The Ethics Of Travel With Thuha Nyugen

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The Ethics Of Travel With Thuha Nyugen CulturallyOurs Podcast

Season 05
Season 05
The Ethics Of Travel With Thuha Nyugen
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Show Details

In this episode, we explore the ethics of travel with Thuha Nyugen. Thuha lives in Sweden and is studying tourism and sustainability. She shares her thoughts and her experiences around the ethics of tourism and we also talk about some of the trends in the tourism and travel space. We also discuss issues like dark tourism, sustainability, responsible travel as well as the need for diversity and inclusion in the tourism space.

Show Notes

Karthika explores the ethics of travel and tourism with Thuha Nyugen. Thuha currently lives in Sweden and she is studying travel and tourism with a focus on sustainability in this sector. Thuha shares her thoughts and her experiences around the ethics of tourism. She also talks about some of difficult aspects and trends in the tourism and travel space – namely like dark tourism and poverty tourism. Karthika and Thuha also discuss what it means to be sustainable in the travel space and how travelers can practice responsible travel as well as the need for diversity and inclusion in the tourism space.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome, Thuha. Thank you so much for joining me on Culturally Ours. I’m very, very excited to talk to you, have you on the podcast and I cannot wait to get to know you a little bit better.

Thuha: Likewise. I’m very excited to be here.

Karthika: Of course. Now, before we begin could you tell us a little bit about sort of who you are, where you’re from to help set the stage for this conversation?

Thuha: Of course. So like I said my name is Thuha and right now I’m studying tourism and sustainability here in Sweden, which is where I’m from and I think you found me on my Instagram because I post a lot about tourism and sustainability and it is something that I am very passionate about and I feel like traveling has always been part of my identity for as long as I can remember. So I’m very excited to talk about this.

Karthika: Yes, I did find you on Instagram and it was one of those complete stalker moments for me because I found a post, somebody had shared something you had talked about, and I know we’re going to get to that as well in the interview. So I wouldn’t give that away, but it just connected with me. And I realized that as, as people, as individuals, as travelers, we don’t talk about, we always talk about the good things about travel. We don’t talk about the, not so good things and difficult topics, but we need to because we need to be more aware so I reached out to you and I’m so excited to have you on the podcast. So tell me what got you. I mean, you said that you’ve always been a lifelong traveler passionate about travel. Talk to me a little bit about sort of what got you interested in travel and to make that something that you are studying tourism and sustainable.

Thuha: Okay. First of all, it felt like such a cliche, right? I like to travel. My mom and my dad are from Vietnam and we moved to Sweden when I was just a baby. So growing up, I’ve always kind of had another culture as well. And we’ve also traveled a few times to Vietnam when I was younger. And also like when I was a teenager just growing up, like the going home to Vietnam and I think that’s where the interest of traveling grew. And like when I get to see like there’s so much more to this world and just talking like Sweden and Vietnam and comparing those two countries, it’s the complete opposite. And I found that so fascinating. And I just wanted to see more.

Karthika: Oh completely. I’m from India and I’ve lived half my life here in the States, and you’re right. It’s so it’s completely an East versus West in so many different ways. And I want to ask you, like how, how was an, and this is kind of maybe unrelated, but sort of related how did the whole transition go for you when you would travel back and forth? Did you find it easy to assimilate back into Vietnamese culture going into Vietnam and on the flip side coming back, like, did you always have these questions of like what’s going on and like, who am I, how do I kind of relate to these two identities?

Thuha: Oh, for sure. Also growing up in a small town in Sweden like I was kind of the only Asian kid and, I was the only one, I mean, me and another guy, but we were the only ones who would look Asian. So I like, not questions, but like you always wonder like where you came from. And even at home, we ate Chinese food while my parents spoke the Vietnamese language to me. So it was actually kind of a relief when I finally got to go back to Vietnam. But I mean, I was five years old the first time I went. So like, I didn’t understand anything other Than the fact that I was going somewhere but when I grew older, I remembered my first solo trip to Vietnam. And when I finally just got the time to travel there on my own and kind of experience the country on my own it was such a life-changing experience.

Karthika:I can imagine. Now talk to me a little bit about just the pandemic and COVID, and I know, I love asking this question because every country is so different and it’s amazing to kind of hear how people are adjusting and sort of reacting. So tell me how the pandemic sort of unfolded in Sweden and did everything shut down or things open back up again? How is it there for you?

Thuha: Oh, I think a lot of people have heard on the news how Sweden reacts to the whole COVID thing because we have gone in different directions not so much now but at the beginning of the epidemic, we learned a lot about one thing that people have to understand about Sweden. Instead, if we are used to socially distancing, we’re like we have this reputation of being cold, I guess, but it’s just, I don’t know, like social distancing, it’s just like, it’s nothing new for us so it’s something that we’ve kind of, it’s kind of normal for us but then we also decided to not shut down, we just decided to shut down and we wanted to like invest in like in the economic part as well but I mean, we’ve, we know that like just looking at it from now like obviously we have failed of what we wanted to do but things are still open in Sweden.

Karthika: That is very interesting. So nothing shut down, no masks or anything like that?

Thuha: So in March, actually this month, they decided to like there’s this law of like, you have to wear a mask during rush hour, like when it’s rush hour, for example, so there are still people that just don’t wear masks and there are those who does, and like there’s restaurants and bars who have to close in a certain hour now, but if you want to go out for lunch or something or you want to go shopping or like, you can do that.

Karthika: Interesting. I spoke to Barret who is from Japan and he said something similar from a cultural standpoint. He’s like Japanese culture is so different, right? They’ve always, I mean, they’re, they are a little bit more they do, they don’t hug, they don’t shake hands as much. And, and so he’s like for us, this was so normal and we wear masks. So all of these things from a mindset standpoint, it’s no different from what we do regularly, which is so opposite to somebody in the Western world where it is more friendly or not friendly or is this more touchy so it’s interesting to understand the subtle nuances of culture in a situation like this. Right.

Thuha: But I do have to say that we have shut down a few things like museums are shut down for example, and you can’t go to the cinema anymore. So, I mean, there are a few things that we’re trying to shut down, but I mean, if I’m looking at it from, I don’t know, like I lived in Korea a few months ago and I remember when they like cases just started to rise a bit, everything shut down, like immediately.

Karthika: Now talk to me about your schooling, about what you’re focusing on from your childhood, your travel experiences to now kind of shifting it to something from a career perspective. How did you go about thinking about that? I mean, why did you want to focus on, travel on tourism and specifically sustainability?

Thuha: Hmm. So I think the sustainability part didn’t come to me until I was a little bit older but the travel part has always been there. I did study international relations for my bachelor’s because I was very interested in working with human rights, but then I also, like, I’ve always had this interest in traveling, as I said, and I’ve always wanted to work in the tourism industry and that’s kind of how I started to shift like there’s a lot of things that we can do in the tourism industry as well that has to do with human rights, for example. And that’s also like a sustainability aspect at all.

Karthika: So what are some of the sort of trends, or what are some of the things that you would like to see change or maybe become more front and center from a hand right and sustainability standpoint in tourism?

Thuha: Based on what I’ve observed, like when I’ve traveled, I mean, there’s so many like ethical, like let’s take animal tourism, for example, like we all, like, we know that it’s not ethical and I feel like you have to do a lot of research if you’re going to visit some of these calls, the sanctuaries, for example, I just wish that travelers would be more aware and be more willing to educate themselves before even going traveling to any destination that they go.

Karthika: This is something that we see all the time and it’s heartbreaking when you see tiger Cubs taking photos with them or writing on elephants. And it’s just, it’s just something that I don’t know. It’s maybe it’s the whole, social media, the whole checklist, the whole, Hey, I’ve been there, done this, done that mindset. I don’t know but it’s just, it’s heartbreaking to see because we don’t, and this is more of the obvious ones, right? I mean, as you said, I’m on tourism, there’s so many, that’s more subtle that we don’t think about. Can we just do it because everybody else around us is doing it? So talk to me like from a conversation standpoint, how can we, how can we become these better travelers know educated travelers? Anything that we can do from your experience?

Thuha: So actually I had this conversation yesterday with another girl who is also in tourism and the travel and sustainability sector. And we were discussing a bit about like, what can we do to diversify the travel industry? Because that’s also a problem that I feel like the travel industries like there’s not a lot of different cultures. They are represented, for example I mean, it is so difficult, like even studying this, like we read a lot about different issues for example, but then there’s like, okay, so what are the solutions? And there’s no simple answer to it. Unfortunately. I mean, it is all about educating yourself I think that’s a really important aspect that you have to, as you have to think about, like, and also about your intentions, like, why am I doing this? Why am I going? Like, what am I hoping to learn? What are my motivations or intentions? So I think it’s a lot about the individuals, but also about these tourists. What are they called? We’re like the ones who organize the trips for tours. The tours. I think it’s sort of a, I dunno, it’s like a circular thing, right? What it’s like the proverbial, what comes first? The chicken or the egg, right. I mean, the more, the more we talk about it, the more we have conversations about it, the more people are educated, the more people are educated. They start asking for better options when they start asking for better options, people start researching better options and offering more. And then it goes back again. So when, like, when people stop asking for the top 10 things to do in a destination, then as content creators, as tourism boards, as writers, we started thinking about, okay, what else is there in a destination? Well, apart from this top 10, how else can I explore a destination? And those narratives sort of come to the surface. Right. So it’s, I think kind of what you’re doing is right in talking about these things and encouraging people to talk more about these things. it can be uncomfortable conversations because I think a lot of them don’t have bad attention. Like just, just lack of knowledge like one thing that I’ve discussed in my Instagram for example, is dark tourism where you travel to what do you say a country or a site that is associated with like suffering, for example, or death and one of those places is for example what is it called in the killing fields in Cambodia. And I was also there in Cambodia and I also went to these dark tourism sites but as I explained in my Instagram, like, it’s all about you it’s attention. Like I went to the killing skills because I wanted to learn. I wanted to show my support to the locals. I wanted to hear what they’ve been through. Whereas I think a lot of people like when they do visit these places that are just, they don’t even reflect on why they’re going, like maybe they go there to take a few selfies and then that’s, that was the main reason why they went there.

Karthika: Right. And I saw that and that was shocking to me. I mean, I had heard about things like this. I have not experienced it, but I’ve sort of experienced something, but it’s just the fact that there’s a name for it. And the fact that it’s kind of popular was shocking, to say the least when it’s like, why would you like, this is a chance for you to learn history face to face as opposed to in a book? I mean, yes. You’re curious. Yes. You know, it’s, it’s fascinating in, in a sense, in terms of understanding, understanding the narrative, right? Like what happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? I’m talking about curiosity in that aspect. Why would you sort of be tainted by the kind of glamorizing it? Do you know what I mean?

Thuha: I don’t know if you remember, it was two years ago, but I think it was two years ago, there was this TV show that was called the Chernobyl and that came out and it is about the national goals, a disaster that happened in Ukraine. And I remember that I saw, I read that visits to Chernobyl, like Rose, like immensely after the series came out the problem was that a lot of these people like they just came to take these like influencer shots. Like I felt some shocking photos when I looked at the hashtag. [inaudible] like, I, I feel, I feel like there’s nothing wrong with visiting Chenault bowl. Like I would love to do that. I would love to learn more about what happened there, but as I said, it is about your intention, like, and it’s also about respecting what people have gone through.

Karthika: And so many times we, there are, there are things put in place for a reason and I’ll give you an example. I was in Ladakh which is like the Northernmost part of India. And it’s famous for its monasteries and the end. It’s just beautiful. It’s just so peaceful. serene, majestic the Himalayan mountains and you have these little monasteries and they’re amongst we’re praying. And so there’s, there are signs everywhere in this monastery to not take photos, not take videos because essentially they’re praying. Right. And it’s, and it’s also time for you to kind of reflect, to absorb that good energy, that good vibration, right. So they ask you to kind of be quiet to not giggle and just kind of be in the moment. And it was incredible. The number of people who walked in the very first thing that they did was pick up the phone or the camera and start taking photos. Now I’m a photographer. I have traveled with my camera all the time, but it’s that intention, right? I mean, you look at this thing and you go, okay there’s a reason for this and, and try to just take a step. It’s not all about you, it’s about where you are and respecting that moment and that time and the people,

Thuha: Right. And respecting people’s culture as well.

Karthika: I mean, it happens everywhere. But when it happens in situations like you mentioned the whole dark tourism effect, it just makes you feel, I don’t know like your heart is heavy.

Thuha: Like I said I don’t think these people are doing it with bad intentions. I just think it’s about, not being educated or this whole like crazy social media thing of like showing off.

Karthika: You know, I have this conversation with a lot of people at times about the whole influencer word. And I know like when we first hear the word we all cringe and we are because we have this image of what a typical influencer does and looks like and promotes. And if you take a step back and you think about the word in itself, an influencer is somebody who can influence you by their actions. that can be a lot of good that comes out of influencers. But somehow this whole word has gotten this negative connotation of the actions of a few kinds of the whole group. So it’s, it’s kinda depressing.

Thuha: I mean, honestly, I respect a lot of these influencers. I think a tougher job than I think and, a lot of people would probably think it is like, it is not just about taking a pretty photo and captioning like, hello, this is me or something and like someone who likes spent a lot of time in social media as well and creates these posts, like it takes a lot of time but, but it is, like you say, like, what do you want to put out in social media? Like, that’s what matters. Right. Right.

Karthika: Now let’s talk a little bit about something you mentioned earlier, which is another very hot topic these days diversifying the travel industry. So talk to me a little bit about sort of where your head is in terms of, and I, and I’m going at it from the perspective of the other side. So the travelers, not just the places that we go to, by the people in the travel industry, how can we diversify the travel industry in terms of the players?

Thuha: I think we need to see more representation speaking as an Asian woman, myself, like, well, I would say that like if you think about Asian travelers, like, what do you think about probably like the Chinese people who are like in huge groups or something, but you wouldn’t necessarily make this think about a solo female traveler, for example, which I am and like I think there is like speaking from my own experience, like when I’ve liked, I’ve stayed a lot in hostels, for example sometimes, or more often Than not, I’m, I’m just like the only person of color who is in this hostel and I’ve also been treated a bit differently just because of the way I look, as people kind of see that you’re Asian and maybe they as that you don’t have the money to travel. For example, It’s ridiculous. I know also as I mentioned in my Instagram as well when I was talking about this diversifying people have thought that I was a prostitute in Southeast Asia and just all of these, like prejudice, stereotypes about people of color or women of color, like it makes such damage to like our travel experience. So that’s why I think it is so important to diversify traveling and to show people like, okay Asian people can’t afford traveling and they do it. And they also do it alone, not just in huge groups or Emmy kind of person who’s not represented.

Karthika: A few years ago I traveled to Australia, my cousin lives there. And that was one of my very few times that I was traveling alone with my kids. I have two kids and it was, I was nervous, to begin with. And then, some of the questions that I got kind of shook me a little bit. It was like, okay, so why are you traveling? Like, are you a single mom? Are you divorced? Why are you traveling alone with the children? Where are you going? Where are you going to say, what are you going to do? And I’m like, okay, back off I know you mean well, but I got it. You know, I, it’s not typical. We don’t typically see, like you said, Asian women, Indian women traveling alone with children. Apart from going back home to India, I wasn’t, I was going completely in a different direction. And it’s just, it was like I said, it was shocking and it would just, some of it did put me on guard and I was like, okay, maybe I don’t want to do this anymore. But we had so much fun and we had it, it was such a bonding experience for me and my kids. And I would love to do that again, but it’s just, you don’t see these narratives and, and it’s, it’s part of it as well as me. Like, I don’t talk about it too, because I’m a little conscious, but we have to, we have to have these difficult discussions. We have to put these experiences, our experiences out there because that’s somebody who can relate.

Thuha: Exactly. And I mean, I also have this experience when I went to Australia, there’s this stereotype about Asian, Southeast Asian in particular, or people, in particular, are smuggling drugs to Australia. And I was joking with my friends on the plane and I was like, I’m 100% certain that I am going to be questioned or like selected, randomly selected as they say so when we landed, I was like, what? Unprepared, that’s what happened. And they’re like, ma’am, can you just come with us?

Karthika: Totally. That happened to us too, because at the airport, they have those beagles, sniffer dogs, there were couples in front of us and behind us and they didn’t get stopped. We got pulled to the side and they were like, Oh, the dogs are just going to sniff. And of course, we had dog people. So we were like, Oh, so cute. But then I realized, wait, I’m the only one pulled out. And maybe it’s because typically Indians come with food and they come with fruits and again, it stereotypical, you see a person’s face and the color of their skin. And even before they can say a word, you already have a bias exactly who they are.

Thuha: I have to say though, the woman who liked me pulled me over like she was so nice. She was like, she only had one question. She was like, cause I was born in Hong Kong. So she was like, can you just please explain to me, why do you have a Swedish passport? But your name is Vietnamese, but it says here you’re born in Hong Kong. And I was like, okay. And then she just let me go.

Karthika: I mean, I understand there’s a process and there are always two sides to a coin but sometimes it just it’s you can’t help, but question and it’s, I guess it’s okay to question and it’s okay to talk about, talk about these things,

Thuha: But I do also have to say one thing, like when we’re talking about the narrative of also like being an Asian woman, I’ve also felt that I’ve been more protected Than others has, because people usually have a perception of Asians being law, abiding citizens, for example, and also because of my looks, I feel like I can also blend in more I in countries. So, I mean. Being Asian does have its pros and cons for sure.

Karthika: For sure. And like I said, there’s always two sides to the coin. I mean there are going to be some benefits and there’s going to be some disadvantages, but I think the, I think we have to talk about everything because sometimes people feel like when we don’t bring these narratives, like you said, out into the open, we don’t feel like we are understood or heard or appreciated. And everybody’s thought process is going to be different and that’s what makes it so beautiful and unique. I mean as humans we are expected to have different opinions and that’s okay.

Thuha: I would also just hate, for someone who’s traveled for quite some time I’m kind of used to certain questions or certain looks or something, but I, I would just hate seeing like the younger girls also, women of color, experiencing a few things that I’ve experienced.

Karthika: In the spirit of trying to get these conversations on the table can you share some of those experiences if it’s okay?

Thuha: I mean a lot of the experiences I can laugh about but I wasn’t in South America seven years ago and seven years ago, there were not a lot of travelers in general in South America, let alone an Asian girl. So there were a lot of comments like Chinese girls like obviously, that was the first nationality that came up. So I was often called the Chinese girl. I didn’t know if you could laugh about it a bit, but like, it got irritating after a while. And I understood that their intention wasn’t bad, but I’m like, I just can’t, but also traveling in Europe sometimes I felt a bit uncomfortable just because people have looked at me like I have felt that people have looked at me differently because I am Asian.

Karthika: Oh, this is like a topic in itself.

Thuha: Oh totally.

Karthika: So do, tell me something in terms of everything that you study and you’ve experienced and particularly 2020 as it’s kind of unfolded for us, where do you think travel is headed in the future?

Thuha: Well, I hope that it is heading towards a more, like it will have a more sustainable approach that people would realize maybe it’s not sustainable to just take these, like, just fly wherever you want to, whenever you want to, without thinking about the consequences of the environments, for example. But also I feel like we need to be better towards local and maybe like, I’m hoping that community-based tourism will be bigger in the future as well honestly, like if, but if I have to be honest, I feel like so many people have been dying to travel during this pandemic. And once the world is starting to open up more, I think that people would just continue traveling. Nothing has ever happened, unfortunately.

Karthika: I see some of that for sure I traveled recently, we did a quick road trip and not quick. I mean, it was a two-week road trip. We were up for two weeks because I can’t do the weekend things anymore and I noticed that from a hotel standpoint, from a restaurant standpoint, so much of it was just as if nothing had happened and in the US we’ve gotten, we’ve surpassed 500,000 people dying of COVID. So it’s a big deal. But when you kind of look at the way, sometimes people will behave, it didn’t feel like it, it felt like they were in their bubble and nothing had happened. And so yes, there is the hope that at least a few of us will kind of stop and think and kind of reevaluate. Do I need to go, how can I be better, a better traveler and how can I leave the place better.

Thuha: And I don’t think a pandemic should be the reason why people start thinking differently. Like it shouldn’t require a pandemic to happen for people to be like, how can I be a better traveler but I also hope that people see how much the suspected locals who like tourism are their way of earning money. And especially in countries like Thailand, for example, like, I don’t think the tourism industry should shut down just because it’s bad to fly, for example, because so many people benefit from tourism. Right but then like, it is also like, you should think about the whole picture, like stock planning before you even go traveling like start thinking about perhaps a more sustainable way. So like if you’re going to fly, for example, don’t like to choose a direct flight cause that’s better for the environment and if you can like stay there for a longer time and invest back in local businesses an,

Karthika: Absolutely. I think this giving back to the community that you’re in and trying to kind of be a better steward, I guess, for the resources and the people and the place that you visit is something that we should all think about in any way that we can, it doesn’t have to be a grandiose thing that we do. And that has a huge impact. Sometimes the smaller things have even a better and bigger impact.

Thuha: Definitely. And like there’s a lot of talk about traveling to nearby places, which I think is great and you should travel more in your own country as well. But realistically, like people, people will always have this desire of exploring something very different from their environment. So the question is, how can we make that fairer and more sustainable for everyone?

Karthika: Now what are your travel plans? Do you plan to go anywhere or just kind of, like you said explore your local area?

Thuha: I mean, I would love to go to Central America, I guess for me as I’ve always jumped up, going to Nicaragua and also Costa Rica because Costa Rica is like they’re very focused on sustainability and I would love to learn more about it but then again like I’m not going to take any risks right now. Like I haven’t gotten vaccinated and I just don’t think that now is the time to book flights for example.

Karthika: Yes. For sure.

Thuha: I’m hoping that this next stage will come soon. And even when I get this vaccine, I’m still gonna wear a mask and I’m still going to be very careful though washing my hands and everything. I would prefer to go to a destination where they handle the pandemic quite well.

Karthika: Well, you know. I’ve in this whole season spoken to people all over the world and I have to say, I’ve loved armchair travel because the moment I hang up I am dreaming of traveling to that location and meeting my guest. I feel connected to everybody I speak with.

Thuha: Yes please come to Sweden.

Karthika: Now you are also a podcaster. Can you tell us a little bit about your podcast?

Thuha: Yes. So my podcast is called A Better Tomorrow and I’m co-hosting it with a friend. So we want to take this sustainability. Like, we want to talk about sustainability, but we want to focus on the positive of what people are doing about some of these issues. Like, so often we always like to listen to the news or even me studying as we read about problems but I’m like, okay. So here are the problems then, are there any solutions? And that’s how we came up with this idea of this podcast, interviewing people who had these creative ideas of making something better and more sustainable.

Karthika: Sounds fascinating. Thank you so much through us. This has been amazing. I feel like we could talk about this forever and ever thank you very much for coming on the show and sharing your perspective.

Thuha: Thank you so much for having me.

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