When a country or region is in turmoil, people ask me, "Are there deals to be had for travelers there?" Not that I'm any kind of saint, but when I travel to places in crisis, it's not to take advantage of their hardship -- but to learn from their reality and to contribute to their economy through tourism.
When I do travel to a place that's going through hard times, I know I'll be spending substantial money there -- and I try to spend it in a way that helps the locals. Visiting Greece from a cruise ship is easy and fun, but your serious money (accommodations, dinner, and tour guiding) sets sail with you. I remember how, immediately after the fall of the USSR, the Baltic States had lots of "joint venture" businesses -- such as fancy hotels that were mostly owned by Germans and Swedes. These slick bits of Stockholm were being planted in Vilnius in hopes of big profits down the road for foreign investors. I always felt better staying in a humbler hotel with local roots.
This April, I'll be navigating the complex touristic waters of Israel and the West Bank. I asked an Israeli tourism official if he cared that I'd also be featuring the West Bank in my work. He basically said, "We're happy if you can send Israel and the people in the Palestinian Territories some tourism. It's really important for our economies. And if it is good for the West Bank's economic health, then it's good for Israel, too."
By promoting tourism in the West Bank, I hope to play some small role in helping the struggling local economy, promoting peace at the same time.
Where would I travel in Europe this year with that ethic in mind? For one thing, I'd be careful not to let hysterical "if it bleeds, it leads" news coverage skew my assessment of where it's safe to travel. I would also not let the possibility of strikes or demonstrations keep me away from a country that's facing challenges.
Travelers are like skiers: Some like the smooth, predictable slopes. Others find those a little boring, and prefer a few moguls here and a trail through the forest there. The key to enjoying moguls is to bend your knees. And, if you're venturing into the forest, you better have the necessary information.
Likewise, the key to enjoying Europe, from Portugal to Rhodes, is to be flexible and to have the right information. As Europe continues to face trying times, I'm not expecting prices to go way down. But the relief-per-dollar my business brings to these places will be way up. That's why, on my next trip, I'll be visiting these countries: Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
Happy -- and thoughtful -- travels!
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