A full passport is becoming a sort of social status symbol, and I’m concerned that is happening at the expense the cultures we visit and the environment, that we claim to love so much, as a whole. I recently had the privilege to work alongside some superiorly talented photographers, Jude Allen and Jordan Herschel as we traveled through some very familiar landscapes and some amazing new discoveries in one of my favorite places on earth, the Eastern Sierra Mountains. We went up in partnership with the three local DMO’s there, MonoCountyTourism, VisitBishop, and VisitMammoth to document the beauty of Autumn in that area as well as highlight this topic of ethical and sustainable tourism.

On this trip one of the first texts sent between us was this one from Jordan…

Now, clearly and hopefully obviously, tossing your cigarette butts out on the ground at a lake is a bad move. He spent the morning battling combative crowds and picking up after selfish people at North Lake, an increasingly more popular photo spot for fall colors… thanks Apple. But there are so many slight ways that people degrade the places and experiences for others that might not be as obvious.

There is a toxic mentality that someone else will deal with it

It’s the way a child treats their messes when they have a parent to clean it up after them – and unfortunately that mentality is only catalyzed when we reward people with social media attention when they ‘get the shot’. Some people get the shot even if they are being rude and ruining the experience for someone else, trampling off-trail, breaking boundary rules or putting themselves in a compromised situation, or leaving messes behind.

Some behaviors are less obvious in their impact, but with a little reading can be easily avoided (i.e. where/how to bury waste while camping).

photo credit for above, below: Jude Allen

I think the real shift will come when artists lead the way in talking about what we shoot as ‘our’ experience – looping in those beside us and those that will come after us – rather than ‘my’ experience. With that ‘our’ mindset we might begin to tackle questions like: how harmful is an airplane ride/road trip to our shared environment? or, is my presence helpful or harmful to local economy and culture? or, in what ways is my content educating people of better practices and habits?

There’s more to life than the shot.

There’s more to photography than the likes.

We ought to travel well instead of just being well-traveled

Familiarize yourself with the Leave No Trace principles, talk to a park ranger, absorb the beauty in the people of a place rather than just treating them as a means to an end for your full passport. There are a lot of methods we can pioneer in and ones that are yet to be discovered and once we start allowing our concern for longevity leak into our experiences we will be able to enter this conversation a bit more soberly and take on the responsibility that is so often pushed off to someone else.

It’s hard to know whether the majority is those that think like this or those that think selfishly, but I’m tired of seeing monuments closed, forests burned, landmarks destroyed, because of the rare case that someone’s selfish thought met it’s tragic logical conclusion.

Do you have creative ways you have infused your travel with intentionality and care that makes a place better than when you found it? Let’s share those ideas here.