By Kelly Campbell
As traveling the world becomes more popular, it is becoming increasingly more important to make sure what we leave behind has a positive impact on the communities and destinations we visit, especially in the developing world. The next time you plan a trip abroad, think about the following guidelines to create an experience both enriching for the traveler and beneficial to the local community.
1. Stay at locally owned and operated hotels with a commitment to the community and the environment. Look for unique places that are run by locals, create jobs, carry fair-trade items in their gift shops, and are open to the idea of connecting more holistically into their communities. Check hotel policies on solar electricity, composting, recycling, and conservation efforts, and look for those with progressive environmental commitments. Consider eco-lodges whenever possible, and avoid the big chain hotels.
2. Embrace the local culture. Don’t simply be a “tourist”; experience the real people and culture of the country you are visiting. This includes meals with local families, spending time in villages, walking through markets, meeting business owners, exploring religion and art, and connecting to people as individuals. Ask around for suggestions of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops that locals frequent, and get yourself off the tourist path a few times throughout your trip.
3. Support fair trade and artisan cooperatives. Everyone who travels wants to bring home souvenirs to remember their wonderful experience. Be sure to educate yourself on the principles of fair trade and the importance of buying from local artisan groups that are paid fair living wages for their work. Seek out artisan workshops in your destination of choice so that you have the opportunity to support and empower these skilled artisans. This is the best way to truly take home unique gifts representative of the local culture and people.
4. Give back to the local community. Do your research ahead of time, and connect to a local charity that piques your interest. Look for donations, wish lists, or current projects on its website, and make an effort to connect with their administrators one-on-one, visit the organization, and make a difference through your time, efforts, and/or monetary donations. Carving a little time out of your itinerary to give back could end up being the most rewarding part of the trip.
5. Contribute to the local economy. The best way to help the country you are visiting is to invest in it: spend your money. Pay your guides well, tip freely, order that beer, buy the local T-shirt, have another dessert, splurge on a suite, or upgrade your vehicle.
Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the developing world, and they depend on our dollars. So go ahead and spend!
Kelly Campbell is cofounder of The Village Experience and the executive director of The Village Cooperative. She has led over one hundred socially responsible trips around the world and has been the logistical leader for Off the Mat, into the World’s Global Seva Challenge for the past four years.