When we travel, we’re very conscious of the impact that we are making on the places we visit. Ever since we dedicated ourselves to sustainable travel, it’s become increasingly clear to us that we need to use our privilege to travel to participate in local communities and give back while traveling.
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We’ve found some simple ways to “pay it forward” on any holiday that you take:
Easy Ways to Give Back While Traveling
Everyone’s gotta eat! And while it might be easier to walk into a McDonald’s or TGI Fridays wherever you are, chain restaurants don’t benefit the local economy almost at all.
When you choose to eat local, that money provides jobs for community members and allows local business owners to keep their restaurants open. The higher the demand is for foreign food chains, the lower the demand for these local businesses to stay open.
Choosing a corner cafe for your morning coffee or lunch from local food stands also fosters a relationship between you – as an ambassador for your country – and the community you are visiting.
Eating local sends the message that you care about the locals and their economy, and want to participate in their culture instead of just observe it from the window of a McDonald’s!
Bonus: eating local is also much better for the environment. If you’re reaching for imported goods, think about how far that food has had to travel to be on your plate. If it came by plane, that’s a hefty carbon footprint it’s created along the way! Local restaurants are supplied by local farmers, meaning your food is way fresher.
Similar to eating local, shopping local is a better option for both you and the community you’re visiting. If you love the place you’re visiting enough to buy a souvenir, why not buy one that’s authentic and supports local businesses?
Buying local not only gives jobs to members of the community, it also encourages new entrepreneurs to invest in their community. And the more businesses in a community that are run locally, the more decision-making power that community has for itself. Local businesses support local people better than corporations ever could!
Plus, the souvenirs, clothes, gifts, and trinkets you can buy from a community are going to be way more interesting and unique than the ones you can find at the chain souvenir shops!
So shop locally! Spread your money among many different shops and stands throughout the town/neighborhood you’re staying in.
Stay at a locally owned/run accommodation
While it may seem appealing to stay at a huge hotel whose name sounds familiar to you, you’ll definitely have a better and more authentic experience staying at an independently-owned hotel.
The local option is probably smaller, but this gives you the opportunity to befriend the people who work there – and there’s no better way to get to know local communities than through its locals! If you need great (local) restaurant suggestions, an awesome tour guide, or just want to know what the community is all about, they can help.
More often than not, eco-hotels are one of the locally run options. So if you’re looking to give back to the community both economically AND environmentally, choosing local is key! (If you aren’t sure what an eco-hotel is, check out this blog we did all about them!)
Lend Some Money
Donating to charity – particularly big, multinational organizations – can seem a bit daunting. How do you choose what organization to give to? How do you know exactly where each dollar you contribute gets spent?
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t share your wealth! On the contrary, we are suggesting giving money directly to those who need it, and those who are asking for it – through micro-loans.
Micro-loans allow you to give money to a burgeoning entrepreneur in a developing region or country under the premise that they will pay you back as soon as their goals have been reached and they are profiting. (For more information on micro-loans, check out this article.)
Support social enterprises
So you’ve found an awesome local restaurant to eat in, or a lovely independent hotel to rest your head for the duration of your holiday – that’s awesome! But if you’re wondering how to give back just a little bit more, look into thriving social businesses in the area you’re visiting.
A social business is an establishment – usually hotels, restaurants, and shops – that are designed and run to address a social issue. It’s a business that’s giving back to its local community in a big way!
This can happen in a variety of ways: from cross-compensation (the “one’-for-one” model, i.e. TOMS Shoes), to fee-for-service (like this supermarket that sells items at discounted rates to impoverished communities), to employment and skills training (like these restaurants in Cambodia that train disadvantaged youth).
All that is required from you is a little preemptive research. Find as many social enterprises in the place you are going to spend your holiday, and seek them out while you’re there! Not only are you going to stay in an awesome hotel or eat at a delicious restaurant, you’re going to be helping people in the community tremendously.
Volunteering might be the most obvious way to give back to local communities. Volunteering can range from beach cleanups to teaching English to locals, to spending time with disadvantaged members of a community.
Volunteering can be extremely beneficial to the area that you are planning on visiting, but you need to make sure that what you are doing and the organization you’ll be working with are legitimate.
There are countless stories about voluntourism driving a market for orphanages, structurally unsound houses being built for impoverished locals, etc. (Read more about voluntourism here).
We definitely encourage helping out in the community you are visiting – just make sure that the volunteer opportunity you’ve signed up for is actually benefitting the community you’re visiting!
Be conscious of your eco-footprint
One of the most important – and simplest – ways to give back to local communities is to make sure that your environmental impact is minimal. If you love the place you’re visiting, you want it to still be around 100 years from now right?
There are plenty of easy ways to make sure you’re minimizing your eco-footprint. We’ve written an entire article about how to be a more eco-conscious traveler.
Here are some of our favorite ways to make sure we’re being environmentally conscious:
- Do NOT visit zoos: oftentimes, zoos keep all of their animals in captivity and treat them horribly. And further, the property the zoo was built on probably tore down the natural habitat of flora and fauna (this goes for landscaped parks/recreational areas, too!).
- Bring sustainable travel accessories: whether it’s a biodegradable toothbrush or organic shampoo, make sure what you’re bringing into the area isn’t going to harm its environment.
- Bring your own shopping bags: If you are going to buy souvenirs (from a local vendor), make sure you’ve got your own bag to put them in. The less demand there is for plastic bags, the less they will get produced!