Bright and early on Monday morning, we’re talking to Shannon O’Donnell, speaker, writer, traveler, and storyteller. Named 2013 Traveler of the Year by National Geographic, Shannon has travelled to more than 60 countries.
1) Explain your travel philosophy of responsible tourism.
Responsible travel is about using travel as a force for good – spending travel dollars on experiences protecting the cultural and environmental integrity of each place while benefiting locals, economies, and the planet. It’s a mindset travelers take on the road with them. It’s a lens through which they choose everything. So experiences relating to accommodations, shops, and tour companies are sustainable and ethical. I am a huge fan of social enterprises, and the ways travelers can use these businesses. So they book consciously, choosing companies that have a social mission—a commitment to positively impact social issues in their own communities.
2) Would you consider yourself a digital nomad? Why?
I definitely fall into that category, even though I was traveling and working long before we used the term ‘digital nomad’. I’ve been travelling the world since 2008, and from my first day on the road I have managed my freelance work and consulting for clients. I could have never wandered for the past decade without my online work – it was a key part of what allowed me to continue exploring. I suppose the term, ‘digital nomad’ would cover anyone using a remote job to live, work, or travel outside of their home city. And with so many different jobs available, it’s easier than ever (and harder in some ways, because of competition) to find work that you can deliver through an internet connection.
In Petra, Jordan
3) Would mid life women be able to adopt the lifestyle of a ‘responsible traveller’?
Responsible travel is inclusive, not exclusive. It’s not something like budget versus mid-range versus luxury travel, where you likely fall into one category on any given trip. Instead, since it’s a mindset, it’s something you layer onto a trip you are already planning. So you pick activities that lower your negative impact and choose aspects of travel that amplify the potential for good to come from your trip. A traveler of any style or age can make choices that spread their tourism dollars deeper into communities. Anyone can choose projects, activities, and companies that are working toward sustainable and ethical solutions to the most pressing local issues. That’s all it takes to transform your trip into one that uses travel as a force for good.
4) How many countries have you travelled, and which constituted your most memorable experience?
At last count, I am above 65, but I don’t precisely remember the exact number. As for most memorable, I could never begin to chose, as it changes, based on the topic of conversation and the way the wind blows that day! That said, most of my more interesting cultural exchanges came through supporting social enterprises in each new place—these businesses invariably allowed me to touch the culture in a way I would have never without their guidance. There’s my time learning about Maasai culture from warriors at the Maji Moto Cultural Camp in Kenya, or the beautiful dreams of the indigenous women taking part in En Via’s microfinance program in Oaxaca, Mexico. Those stand out in recent memory.
5) Where are you going next and what preparations are you making?
I actually just rented a flat in Barcelona for the next year and I am pretty thrilled to have a home base now from which to ground my travels. I’ll be in Portugal and Morocco in the next month with friends, but the travels are all now spokes reaching out from Barcelona, where I return between each trip. It’s been a decade since I last had a long term apartment, so I am excited for this adventure!