celebrates and empowers women. In 2021, we want to recognise the women amongst us – those who lead, inspire and leave a mark in their own unique ways. 

 

Presenting the story of Aušrinė Pudževytė: a painter, interior decorator and muralist who wants to leave her artwork in every country.

Ocean standing near a mural of sea waves

I was thinking back to where my story starts, and when it actually became a story that everyone wants to listen to… Let’s start by saying that it was the day I was born. It is much more important is to mention that art was born within me that day too.

So, a woman full of colors was named Aušrinė, translated to the morning star or dawn from my native language – Lithuanian. My little hands tried everything: a sheet of paper, canvas, brushes, pencils, and other tools before my main focus became different walls around the world.

I remember one of my first trips abroad – Finland. There I had the opportunity to do  decorate one of the school walls, where I was interning. I forgot to mention. At that time, I didn’t speak English, but I had confidence like I was using this language for more than 20 years of my life. I am still trying to figure out where all this confidence came from!

Ocean sitting on the floor near a wall painted with blue and purple cacti

I painted a huge plantation of cactuses – in glorious shades of purple and delicious green. On the last few days of my project, visitors started seeing the final results. They would scratch the walls and ask me questions, wondering how I painted it. 

One stranger observed me cleaning my brushes and said, “I have been working in this school for more than 15 years. Everyday I see the same, empty, plain wall. You have made more than an artwork. You brought the sun to our school”.

That day, I found my life’s purpose: Travel around the world and bring that sun to people’s apartments, restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels and any other places that need art. I wanted to help people feel happier and my art was my superpower.

4 women painted on a wall, with blue and yellow chairs in the foreground. A painting by ocean.
Ocean painting on a wall, holding paint in one hand and a paintbrush in the other hand.

Now one country brings me to another one. One stranger brings me to another, and this grows into love, family, real friendship and mentorship. You can find my murals, paintings and illustrations in 14 of the 17 countries I have traveled to: Lithuania, Spain, Finland, Indonesia (Bali Island), United States (Chicago), United Kingdom, Zambia, Tanzania (Zanzibar Island), Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Sweden and South Korea. 

Do you think the next country could be yours? Let’s make it happen! To learn more about Aušrinė’s work, check out her portfolio through the links below. 

Have you read the story of Jeanette Dijkstra, all-round superwoman destroying landmines in Angola? No?     Read here!

Do you have a story worth sharing? Apply to be featured on our global community!

How To Deal With Post Travel Blues

Just had a great vacation, but feeling a little down and out after getting back home?

Looks like you may have the post-travel blues. 

Most people spend months looking forward to their next vacation. This downtime allows you to finally relax, spend time with family and friends, or even your much deserved alone time without having to worry about your usual routine. In fact, a vacation actually improves your health in several ways – physically, emotionally, mentally. 

However, there is a downside: going back home! It can feel like this peace of mind suddenly vanishes. It is very common to feel low when the holiday is coming to an end, and it can even last for a while after you’re back home. If you’re feeling blue after a trip, don’t worry, you’re not imagining it. 

So, how can you beat the post-holiday blues?

Why do you feel down after a trip?

Woman with red hair wearing a plaid shirt working at her desktop

Feeling down after a holiday is a feeling many of you already know. After a memorable vacation, a regular routine may seem mundane and pointless. Even though things may objectively seem fine, one can feel miserable and hostage to trivial things.

Post-holiday blues can feel a little bit like Monday blues, when the thought of facing the work week seems daunting, and leaves you missing the weekend, sometimes before it’s even over.According to Dr. Gerhard Strauss-Blasche from the University of Vienna’s Department of Physiology, in an NBC article: “It’s called “contrast effect”. Vacationers cease to be used to stress and thus react more strongly when confronted (with it) again.

This post-vacation blues can also stem from taking a step back from your ordinary life, allowing you to see it more clearly. Author Shannon Thomas says: “We often don’t notice certain negative aspects of our lives while we are in the middle of it, but taking a step back during a vacation brings more clarity to things we may need to change in our lives and coming home is often a splash of cold reality.

This feeling often translates as being tired, lacking energy or focus, having difficulty to sleep, lacking appetite, irritability and stress. Of course, not everyone is affected the same way. Some people might never experience it, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re feeling isn’t real or valid.

How to get rid of the blues

Dates of a month listed out in a diary

Prepare for your return

The first thing to do really needs to be done before you even go: prepare for your return.

First of all, try to plan at least one day off before you need to be back at work. It will allow you to ease your way back into your usual life. This gives you time to complete pending chores such as unpacking, laundry and grocery shopping. Start your work week with a refreshed state of mind. 

Another thing you should remember is to declutter your work desk and clean your apartment. Coming back to a mess will only worsen your already low spirits. At least you won’t have to deal with tidying up. That’s one thing off your mind!

Bring a little of your holiday back home

Once you’re back, Try to bring a little piece of your vacation back into your life to ease the transition.  Maybe recreate the recipe of something you loved eating during your trip. Remember those photos you took? Frame and hang your favourite pictures or create an album to share your memories. 

Essentially, the point is to incorporate something that will help you remember the feeling you had when you were away. It’s a little reminder of good times that will help you feel better every time you feel nostalgic.

Picnic basket, book, hat and flowers laid out on a red and white cloth

Plan for something exciting

Give yourself something to look forward to. This doesn’t need to be something big or expensive. A concert, trip to the museum or a picnic with friends can feel like a mini-vacation too. Plan ahead by marking your calendar or purchasing tickets to keep you motivated.  This will shift your focus: instead of looking back, you will look forward to the next exciting event.  

Just because your vacation has ended doesn’t mean you can’t have something really fun to anticipate.

Be a tourist at home

Why not bring the sense of wonder you have while on vacation to your everyday life? Try to integrate the same level of excitement at home. It is not uncommon to skip on all the tourist attractions in our own home because we think that there will always be time to do it later! Stop delaying, and start -or keep on- exploring museums, restaurants, going on walks or seeing a play.

You could rediscover the place where you live and manage to get excited again about it!

Girl looking at an art exhibit

Take it easy

Be lenient with yourself.

Avoid scheduling important meetings or catching up on mails on your first day back. This advice will help you from feeling overwhelmed. Try not to overload yourself to make up for the vacation time. If you’re not up for it, you probably won’t be able to do it well anyway. So, as much as you can, try to take it easy, at least for a few days.

What if the feeling lingers?

Woman airing out a green bedsheet

Use this time to check-in with yourself. If the feeling of sadness is very strong, maybe it’s a good opportunity to take a look at your life. Start listing the things that you would like to change. You can start by decluttering your home (Marie Kondo style!), to see things more clearly.

Perhaps the reason you are dreading coming back is because there is something deeply dissatisfying about your life: a problematic relationship, an unsatisfying job or a lack of social activities. Take a look at what is missing, and start planning for adjustments.

If you go from feeling nostalgic and anxious about coming back, to a long-lasting feeling of sadness, it might be a sign that something bigger is at play here. This might be a sign of depression, burnout, or anxiety – and those signs are never to be ignored. If the feeling lasts for over 3 weeks, you should talk to your doctor or therapist about it. These feelings are not to be taken lightly. 

Post-holiday blues will usually fade quite quickly. So if it doesn’t, it might not just be post-holiday blues. You should never postpone taking care of your mental health, just as much as your physical health. If this happens, go to your doctor, and begin the healing process.