G Adventures founder releases Unlearn, a manifesto about how we can travel better after the pandemic

Businesses around the world are being hit hard by the pandemic lockdown, especially those in the travel industry, but G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip is hopeful that we’ll all benefit from this pause to build a more mindful and sustainable travel experience when the world emerges from this crisis.

Poon Tip wrote a free-to-download instabook to outline his thinking about the future of the travel industry while confined in his Toronto home during the early weeks of the lockdown. Titled Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still, the book came about as he struggled to write a statement about how his international small tours company was facing the pandemic, but found that whatever he wrote would either be obsolete by the time he finished it or too trite to release.

More of an extended essay than a true book, Unlearn presents Poon Tip’s dreams of a better future for a travel industry that has grown exponentially in recent years to the point where overtourism, climate change and sustainability have all become real issues.

“I think there is also a difference between what I would like to see and what might actually be possible,” wrote Poon Tip in Unlearn. “We have a chance to reset everything. This is what this instabook is about. It’s about you, me, and every traveller in the global community having the chance to rethink, restart, and rejuvenate the idea of what travel should be and could be.”

Part of the book is Poon Tip describing the early stages of the crisis when he was travelling from country to country, a normal aspect of his life and career, when it began to dawn on him that something bad was happening. Then, all of a sudden, he found himself stuck in his home, with nowhere to go, a very strange state of affairs for a perpetual traveller like him.

Like many of us, he started to use the time for some big thinking and collected those thoughts in the rest of the book where he outlines how he thought travel could be better.

First off, says Poon Tip, travel has to be better than just be sustainable. He hopes that we become more community minded when we travel and not just jet off to nice resorts or sit on cruise ships to never interact with the people in the places we visit.

“I hope that one of the things we get from this generation-defining event is that we think more about people as individuals wherever we go and conduct ourselves accordingly,” wrote Poon Tip. “That means being as conscientious when we travel as we are at home, not only by reducing single-use plastic to help the turtles, but by travelling in ways that don’t rip people off.”

As for overtourism, rather than go where everybody else goes, Poon Tip hopes that we spread ourselves out a bit more and not all go to Venice or stand with throngs of people in Paris looking at the Mona Lisa. Instead, he offers a list of recommended destinations that few visit, but are every bit as fulfilling like Uganda, Bolivia and Albania, among others.

While some of those places may sound like rough outposts for hardy backpackers, Poon Tip writes that he believes that there are opportunities to enjoy luxury travel just about anywhere, but that we should change how we define luxury. Today, luxury experiences are virtually indistinguishable from one location to the next giving you no sense of place so why not enjoy what people in India or Serbia consider luxurious instead of some idealized Western ideal?

Poon Tip is not a fan of cruise ships or all-inclusive resorts and fully expects people to indulge in both when the Covid-19 pandemic passes, but believes that many might think twice before doing so.

“Maybe Covid will make this sort of insular travel obsolete. It’s possible. I mean, we don’t travel on Zeppelins anymore either,” he said.

Poon Tip sees a bright future for homestays where travellers embed themselves in homes in the places they visit in order to better experience how people live there. It’s something that G Adventures has been doing for years and he hopes that others travel providers embrace it because it’s not only good for visitors, but benefits hosts and their communities as well.

Having interviewed Poon Tip a few times, I’ve always been impressed by his philosophy that travel can be a force for good. Everything he writes in Unlearn is consistent with that world view and nicely crystallizes his beliefs in one quick read. I’d encourage all travellers to read what he has to say and take the time to reflect on their own travel motivations and how they can be better travellers when this is all over.

“Travel’s always done good, whether we travellers have thought about it or not. But it can do a lot more good when we know what we’re doing, and why. We’ve been doing good, but after the pandemic, let’s see if we can do better,” concludes Poon Tip.

Exploring the best of Turkey with G Adventures

When I told friends and family that I was travelling to Turkey, they worried that it wasn’t safe, then when I got there, the headlines back home spoke of the country’s military incursion into Syria, but the fighting might well have been on another continent, because I was 1,500 kilometres removed from it and in this land that has witnessed conflict for millennia, it had virtually no effect on everyday life.

I was in Turkey with G Adventures on their Best of Turkey itinerary, a small group tour that spends eight days exploring the country, first arriving in Istanbul then motoring around the western reaches of Turkey for the next week before returning to Istanbul for a final day of exploration in advance of the flight back to Canada.

It’s amazing how much we were able to see and experience in such a short time. Here are some of the highlights:

A pilgrimage to Gallipoli
The battlefields of Gallipoli are hallowed ground for the people of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey alike.

Our first stop was to visit the First World War cemeteries of Gallipoli, sacred ground for not only Australia and New Zealand, but Turkey as well. The skies were grey, the wind was cold and the clouds threatened rain, fitting weather for our visit to ANZAC Cove, where we saw the forbidding cliffs overlooking the initial landing beach of the Allied invasion force. We learned about the doomed military campaign of 1915 and 1916 that cost the lives of more than 100,000 soldiers on both sides with hundreds of thousands more wounded.

As we walked through the graveyards of white marble tombstones, I heard Australian and New Zealand accents of other visitors as they commented to each other on how young the dead were that lay before us. For them, this land is what Vimy Ridge is to Canadians, a First World War battle that stirred the first feelings of national consciousness, as we began to break away from our colonial past. They were in this distant land to make a pilgrimage to honour that sacrifice.

We also toured one of the sombre cemeteries that housed Ottoman war dead, complete with patriotic statues and slogans as victory at Gallipoli is seen here as a pivotal moment in the creation of the modern nation of Turkey as it was where their founder and first president Kamâl Atatürk came to prominence as a field commander.

The news about Turkey’s incursion into Syria remind us that the repercussions of the First World War are still with us.

This is an excerpt. To read the rest of the story, please visit Canada.com.