How traveling to Jamaica inspired a new travel pursuit
“Talking to community members taught me a lot about the tourism industry’s effect on Jamaica as well as the value of having real conversations with people who live in the countries I visit.”
A few years ago, my husband and I traveled to Port Antonio and Treasure Beach in Jamaica. We had read a great deal about the history and culture of the people on the island and wanted to learn more for ourselves. We looked for towns with no resorts, and that were well-known for their beauty and hospitality since our goals were to have time to relax away from our children as well as to deepen our understanding of the country and its history.
Staying at locally owned places, having deep conversations with Jamaicans, and exploring the country at our own pace were just a few of our life-changing moments on this trip. We had so many experiences that people who stay in the typical resorts there can't even imagine. These were experiences that you will never find in tour books.
During the trip and after I got home, I thought deeply about the necessity of sustainable tourism. I learned from the people in Jamaica about how both the cruise industry and multinational hotel chains have stripped many island countries of their natural resources as well as the ability of the people who live there to find jobs that provide a decent living. This has a domino effect which inhibits opportunities for advancement and ownership. Talking to community members taught me so much. Not just about the tourism industry and its effect on Jamaica, but also the value of having real conversations with people who live in the countries I visit.
My “aha” moment in Jamaica
There is one moment in particular during our trip that sticks out in my mind. The moment that I realized that traveling outside of the tourist zones means getting a chance to meet people where they live, and that the vast majority of people are very open and welcoming to travelers.
We went to this jerk barbeque place out in the middle of nowhere for lunch. Apparently, my husband was so excited to arrive that he forgot the keys in the car and locked it.
By the time we were ordering in this gorgeous (and funky) outdoor atmosphere, we realized the situation. One of the people who worked there must have overheard us talking and realized what happened because he offered to help and then started talking to his friends who were there. Before we knew it, someone had run to get tools and someone else had popped the lock on the car, all before we were done with lunch.
In the spirit of great food and conversation, we bought everyone a round of beer...happiness ensued.
One tough moment on the road
Although we had some amazing experiences in Jamaica, that’s not to say there weren’t a few tough moments we had to overcome. At about the halfway point in our trip, we had run out of cash and needed to get some from town. For whatever reason, the ATM was blocking us from getting any, so we had to go to the bank. After waiting for quite a while the bank told us they were having a hard time verifying our information and sent us away.
We had no idea what was going on or what to do. As we were leaving the bank, rather dumbfounded, the owner of the bed and breakfast we were staying at just happened to arrive. She went in with us, and suddenly there was no problem with our account and we were able to get some money.
We still have no idea what happened but we were very grateful for the serendipity of her arrival at the exact moment that we needed some help.
The most unexpected thing that happened
The most unexpected thing actually came once I returned home to the US. I was at a meeting with a bunch of my coworkers and one of them had also been to Jamaica that summer. She was describing how miserable the experience was for her and I was shocked. I told her how much we had loved our trip.
When we compared notes, I found out that she had stayed in a typical resort and the only experience she had with Jamaicans was either as servers, room cleaners, or touts in the streets of Montego Bay. I realized from this just how valuable independent and sustainable travel is. Not only is it valuable for the people and places visited, but for the quality of the experiences the traveler has.
How Jamaica changed my perspective
Jamaica changed the way I viewed sustainable tourism. At the time we took this trip, I had started taking online classes in travel marketing with the intent of creating a post-retirement business. I loved the Caribbean and had thought that maybe I would start a niche travel agency to help people travel to various islands independently.
One of the things I realized as part of speaking with a number of Jamaicans was that although I was passionate about the islands, it would be more appropriate to support people with Caribbean roots in developing travel businesses there. As a white woman, I didn't feel that I could authentically pull off such a venture.
How the trip inspired my new adventure
After understanding more about sustainable tourism and coming to the realization that a Jamaica travel business wasn’t the right fit for me, I started something new. A fresh take on tourism in another country that I had grown to love: Italy. I am now growing my current travel business, Roads Less Traveled Italy.
I focus on customized, independent, off the beaten path travel in Italy for people of all budgets. I also donate 25% of my fees to an organization called FLYTE, which helps high school groups who otherwise would not be able to afford it to travel internationally.
I started taking classes in Italian language about 8 years ago so that I can speak with and learn from Italians when I'm there as well as when I'm home. In the next few years, my husband and I plan to spend a year in Italy - exploring more places and experiences to be able to share with travelers.
If you are looking to travel to Italy and want to have a truly customized and unique experience, feel free to contact me at Erica@roadslesstraveleditaly.com or fill out our Travel Inquiry Form. More information on our services is also available on our website: www.roadslesstraveleditaly.com. Happy travels!
People all around the world have had life-changing experiences through travel. Studying, working, volunteering, and traveling for leisure abroad all have the potential to change your perspective on the world. Check out more of our Traveler Stories.
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