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Blog > Asia > A view from afar: Making space for serendipity

A view from afar: Making space for serendipity

by Nick Pulley

A moment in late December got me thinking about how travel is, surely, one of life's greatest portals to serendipity; a chance to experience the best of the unexpected.

Now, I realise that ‘things not going to plan’ doesn’t necessarily sound like something to look forward to! However, in my experience, leaving space for those unplanned moments on our travels can be joyful, often educational and, on occasion, when we’re really lucky, life affirming. The act of stepping away from the normal day-to-day routines, out of our comfort zone, can be a window to a world of spontaneous happenings.

It won’t surprise you to hear that I’m not thinking of the pre-packaged, over-prescribed kind of trips here: the mega-cruise crowds or being bused about on a tight schedule like school children. Far from it. It’s about the less-scripted itineraries that connect you with communities, bring you exciting flavours and reveal new sights. Those journeys that encourage you to embrace the wonderfully unexpected in a shared overnight train carriage, or whilst stopping for lunch in a remote spot on a road trip.

The kind of individualised travel that Selective Asia designs is tailored towards creating those opportunities to be more culturally curious, more intrepid. Those moments are the part of travel we love most; they’re what we do.

And the best bit? The qualities that make this kind of travel so special for the traveller are also what make it the most enriching path for everyone else involved, from local communities benefiting more directly from our travel spend, to spreading visitor footfall over a wider range of sights, to ensuring that the environment is better protected by treading lightly. Life-changing journeys and responsible travel go hand in hand.

A tectonic shift…

I can see a big shift on the horizon; a change in how responsible travel is viewed. Until recently, there has been a tendency to categorise products and experiences as being ‘normal’ and then, alternatively (and interchangeably) as ‘responsible’, ‘regenerative’ or ‘sustainable’.

However, this misses the point: you don’t need a separate ‘responsible’ product if every trip is designed to bring out the best in every destination. The journeys that focus on being more local, more connected, less quick-fix, and veer away from the over-trodden path bring out the very best that travel can offer; the responsibility is in-built.

The final step in this process is putting the work in to ensure that every product, every experience and every journey we plan is fully responsible by default. To use a phrase that does not sit comfortably with me (and one that I plan never to use again after demonstrating this point!), this is needed if we are genuinely going to make travel ‘a force for good’( that's the last time I’ll use that now, I promise…)

We, of course, work closely with our partners, but also many ‘competitors’ in the specialist tour sector - this little corner of the industry I call home - which comes as a surprise to some, but to thrive and to affect change, we are far stronger when we talk, learn from and help each other. From our conversations, it is clear that many other leading lights in the specialist travel sector are also recognising the need for this shift in perspective. Responsible by default will soon become the baseline expectation throughout the industry; where the proverbial bar sits.

Momentum, not perfection

Choosing the kinds of free-wheeling journeys that responsible travel champions means going overland or by train (rather than boarding another plane), building in plenty of time to wander unaided, getting delightfully lost, jumping in a tuk tuk, making safe mistakes, trying street side eateries and following your nose.

This pathway is at the heart of the recent ‘slow travel’ trend - the antithesis of the package deal scramble. This idea was originally formed to lighten the carbon-per-day impact of long-haul trips, by factoring more in-country ‘days per flight’, but has the dual benefit of naturally creating those moments of local benefit and connectivity, and some much-needed serendipity along the way.

Whilst all global travel creates a carbon footprint, which is a momentous challenge, the wider picture recognises the need to ensure, therefore, that every trip we take makes a measurable difference, from lightening the internal travel footprint of each trip, to regenerating landscapes and protecting wildlife. By stepping away from the usual path, our travel spend leaves the well-worn trail too, and reaches local communities who are usually on the outskirts of the travel economy.

By fulfilling our responsibilities, the resulting trips broaden our own horizons, helping us become more wise, worldly and able to inspire others, perhaps the next generation, to continue to improve the impact of travel. To keep the momentum going.

The road ahead…

As a conscientious tour operator, we’ve taken this realisation into the core of our expert-designed, local-led journeys, removing plenty of the script from our city highlights, pointing out the less-obvious gems, making you aware of the places in-between, and encouraging you to travel by land and rail a little more. We build local touch points into each trip we design, whether that be visiting (and thus supporting) socio-economic projects or effective community-based tourism, or supporting conservation. We pick carefully, eat & shop locally, and tread gently.

To put it simply, we encourage you to slow it down, striking the balance between creating an inspiring and responsible structure, incorporating your wishes and wants, and leaving plenty of space for spontaneity.

It’s an exciting road to be on; we can’t wait to see where it leads next.

Tread with care


by Nick Pulley on 13th March 2024

Blog > Asia > A view from afar: Making space for serendipity