Our travel destinations give us many gifts—from the unforgettable memories we make to the lessons we learn, the photos we take and the friendships we form. Through majestic sights and mesmerizing scents, sounds, and tastes, travelers benefit from international adventures in innumerable ways. It’s impossible to fully repay the communities that give us so much. But we can certainly try. Here are five ways to give back to a community while traveling:
Do your homework on local businesses. Your adventure starts long before you board the plane. Just as you put effort into identifying your dream destination and finding the best flight deals, be sure to set aside some time to research locally-owned accommodations, businesses, tour operators, and activities. One of the best ways to contribute positively to the places you visit is to ensure that the money you bring in stays and benefits the community directly.
Mind your manners—and resources. To show your ultimate respect for locals, take initiative and interest in the local culture, traditions, resources, and language. Learn at least a few phrases in the local language. Read up on cultural customs. Ask questions about traditions. Ask permission from before taking their photo—and then offer to send them a copy if they are gracious enough to grant permission. Put your expectations or assumptions aside, sit with local people, and listen to their stories. Be mindful of your water and electricity consumption, particularly if you are traveling in areas that are affected by drought and limited resources. As a guest in their community, you can give back by taking less.
Check yourself. Be aware of your approach and avoid getting stuck in the “savior” mindset. The people in the places we travel undoubtedly have knowledge, strengths, and skills that we may not possess. Rather than assume you need to help, remember you always have much to learn and share. Stay humble and open to exchanging ideas, skills, stories, and of course, laughs. Sometimes the best way we can give is to remain open to receiving.
Slow down—and look around. If your priority is racking up “likes” and you’re too busy trying to check things off a bucket list, you’ll likely miss out on organic discoveries and authentic experiences. Yes, of course, snap a few photos of your adventures. But then put your phone and camera down and look around. Take in the scene. Dig deeper. Connect with the people in front of you and the environment around you—they are much more than IG ops and photo props! Interacting with locals can open the door to unexpected opportunities to contribute to the local community. Perhaps someone you meet will point you in the direction of an artisan you can take a class with or a chef that can teach you to cook regional dishes. Or maybe a local can introduce you to an organization in need of volunteers or a musician performing traditional music. Go slow. Smile often. And stay open to the possibilities. If you’re racing around with your face buried in your phone, you’ll surely miss a multitude of opportunities to give back.
Spread the word. If you identify community organizations, businesses, activities, and individuals to support, spread the word. Create a list of local businesses, artisans, guides, and organizations—then post them to your website, social media, or newsletter. Interview local people and introduce them to your social networks. Share stories about the places, people, traditions, and experiences that impacted you on your international adventure. Travelers often rely on recommendations from those that have gone before them. So even after you return home, you have the chance to contribute positively to communities that have given you much more than memories.
Guest post by Sunny Fitzgerald. Sunny is a freelance writer for kimkim.com and sustainable travel specialist. Her work appears in National Geographic, Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Mic, and more.