Traveling is one of life’s biggest privileges.Not everyone can buy a flight, explore some of the world’s most incredible destinations and spend their days fulfilling a dream.Whether it’s lack of money, family obligations or circumstance, travel is beyond the reach of a large percentage of the world’s population.Those of us who do travel are a lucky few, so it’s important to share this wealth and give back to the communities we encounter.
Here are seven ways you can make a difference while you travel.
Whether it’s working on conservation, education or community projects, volunteering lets you leave a tangible mark on the communities you visit. You can find opportunities for volunteer tourism, or ‘voluntourism’, through reputable organizations such as a Global Vision International (GVI), which has projects in Africa, South America, Asia, Europe and Central America.
You can also use services like Workaway, Habitat for Humanity and Woofing which allow you to volunteer in exchange for accommodation, meals and a local experience. Volunteer opportunities can additionally be found at your hostel on community boards, or simply ask the staff.
However, in response to voluntourism’s growing popularity, scams have sprung up and some projects do more harm than good. Make sure you do your research.
Support local businesses
Instead of staying in a big name chain resort or hotel, opt for a local guesthouse, bed and breakfast or even a homestay.
No one knows the history, geography and culture of your destination better than a local, so hire a local guide for sightseeing and other activities, and eat at family-owned food stalls or restaurants instead of McDonalds.
Do your souvenir or general shopping at the markets, small businesses and community-based handicraft co-operatives, rather than the airport or shopping centre filled with international chain stores. By taking these steps your money will stay in the community and support local jobs.
You might want to haggle hard over that souvenir bowl but is that $3 saving really worth it? Don’t take haggling overboard and keep any bargaining good natured. Those few dollars probably mean a lot more to the vendor than they do to you.
Tipping rules vary by country, region and scenario, but tip where necessary such as bars and restaurants as well as anyone who helps you along the way including tour guides and hotel staff. Pay fair and don’t be cheapskate.
Be good to the environment
For shorter trips, take the train or bus instead of flying to cut your carbon emissions and most likely save some money too. Once at your destination, take public transport – it will add to your travel experience and provide you with opportunities to interact with locals.
Seek out eco-friendly hotels and tour operators to help reduce your carbon footprint. There are a host of resources for the green traveler online.
At your hotel avoid replacing your towel if it’s unnecessary, keep showers short and turn off the TV, lights and air-conditioning when you leave the room.
Many countries don’t have the recycling programs you might be used to at home, which is a good reason to reduce, re-use and recycle. Instead of buying bottles of water, bring your own bottle and refill it at fountains or from your hotel or hostel, and avoid using plastic bags by taking a re-useable shopping bag.
Even though you might see trash piled up in the street, don’t contribute to the problem. Find a trashcan and toss rubbish in the right place or hold on to it until you can dispose of it correctly.
When hiking, always stay on marked trails to avoid trampling protected or endangered plants, and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter.
Don’t give to child beggars
It may tug at your heartstrings, but if you see a child begging in the street the best way to help is to donate to an organization equipped to handle the problem at a higher level.
As advocated by the likes of Lonely Planet and groups such as ChildSafe International, you should not hand over money – which is hard to do when confronted by impoverished children.
But by giving to child beggars or buying things from children, you support a system that keeps a child out of school and at the hands of an adult who could be abusing them. It also perpetuates a cycle of poverty.
Also avoid giving candy to children as it actually causes enormous suffering as many communities do not have the resources to treat tooth decay.