Are you planning a trip to Africa soon? Or are you planning to boldly mark such an adventure in your calendar? Cool! You are about to embark on an adventure where you can indulge in all the wonderful things the continent of Africa has to offer. But how do you make sure that you, as a traveler with a different cultural background, are respectful to the local population, achieve an equal cultural exchange and do not – unintentionally – cause any damage? Below we give you a taste of what you all need to consider and in what way we inform our travelers.
Africa: the other story
“So, as you read this from behind your computer or phone in the Netherlands, you may also have noticed strong stereotypes. Africa is dry and poor, children have hungry bellies and flies on their faces and the adults are pathetic and needy. Oh yeah, and then there’s the Big Five to spot from an armored safari jeep. In doing so, many people conveniently forget that Africa is not a country, but the second-largest continent in the world, consisting of 54 different countries.
"Many people forget that Africa is not a country but the second-largest continent in the world."
ONE of our most valuable goals is to dispel dangerous stereotypes. We believe it is important that our travelers – but also people at home – see the Africa that is more than a Giro-555 advertisement. Content is the most important weapon in this fight. We ourselves publish stories in the form of blogs, vlogs and mini-documentaries to paint a more complete picture, but we also challenge our travelers: look and listen with an open mind and be surprised! Engage in interesting conversations with people and ask questions. Take off your blinders and you will see how insanely diverse the continent is. We therefore encourage our clients to share this very diversity on social media, and in doing so help dismantle the stereotyping of ‘Africa’.
Equal cultural exchange
An equal exchange between two different cultures is an important aspect in the trips we put together for our clients. In our opinion, you cannot say you have experienced a country without learning something about the cultures, norms, values and customs of the locals. We make this exchange a little easier by working directly with local partners. Think of communities that welcome you in their homestay or organize a tour in which they teach you everything about the area. This gives you a unique insight into the daily life of locals from the country you are visiting. What do traditional tribes in the modern world really look like? Or among the ambitious young people in urban areas? No embellished performances often hidden behind the tourist facade, but the real deal where two worlds meet. This is also your chance to share aspects of your own culture during deep conversations around the campfire. To ensure a cultural exchange that is equal, it is important to avoid the “White Savior Syndrome. We inform our travelers about this in behavioral guidelines before they travel.
White Savior Complex
As writer and journalist Eduardo Galeano once said, “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person.” A wise statement, especially when you travel to the African continent as a white, wealthy person. Especially when you have a worldview in which African people are poor, pathetic and needy – and you are in a position to help – you have to be careful that you don’t start suffering from the so-called “White Savior Syndrome” and put your white superiority into play. What exactly do we mean by that? Allow us to explain briefly.
Although all African countries are now independent, you will find many vestiges of colonization that remain dormant like a stubborn virus in books, cultures, values, academic education or the self-image of many people. One of those rusty vestiges is the white privilege that white Westerners have. White privilege often goes hand in hand with white superiority: the system in which whiteness is central, and seen as “better than. So it is fair to say that the whole ‘we-are-white-rich-and-educated-and-we-must-help-the-poor-souls’ idea perpetuates this inequality and fosters an ‘us vs. them’ situation in which the white Westerner is seen as superior to ‘the African’. Not only can this mindset cause unintended harm, but it is also very denigrating and not exactly encouraging to the local population: What does it do to you as a human being when you are labeled as a sapling in need of rescue? When strangers who don’t know your culture at all waltz into your hometown, telling you how you should live your life? Read this blog to learn more about White Savior Syndrome and its harmful effects.
Pondering: What does it do to you when you are labeled as pathetic and in need of rescue? When strangers waltz into your residence and tell you how you should live YOUR life?
#1 Poverty porn
The pictures you take, the context in which you post them, and the words and hashtags you use have much more influence than you probably think. Not only on the environment where you are a guest but also on the image your friends back home get of the country you are in. When you use poverty for personal gain (Instagram likes, sensation, so-called ‘inspiration’), it’s called ‘poverty porn.’ This promotes the aforementioned stereotypes of a poor, needy Africa, undermines the dignity of people, and any form of equality is far from being achieved. Using #PoorAfricanChild on Instagram? Better not! Check out more on debunking stereotypes (including hilarious satirical videos) this website!
#2 Visiting orphanages or schools
As a travel agency, we often get the question: can we also visit an orphanage or school? With orphanages in Africa, you have to be careful. Because volunteers pay a lot of money to volunteer in an orphanage and donors pay money per child on a monthly basis, orphanages sprout like weeds. And they need to be filled with children. For example, did you know that 80% of children in orphanages worldwide still have one or both parents? And that of these children, 50% had a home environment that was good and safe enough to grow up in? Orphanages have become an industry, fueled by Western benefactors with money (to come back to white savior syndrome again.) Read about other adverse effects of orphanage tourism – such as serious attachment problems – and why there really shouldn’t be that many orphanages in Africa at all! The consequences of visiting schools are not as bad, but often the program is shut down when visitors come to take a look. Ask yourself: in the Netherlands, would tourists ever come to look in the classroom?
As a travel agency, we also often get the question: what can we bring from Holland to hand out to the children? This is of course a well-intentioned gesture, but you have to be careful with handing things out as well. Besides creating a begging culture, this also stimulates the White Savior complex in which you, as a traveler, play Santa Claus. In addition, it is difficult for you to properly understand what is really needed and useful in a community. For example, you can hand out hugs, but chances are that those same hugs will be for sale at the local market the next day, because yes: mouths need to be fed and school fees need to be paid! If you want to maintain equality, it is better to pursue honest business and, for example, give an extra generous tip to someone who has done their job well. Would you still like to hand out nice things? Then start by researching what will actually benefit children. Then buy those items locally, so you stimulate the local economy. And finally: don’t take and post pictures when you hand out things to children!
"When you want to maintain equality, you better pursue honest business and tip that nice waiter an extra generous tip."
Respectful travel: conduct guidelines
When we receive travelers in African destinations, we share behavioral guidelines. These address the above topics, but when you want to travel through your vacation country in a respectful manner, there is more to it. First of all, it is important to realize that we are guests. We do not call the shots here and must adapt. To make this a little easier, our “behavioral guidelines” contain some appropriate tips & tricks. For example, what clothes are best to bring and put on so as not to make your hosts uncomfortable? Never take pictures of people without permission – especially minors. Do yourself a favor be patient: time flows differently here, and it’s no use to anyone if you pull a grumpy grimace when your food is placed in front of you twenty minutes later. We also provide our customers with a tip guide. Besides being a fair way of doing business, it is also more expected of you than in the Netherlands. Salaries are lower here and tourism lives largely off the tip. Tipping a fat tip for a service you are satisfied with is also, in our eyes, better than just donating. So how much do you give that nice cab driver or that hotel employee who lugged your heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs? Ask the tipping guide!
Respectful travel: animals and wildlife
Tourists come with money and orphanages are not the only ones who see business opportunities. Animals and wildlife, especially when rare, are often exploited to the core in the tourism industry to make money. Tourists often don’t look into it enough and have no idea of their negative impact. Consider the global debate over the riding of Thai elephants. Africa is also riddled with unsavory practices involving defenseless wildlife. For example, you can pet cute lion cubs that have been orphaned. When the lions mature, they are given their freedom back in the wild. It seems harmless, but what travelers often don’t know is that these lions are used for trophy hunting, for hunters who pay big bucks for them. The lions are easy to shoot because they are used to humans. Unfortunately, this is just one of many gruesome examples where – often also endangered species – are used as tourist money machines.
Yet not all interactions with rare animals are bad. When you do a chimp or gorilla trek in Uganda, for example, the money you pay for it (which is certainly not a bad amount) is spent directly on protecting the animals and their habitat. When you book a trip with us, you will be well informed by your Travel Designer. For example, did you know that wildlife conservancies spend their income differently than many national parks? We then leave the choice up to you to decide what you find ethical to support.
What is true for travelers is also true for us: we live and work from a position of privilege on the African continent, and we must use it responsibly. Thus, we do our best to avoid any trace of white superiority in our content, but also in our private lives we keep a close eye on what we post on social media. In addition, we try to create as many employment opportunities as possible. Read how we drive our positive impact on the development of local communities here. But even at our own office, we make sure that as many positions that do not require Dutch-speaking tongues are filled by local colleagues. The magicians behind the scenes who conjure up your entire trip in Kenya down to the last detail? They are – of course – Kenyans!
And so we all ensure that our different cultures, backgrounds, norms and values can enrich the other and bring us closer together!
Why travel with Charlie’s Travels?
We are “On the ground” in africa
The team lives and works all over Africa and therefore has a lot of first-hand knowledge and experience.
We develop our own routes
Wherever Charlie and his team travel, they develop new routes and experiences together with local entrepreneurs.
Every trip is co-creation
We tailor each trip based on your wishes and our African knowledge. Everything is possible and nothing is too crazy! Give us a try?
We work in a responsible and sustainable way
Charlie’s Travels works together with local partners and contributes to CO2 projects to offset environmental pollution.