TravelEater's Johanna Read Talks Ably Apparel & Responsible Tourism
Local Vancouverite Johanna Read--travel writer, photographer and sustainable tourist--has ample amounts of wondrous content to share, from articles on all the best places to grab a bite, no matter where you are, to conversations on the best way to pack for your travel trip, to educating would-be #expedtionists on the appropriate ways to comport themselves and share meaningful exchanges with the locals.
Currently living out her dream of a retired, travel-filled lifestyle, Johanna has made it a priority in her work to make sure travelers understand the subtle cultural nuances in the areas they visit, both for the respect of the people and for the general knowledge of what it means to be a responsible tourist, from the clothing you choose to wear, to the way you plan your travel itinerary and more. Read below for her insight.
How did you get started in your creative career?
I used to be a policy executive with the Government of Canada. But in the space of a little more than a week in 2012, I learned my job was getting downsized and my husband wanted a divorce. One of these alone would have been devastating, but the two together was the universe telling me I should do something different with my life.
So I decided to live my retirement dream of traveling and writing at age 43. I say when life gave me lemons, I made a lemon pie (because a lemon pie is even better than lemonade).
I write articles and take photographs for print and digital publications in Canada and around the world (links to all my work are at TravelEater.net). I specialize in travel and food stories and especially love to write about responsible tourism.
What speaks to you most about sustainability & tourism?
I'm a big advocate for responsible tourism. I believe that every action we take should at least not make the world worse, and, ideally, should make the world better. This holds true in the travel industry as well.
A lot of the time travelers just don’t know the simple things they do that make a destination better or worse. With my writing, I hope to bring more awareness.
Who or what influenced you to want to give back to others through your work?
As a former public servant, giving back has always been a key aspect of all the work that I do. My awareness that I could translate this to the travel world came during one of my first big trips outside of the western world, to Southeast Asia in 2006.
I can pin it to one early morning in Luang Prabang, the ancient royal capital of Laos, the tiny country wedged between Thailand and Viet Nam. Every day at dawn, a thousand monks from the town’s 34 temples walk through the UNESCO World Heritage town to collect alms from townspeople. It’s a beautiful, mystical sight to see and very popular with tourists. But most of these tourists don’t know that they’re ruining the ceremony with their loud and intrusive behaviors. They don’t realize that even though it takes place in the street, this religious ceremony is as solemn and sacred as one that takes place in a church.
I would have loved to read about it and understand it better in advance of my visit, and figured I could write articles to build understanding and changes in behaviors.
Starting your own business can be a struggle. What were the biggest challenges you faced, cultural or otherwise that you had to overcome?
Leaving the world of government to become the sole person responsible for bringing in business was a real change. I had no idea that a travel writer, especially in the early years, spends a lot more time pitching editors of magazines and other business-related tasks than actually writing travel articles. I no longer had a steady pay cheque either, so I needed to learn how to live a very frugal life.
How did you overcome these struggles?
Lots of effort, trial and error, learning from my mistakes, and finding other writers who were willing to share tips and resources with me. I’m still learning!
If you could pick 3 travel experiences that had the most positive impact on your life, what would they be and why did they stand out among the rest?
It’s always hard to pick examples for superlative questions like this. In addition to the Luang Prabang story above, my trip earlier this year to Uganda to trek with mountain gorillas comes to mind. Looking into the eyes of an intelligent creature in their natural habitat was amazing, as was learning how tourism can help protect not only these endangered animals but improve the lives of the Batwa people who live nearby.
I loved my first major solo trip--almost six months back to Southeast Asia--which made me realize I’d changed as a traveler and as a person. I used to travel only after weeks of intensive research, only feeling confident when I was armed with my list of not-to-miss sites and restaurants and the ideal order to visit them. Now I just wander and ask local residents and other travelers for their recommendations, and experience destinations in a much more in-depth way.
And my first press trip--to China--stands out for me, as I realized all the effort I’d put in to establish myself as a travel writer and photographer was paying off.
Any tips for travel that give back/help others?
I’ve got lots of advice on TravelEater.net about how to travel responsibly, including how to protect yourself -- and a local economy -- from scams, etiquette tips for different regions of the world, and how most of the voluntourism trips advertised to westerners hurt more than help people in need.
My main advice is just to think about the consequences of your actions, and how they affect the people who live in the place you’re visiting, and how your actions affect tourists who will come after you. Do you know what a fair price is, and are you paying it? Are you buying from the shopkeeper who shouts “cold drinks” or “buy scarf” as you walk by their shop, or are you going to a quiet shop that sells local products? Are you dressing appropriately for the culture, making sure your clothes aren’t too revealing, especially in Buddhist and Muslim cultures?
On the latter, my favorite new discovery is the perfect travel shirt: long- and short-sleeved shirts by Ably Apparel. These 100%-cotton shirts are treated with environmentally-friendly Filium technology. Unlike other high-tech fabrics, Filium doesn’t use nanoparticles which can leach into the water supply and into your skin. These shirts repel liquid -- sweat, odors, stains, even ketchup. And they only need washing every few weeks. With Ably, you can wear a cotton shirt that’s comfortable in the tropics yet covers your shoulders and cleavage. You don’t have to worry that it’s going to smell, even if you wear it every day, and might not need to wash it at all during your entire trip. I love them!
Any advice you can give to someone wanting to give back or start out on their own?
I think we should always be trying to give back, whatever we do. This is easy to do by just being aware our actions and not putting ourselves first.
What’s next for yourself and TravelEater?
I’m continuing with traveling, eating and writing. My next few press trips are to the States, but I’m hoping to go further afield before the end of the year. I’m also trying to find the time to provide more responsible tourism advice to tourism commissions and tourism businesses, perhaps through the creation of a consulting service.
All images: Johanna Read, TravelEater
Copyright: Rose Huet 2017