The first time I set foot on the African continent was for a gorilla trek with Canadian travel company G Adventures. The tour started in Uganda’s central city of Kampala, then we headed west to Fort Portal and then south, via a route flanked by Queen Elizabeth National Park’s stretch of savannah on one side and the Congolese border on the other, to the Rwandan capital of Kigali. En route we got to share a meal with a local family in their home, visit a chimpanzee reserve and—the highlight—make our way into the dense and mountainous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to come face to face with gorillas, incredible animals with whom we share 98.4% of our DNA. This was the bucket-list, trip-of-a-lifetime kind of travel I’d always wanted to do. The experience lived up to all my expectations—and also brought with it some on-the-ground realizations about how to behave—and not behave—as a Western traveller venturing outside of the Western world.
Packed with suitcases, day bags, camera equipment and a cooler filled with water, our pristine yellow Toyota Land Cruiser didn’t go unnoticed by the local kids, who lined up along the roads to wave. In a country still shaking off the effects of British colonialism, it felt like we were riding through Uganda in the physical incarnation of privilege. It’s that very privilege—the privilege that allows us to hop on a plane in Canada, our Western accoutrements in tow, and get off basically anywhere else in the world—that demands an engagement in responsible travel. Environmental, animal-welfare and social responsibility should be top of mind always. It is literally the least we can do.