When you travel are you aware of the impact you are having on the local communities? Do you visit towns known for their parties? There’s a lot of ugly tourism in this world and people ignorant to its impacts on the local cultures. Entire towns, islands, and even regions have developed reputations for party tourism and even the hideous sex tourism. How can we be positive contributors to the societies we visit and not negatively impact these beautiful places? There is a way, but it takes abstaining from reckless behavior, respect for locals, and a desire to be a part of a more positive movement in tourism.
We are currently in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua most popularly known for its great surrounding surf beaches and the infamous “Sunday Funday!” Walking down the streets in San Juan, it is easy to see that tourism has left its mark here.
Half of the businesses are owned by expats, most of the faces on the streets are white, and the language most commonly heard is English. San Juan not only attracts the younger demographics, but also the retirees looking for a simpler life. It’s an extremely pleasant place to live. Unfortunately, this influx of expats to the town and the all-day bar crawl that is Sunday Funday, have an ugly side for locals. After talking to a local family over lunch, we were told many times how much they don’t like this type of party-tourism and how it’s ruining their culture.
This type of party tourism happens across the globe. Towns like Luang Prabang in Lao develop reputations as party meccas and young travelers flock to them. Sadly, I watched a documentary about how destructive those reputations can be on towns like Luang, where tourists die every year from reckless behavior and local youth abandon future plans to join the tourists and sell drugs. Luang actually tried to shut this whole party down in their town after too many tourist deaths.
I’m guilty of visiting the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand for the full moon party when I was 25. You could tell the island benefited financially from the monthly parties, but also that the whole culture around it was very destructive to the island and the culture. I would never go to that again. The beaches got trashed with litter, locals got involved in drug dealing, and kids drank beyond their limits.
I understand the appeal for 18-25 year olds to live out those college fantasies of partying abroad. I used to watch MTV Spring break in Cancun enviously, when I was 12. It looked like a blast to party like that on the beach. When I finally reached college-age though, I had zero desire to spend my spring breaks in Cancun or Florida getting trashed. Instead, I attended Alternative Spring Break trips where we volunteered at an important service learning project for a week. It left a greater impact on my life than waking up with my head in a toilet ever would.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not a prude. I’ve partied hard like the best of them, but now as I get older and see traveling in a different light, I see how destructive and disrespectful these parties are to local cultures. We are currently volunteering in San Juan del Sur at an amazing organization called Comunidad Connect and not attending Sunday Funday.
I challenge you to think before you partake in behaviors that are disruptive to the cultures you are visiting. How would you feel if every weekend or month, people from other countries came to your town and drank excessively, puked on your doorstep, and damaged your property. I doubt you’d be pleased.
There’s better ways to have fun and you can even enjoy a drink responsibly while doing them. You can volunteer for a week in local communities, take foreign language classes, attend cultural events or dance classes, learn to surf, go trekking, donate to local causes, and so much more. Go on a wine tour or a brewery tour. I just ask that people think twice about engaging in tourism that is ugly and not only mistreats your body, but someone else’s town and culture.