7 Ways "Gringo Trails" Teaches Festivalgoers to Be Thoughtful Travelers

posted by Laura Baker-Finch on November 13, 2014

As festival enthusiasts, we’re big fans of travel here at Cultivora. There’s something about exploring a new city and culture that’s enhanced trifold once you throw live music into the mix. We’ve dedicated our last three years to faraway festivals and the cities and countries they call home, but we’re guilty of wearing our traveler blinders - ignoring how a place and its people exist when we’re not in their midst and what lasting effect our presence has on both. So, what happens once the music stops and you hop on that plane to return home? 

This is the question at the heart of Gringo Trails, a documentary that, while not about music festivals themselves, reveals the complex relationship between host countries and the tourists who crave “authentic” experiences within them. Throughout the feature-length doc, anthropologist and the film’s director and producer Pegi Vail follows the perhaps overly-used  ‘gringo trail’ through South America, Africa and Asia to see how, over a span of 30 years, tourists have changed the places they visit - often for the worst. 

You probably have images of tourist trap locales for luxury travelers in your head right now, right? Surprisingly, these aren’t the tourists displayed throughout the documentary. It’s the backpackers, the thrill seekers, and the budget adventurers that often pave the way for others, and these are the travelers Gringo Trails puts on display. While avoiding finger-pointing and shaming, Vail manages to make the ‘purest’ of travelers rethink their strategies. We may think the landscapes and cultures of the places we visit influence us as travelers, but we, in turn, leave a lasting imprint on them as well. 

So what can we do? Gringo Trails brings these issues up for public discussion and joint solutions, rather than positing fixes itself. So, while we urge you to watch the film to come up with your own ideas of how to be a thoughtful tourist, we also went straight to the source for some of Vail and the film’s director of photography and producer Melvin Estrella’s tips specifically for festivalgoers. 

Still from Gringo Trails

1. Check your motivation at the door

Make sure you know what you want out of the experience before arriving at a new destination. Ask yourself, “why are you going to that particular destination?” And, more importantly, “What are you leaving behind with the host culture?” 

2. Know before you go

Read (even if only briefly) about the cultural and historical context of the place hosting the festival or music event you are attending. It’ll help you make informed decisions while there.

3. Stay Longer

Plan a few days in the destination before and/or after the festival to get to know it better. This is one of the reasons why destinations sometimes host big events, but a surprising number of people don't take the time to enjoy it.

4. Choose local

Before, during, and after an event, stick with local resources and businesses, especially lodging and food. Keep your money within the community itself!

5. Avoid plastic! 

Bring your own water bottle and refill, it’s a much more environmental (and economic) choice.

6. Look after your rubbish

This is especially true at festivals, where people are shockingly mindless about what they do with their trash. In some travel destinations with little infrastructure it is more difficult to get rid of garbage even if you want to be responsible. You’ll avoid this problem if you reduce the amount of stuff left behind. 

7. Make it a routine

Make Numbers 1-6 part of your travel routine so they all eventually become second nature. 

Gringo Trails is currently screening around the globe, head to the documentary's official website for a showing near you and watch the trailer below for a peek at what to expect.

Follow @laurajbf on Twitter; Keep up with Gringo Trails on Facebook and Twitter

See Also:

Sustainable Tunes in Sustainable Times: Bonnaroo's Eco-Friendly Practices
Survival Guide: Traveling with Dietary Restrictions
10 Best US Cities for Music Festivals