We got in touch with Ananya Ghosh, founder of Feet Run Wild – an eco-travel blog, to decode the fate of conscious travelling in the post-Corona world. By Bayar Jain
1. Tell us a little bit about Feet Run Wild and the inspiration behind it.
I started Feet Run Wild on a whim back in 2017. Often, I find it difficult to verbally explain what a particular travel experience has been like. According to me, saying ‘wonderful!’ or ‘awesome!’ doesn’t do justice to the escapade. I find it easier to write them down, which led me to start this travel blog. Over the years, I found a more wholesome purpose and decided to back this passion with determination and inspire lives along the way.
Now, Feet Run Wild is an eco-travel blog committed to encouraging people to travel responsibly. I have been travelling solo across Europe and India since 2017, learning and practising eco-friendly living. Through my blog and travels, I encourage responsible travel. I work with eco-businesses and organisations that work towards the conservation of nature, its biodiversity and preserving its wilderness. Promoting offbeat places, their rich culture, old traditions and rural communities are of prime importance on my blog.
2. The name of your blog is very intriguing. What’s the story?
I have always loved to explore and discover new places since I was a child. I now travel to a new place whenever I get the opportunity. There are times when I cannot stay in the same city for too long. Monotony bores me! This is where the name Feet Run Wild comes from. It’s the urge to escape, to drift away into the wild, and to give in to the longing for mysterious places.
3. What steps do you take to travel sustainably?
I am lucky to be brought up by parents who prioritised a meaningful lifestyle with an emphasis on the education of the world I inhabit. They taught me how to be a responsible traveller without calling it ‘eco-tourism.’ Our motto was to reduce, reuse and recycle in every possible way. Naturally, this made me empathetic to my surroundings. So now, I make a conscious decision to travel in a way that respects nature and does not contribute to its degradation. Besides connecting secluded environments to the mainstream, and advocating undisturbed destinations, I try understanding the places I visit by becoming aware of environmental changes; uplifting local communities; nurturing existing local arts, crafts and cultures; and connecting urban and rural people.
4. When travelling, how can one ensure they’re helping the local community?
You will get a rough idea about how you can contribute as a traveller by thoroughly researching about the place before visiting. By choosing locally owned eco-tour operators and eco-stays that work with the community to provide locals with jobs will not only help the people but also give you a richer and more authentic experience. Seeking indigenous artisans and nurturing their craft by purchasing locally-made clothes, souvenirs, snacks and meals is the easiest way to contribute to the community. Most importantly, respecting their culture and customs, and obeying the rules of the place is the best possible way to uplift them. Try immersing yourself in the locals’ world, and understanding their life through their eyes. Embracing cultural differences makes it a unique experience.
5. You talk about promoting offbeat destinations. Do you think, in some ways, this could even lead to over-tourism, and in turn harm the environment you’re working to protect?
With travel becoming more affordable and increasingly accessible, most tourists visit popular cities and attractions of a given country simply because they’re all over the internet. While these places certainly have a charm of their own, over-tourism continues to rise. Streets become overcrowded, local sites get packed, tourists overpower locals, and roads start getting gridlocked. In such a scenario, promoting offbeat destinations will help balance the crowds and simultaneously elevate communities that can benefit from travellers monetarily and environmentally. In fact, this is one of the main objectives of eco-tourism: tackling over-tourism by distributing the crowd equally and responsibly.
6. Many consider veganism integral to being more environmentally conscious. What’s your take on it?
I’ve been reading and watching documentaries on veganism to form an opinion, but I find myself stuck in the middle of the extremes. While people choose to be vegan for health, environmental, and/or ethical reasons, I’m trying to wrap my head around the history of mankind. We’ve evolved by hunting and gathering. And as I understand it, Veganism is a privileged choice. With the disparity of income, vegan products are found largely expensive, and termed as an ‘elitist preference.’ Moreover, what about populations in cold countries who survive on non-vegan consumption? With that in mind, it’s hard to envision a 100 per cent plant-based diet world.
Having said that, I also recognise that vegans choose this lifestyle to promote a more humane world. I understand that they feel that one promotes the meat industry by consuming eggs and dairy products and are troubled by the conditions associated with their production. I stand against the same things that many vegans stand against — factory farming, torturing of animals, animal slavery, speciesism, mass extinction of species, the pollution and greenhouse gases produced by livestock, and the destruction of our Earth. And, I am certainly not refuting that veganism can be the most ethical and environmentally superior diet in many cases. But what I’m saying is, this argument is not black or white; it’s all shades of grey. Ideally, of course, I dream of a world where animals and wildlife are not harmed and humans can co-exist with nature.
7. In a post-Corona world, travel is expected to see a change. What are your predictions for the same?
While almost every industry has suffered – and continues to be affected by it – the tourism sector is said to be the worst hit. However, until now, rising incomes, availability of lower fares and diverse travel packages were pushing the more affluent Indian middle class – particularly the younger generation – to spend more on travel, and I don’t think that will change. Since travel has become such an important part of our lives, I am particularly positive that it will revive soon. Having said that, I sincerely hope that once it does, we see a drastic shift in the mindsets and intentions of today’s traveller.
I imagine that staying in lockdown, most of us have recognised that altering living and behaviour patterns is the only way forward. The average Indian traveller will seek alternative destinations and experiential journeys. There will be a renewed zeal to explore domestic locations, and in my opinion, that’s a commendable first step! Perhaps the choice of accommodation will also change, sanitation will become a priority, people will return to nature and wildlife, luxury will become affordable and flight tickets may rise. But I can guarantee one thing – the revival of the classic old-school road trips!
8. What do you think will be the fate of conscious travelling once restrictions ease?
I remain a strong advocate of the overall positive impact of travel and tourism, and the key role it plays in conservation. Responsible tourism and eco-tourism are the needs of the hour. It will be vital for tourism to have a net positive contribution to conserve wildlife, the environment and the community for the industry to survive in a post-COVID-19 world. Both, stakeholders and travellers, will have to work together in harmony with nature to protect the environment.
Conscious travel will peak. Consumers will be more conscious of the impact they have on nature and the communities they visit. There is going to be tremendous innovation in relation to sustainability, with sensitivity towards the environment. You will see people indulging in slow travel. They will look at offbeat places and become aware of their carbon footprint.
9. As an adventure-loving girl, which has been your favourite adventure yet and why?
In December 2018, I took the seemingly bold decision to travel solo to the Arctic Circle in the Swedish Lapland region. It was cold and windy, and the nighttime hours were double the daylight hours. The thought of witnessing the Northern Lights made these factors look insignificant in my eyes. So, I took off to see the Northern Lights in Abisko, a rather tiny little hamlet in northern Sweden. The night of my birthday, I stood alone in knee-deep snow for hours in the dead of winter, looking towards the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dancing neon lights. Come midnight and this ghostly glow swayed left and then right. As if teasing, a playful wave dancing across the sky appeared and disappeared against a backdrop of glimmering stars. It made me feel so small and insignificant. The experience was unparalleled!
10. Being based in Mumbai, what are some of your favourite hidden gems of the city?
Completing my junior college at Jai Hind College meant that I would spend most of my time at the quirky South Mumbai streets and alleyways. But, my favourite spot to watch the city speed by is the terrace of a hidden five-storey building in Bandra. I go there often, just be alone, and watch the skyline and city-lights whizz past. I’m also a sucker for street-side chaat. Ganesh Snacks in Vile Parle bags the first place on my list of chaatwaalas!
11. Any advice to female travellers, especially if they’re embarking on a solo trip?
Embrace this opportunity. Don’t be scared or worried, or let negative environments and off-putting situations boggle you down or take the better of you. The world is an inherently good place. Remember to trust your instinct; arrive early at your destination to familiarise yourself; think, behave and dress like a local; and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Being able to stand on your own two feet as an independent and fearless woman is just as essential than any life experience.