Riley Chervinski is a storyteller for social good. She writes about the essential connection between tourism and conservation and is passionate about sustainability, slow travel, ecotourism, and wildlife. Riley is also an UnTours UnFluencer. UnFluencers are writers, photographers and videographers who spend their lives unlocking the hidden gems in your favorite destinations and championing a better kind of travel that preserves and protects.
Riley is a Canadian whose slow travels have taken her to Tamale, Ghana and Zanzibar, Tanzania. In addition to writing, Riley values time spent outdoors, innovative and inclusive conservation efforts, and community-driven and nature-based solutions. We spoke with Riley about what being an UnFluencer means to her.
What is your personal concept of the kind of slow travel that makes a positive contribution to the world?
When I think of slow travel, it means immersing yourself in local cultures and experiences. It’s about taking your time to properly explore a new place and actively engaging with the local community, rather than just whizzing around trying to tick off a list of “must see” sights. I believe that by travelling slowly and intentionally, we can build meaningful relationships with people from all around the world, learn more about different cultures, and develop a greater appreciation for the planet. Through slow travel, we can make a positive contribution to the world by showing respect for different lifestyles, building bridges between cultures, supporting local businesses, and reducing our impact on the environment.
However, being able to choose slow travel is a privilege in itself. Not everyone has the time, money, or opportunity to visit a place for an extended period of time. My most successful attempts at slow travel have been through volunteering for local organizations that are founded by and continue to be run by locals.
How do UnFluencers differ from influencers?
Through UnFluencer content, you’ll see stories about how locals are getting involved in conservation efforts, or how a community is managing its resources responsibly. You’ll get to know the people living in these places, learn what challenges they face, and be able to support their cause through sustainable visits. There’s an educational component alongside beautiful photos and videos. It’s not just about the picture-perfect scenery, but also understanding the impact that our travels have on local communities and cultures. It’s about promoting travel in a way that brings people closer to nature without damaging its delicate balance. We aim to inspire travelers to make mindful decisions when exploring new places that don’t just benefit themselves, but benefit the places they visit as well.
How can UnFluencers be a part of destination management that preserves nature and culture?
This is a tricky question, because the act of “travel influencing” encourages folks to see, visit, and explore a place, which can hugely threaten landscapes, wildlife, and local cultures. I believe the two most important aspects of UnFluencer content should be educational and inspiring: emphasizing the beauty and fragility of our natural environment and how we, as travellers, can help protect it.
UnFluencers have an incredible opportunity to be a part of destination management by traveling with purpose. We must seek out opportunities to contribute positively to a destination, like participating in volunteer activities or making donations to local conservation organizations. We must be mindful of our impact on the environment, and make an effort to reduce our carbon footprints while we travel. We also must remember that the communities we visit should be seen as partners rather than places to exploit. We can respect their cultures and traditions, and support their economies by purchasing locally sourced food, products, and services whenever possible. Your presence can help protect fragile ecosystems and promote cultural preservation, so long as you choose to travel responsibly.
Can you share a personal story of slow travel that was meaningful to you?
I spent four months in Tamale, Ghana in 2019. During the week, I helped out at a hub for young, local entrepreneurs. On the weekends I explored the stalls of the busy Tamale Central Market, trying new fruits and veggies (including a batch of hot peppers that burned my fingertips raw when I tried cooking with them), or ventured out of the city for a foot-trekking safari in Mole National Park and visited the ancient mosque in the village of Larabanga.
Travelling slowly throughout Ghana allowed me to experience both September sunsets and November rains. I even watched the fruit in the papaya tree in my yard ripen from bright green to soft yellow just in time to scoop out its pearly seeds. The best parts of slow travel are the beautiful in-between moments that you are present enough to witness.