„How was Russia?“ people ask. „Cold“, I say when I feel like being funny.
„How was Russia?“ friends ask. „Enriching,“ I say when I know we have time to talk.
This was my first time in Asia, first time in Russia, first time taking part in a European project. I did not know what to expect, so I did not expect anything. It was called Learn urban green.
Our mission was to turn a not much used public space in a library into something nice, something modern and useful. And we did. But that´s another story.
In the meantime, I got a chance to give a workshop on responsible travel for the participants. There were 4 nationalities involved in this training – Russia, Slovakia, Moldova and Portugal, 16 people in total.
It was quite challenging but interesting at the same time to talk about this topic with people coming from countries with very different cultural backgrounds what shapes the attitude towards travelling and the problems it brings.
For some participants, it is still unusual to take vacation on the sea for granted. That is the reason why they look at it as a luxury worth saving money for. For others, 2-3 vacations abroad per year is something, they feel they have right for. There were guys who live in the region with unfulfilled potential in tourism whereas there are others who live in places highly affected by overtourism. How to explain we should stick to zero waste concept during our travels to people who have troubles to make the ends meet? There was more than 30 years difference between the youngest and the oldest participant. How to talk to them in a way so everybody is on the same page?
The only recipe is to let the people speak. Give them the freedom and let them discuss, react, inspire each other and just ask them a few questions to keep the spirit alive. It was a very valuable experience for me because until then, I have only given this workshop to people from one cultural background or one age group.
I really appreciate I got the chance to not only be a part of this project but also spread the message about responsible travel. However, what I feel the most satisfied about is seeing that Nastja (from hosting organization) managed to create opportunities for us to travel responsibly even without realizing it.
In Stavropol, we supported small local entrepreneurs eating in vegetarian restaurant and a local restaurant owned by people from Dagestan. We got to feel part of the community attending the book club or going to forro night with the locals (btw, I would never expect to learn a Brazilian dance in Russia 🙂 ). We got the taste of the culture by doing Platza treatments to each other in banya (sauna). It is applying a bushel made of oak leaves called a “venik” which is soaked in warm water over your entire body. Most of the times, we were eating at Zam-zam a restaurant owned by people from muslim minority where we learned there is no meal the dill cannot be accompanied with and we contemplated while listening to two amazing Russian folk musicians).
We behaved „green“ – Nastja got us our own cups at the beginning and we were using them during the whole stay. We recycled (wallets or flower pots made of juice boxes), we walked wherever it was possible to walk or we took the local public transport and we bought much of the material for renovation of the space in second hand shops. We left a positive footprint in the library and on ourselves as we had to get out of our comfort zones several times (e.g. interaction with kids). For many of us, every day brought a new challenge either by presenting our projects or interacting with other cultures. And we managed, united in diversity. Because we opened our eyes, our minds, our hearts and we learned.
You do not have to label your trip responsible. Any journey can be responsible. Just travel with purpose, keep your mind open and accept the challenges the journey brings. It will surely make you grow. And what else is the essence of travelling?