These Books Will Make Make You a More Thoughtful Traveler

Fran Hunter
Photo of Parrish Turner
Us Books Editor22 May 2018

While travel can expand your worldview, an onslaught of tourists can cause massive cultural changes for locals. Luckily, there is a way to travel while also minimizing the negative affects you’ll have on resources and traditions.

Many terms are bandied about for thoughtful tourists—conscientious traveler, ethical traveler, global citizen. Whatever the designation, the hope is the same: Travelers should seek ways to see the world without compromising their personal values, without interfering with local culture, and with doing their best to minimize their carbon footprint.

One way to start traveling with intention is to do your research. The following books explore how locals are affected when tourism booms in their communities.

How to Travel Without Seeing by Andrés Neuman

Andrés Neuman spent a whirlwind book tour traveling throughout Latin America before coming to the realization that most of travel is “not seeing.” How to Travel Without Seeing consists of snippets of his observations and small scenes he gathered as he made his way through 19 countries including Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, and more. Neuman himself is an Argentine-Spanish citizen and takes his time to explore cultural identity, globalization, the intersections of history and current events.

'How to Travel Without Seeing' by Andrés Neuman | courtesy of Restless Books

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Set in the popular tourist destination, Jamaica, Nicole Dennis-Benn explores the lives of the people who work in and are affected by the tourist industry there. This award-winning novel doesn’t shy away from the dark sides of the lives of the three women it follows, but it is also not afraid to deal in their joy. As described in the NPR review, “There’s no character in Dennis-Benn’s novel that’s anything less than complex, multifaceted, and breathtakingly real.” For a book that will push you further than the typical beach read, give Here Comes the Sun a read.

'Here Comes the Sun' by Nicole Dennis-Benn | courtesy of Liveright

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

While Nigeria isn’t as known as a tourist destination as some of the other locations on this list, Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagos is a deep exploration into the ways globalization and imperialism have affected the development of her home country of Nigeria. This brilliantly atmospheric novel follows seven people as they live their lives in Lagos. In dealing with the turmoil of Nigeria’s history, Onuzo brings humor, which is hard to believe when first hearing about a novel which begins with two soldiers deserting an army that forced them to commit numerous human rights atrocities.

'Welcome to Lagos' by Chibundu Onuzo | courtesy of Catapult

He Mele A Hilo by Ryka Aoki

Through a large cast of characters, Ryka Aoki explores what it means to be Hawaiian and how individual actions have shaped the community in Hilo. The story centers Noleani Choi’s play telling the story of Jesus Christ through hula. This novel is written entirely in Hawaiian pidgin English, but don’t let that slow you down. The story is completely comprehensible and there is a glossary in the back for the less self-explanatory phrases. Aoki makes it impossible to shake the sounds of Hawaii from your ears when you leave the world of He Mele A Hilo.

'He Mele A Hilo' by Ryka Aoki | courtesy of Topside Press

Cuba and the Cameraman by Jon Alpert

While not a book, this documentary explores Cuba and three families over the course of 45 years. Cuba and the Cameraman offers rare insight into both the actions of Fidel Castro and the government and into the daily lives of Cubans affected by policies made beyond their control. As the world changes around them and tourists come in, the lives of families Alpert follows changes too. This documentary brings their heartfelt stories to the forefront.

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