If you are a frequent traveler like I am, then chances are that you feel extremely blessed to be able to travel this globe and experience some of its many wonderful treasures like I do. After all, not everyone gets the opportunity to travel throughout the world and experience these amazing things. In fact, some people in this world will be lucky to ever be able to travel outside of the city in which they were born.
This is why I feel very fortunate to have been able to travel as much as I have and is a big reason why I decided to set up this blog in the first place. Not only do I want to be able to give back by providing insight and advice to aspiring travelers who wish they could travel more, but I also want to inspire people to give back to the communities they visit when they travel. Which brings me to the purpose of this article, which is to help you find ways in which you can give back while traveling this holiday season.
In this article, I am going to provide you with ten of the top ways in which I think travelers can give back to the local communities they visit when they travel. These suggestions range from easy to do tasks such as frequenting local establishments to more involved tasks such as traveling to perform community services. Whatever you decide to do to give back, you can be assured that your efforts will be appreciated by the local communities you visit around this world that need your help.
Eat at Local Restaurants
A really simple way that you can give back while you travel is to always try and eat at local establishments instead of international chains or foreign-owned restaurants. For instance, instead of eating at the Hard Rock Cafe in town, you might want to ask around for some recommendations of some locally owned and operated restaurants to eat at.
Even better, you can explore some of the local street food vendors in town and give them your business. If you are feeling apprehensive about eating street food, I would suggest reading my Top 10 Tips for Eating Street Food and Not Getting Sick article, which I have linked to below.
Buy Locally Made Merchandise
Another really great way to support the local economy when you travel is to make sure you purchase locally made products instead of products that are made outside of the country. For instance, when we were traveling in Africa, it would have been very easy for me to purchase some animal carvings from one of the cookie-cutter souvenir shops that we saw in Arusha. I may have even been able to save a little bit of money by purchasing some of these items, which were produced in bulk outside of the country and then imported.
However, that would have done far less to help the local economy than purchasing carved animals from one of the local artisans. In Arusha, we visited the Shanga Gift & Workshop to purchase some of our souvenirs. Not only are the products sold at this shop produced by local workers, all of the works that they employ have a disability. In total, over sixty disabled workers craft everything from glassware, to jewelry, to clothing that they sell in the local gift shop. Not only did we purchase some beautiful items to take home with us, but we felt really good for supporting these hardworking people.
Stay at Locally Owned Accommodations
Just as important as eating locally and purchasing your souvenirs locally is your opportunity to support the local economy when you travel by staying in locally-owned accommodations. Instead of looking for the big international hotel chain to stay at, look for a smaller, locally-owned hotel, bead-and-breakfast, or hostel to stay at instead. The money you spend by staying at these local establishments will stay in the community and support job creation in the local community.
One thing I really enjoyed about visiting the Galápagos Islands was the fact that it was really easy to find locally-owned accommodations to stay at. We stayed at several locally-owned hotels and we could really see the pride that the owners and employees had in running these establishments.
Donate Your Time
If you have some spare time on your trip, a really great way that you can give back while traveling would be to donate some of your time. In fact, depending on the volunteer opportunity you choose to pursue, some or part of your trip expenses may even be covered by the volunteer organization. If you are interested in looking into some travel volunteer opportunities, I have included a list below that you can review.
- WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) – Donate a day’s time working on a farm and be provided with room and board. Stays as short as a day or as long as multiple years can be arranged.
- IVHQ Volunteer Opportunites in Bali – They offer opportunities to teach kindergarten while also getting to enjoy one of this world’s most beautiful island paradises.
- Conservation Volunteers – If you have always wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand, here is your opportunity to do so while giving back. This organization works to protect vulnerable habitats and promote ecotourism in these beautiful countries.
- Sudan Volunteer Programme – If you are looking to give back to one of this world’s poorest regions, you have the opportunity to do so with the Sudan Volunteer Programme, which operates in one of the poorest countries in the world. Teach English while getting to enjoy one of Africa’s most underrated landscapes.
- Maximo Nivel Peru – Volunteer Forever’s top-ranked volunteer abroad program is one of this world’s most recognized travel volunteer programs and has gotten a five-star rating from previous volunteers. Teach English as a foreign language in Peru while enjoying the beautiful landscapes and culture of this amazing country.
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy, USA – If you have dreamed about visiting the United States to see some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, this is your opportunity to do so while also helping to preserve those beautiful places. The Appalachian Trail is one of America’s most famous trails and this conservancy group helps to conserve this amazing trail.
- HF Holidays, Europe – For those of you who have been longing to visit Europe, this is a great way to make those dreams a reality while giving back to a local community. HF Holidays is one of Europe’s largest tour operators and they are looking for volunteers to guide their walking tours. In exchange for your help, they will provide you with meals, accommodation, and the chance of a lifetime to explore Europe.
- Peace Corps – The Peace Corps is one of America’s most widely recognized volunteer groups because of the amazing work they do to lift people up around the world. They are always looking for people to live and work on their projects overseas, which gives you an amazing opportunity to see the world while giving back. These positions are only open to US residents and require a 27-month commitment, but for those who are willing the payback in terms of what you get to experience and give back is unprecedented.
- United Nations Volunteers – Another widely recognized volunteer organization that is always looking for volunteers to assist around the world. The UN Volunteers assist with medical care, economic development, natural disaster response assistance, and other volunteer work throughout the world. If you are looking for a way to see the world while giving back, this is a great organization to look at.
Build a House With Habitat for Humanity
If you are good with your hands or have some building experience, a great way to give back as you travel the world is to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity building houses for the less fortunate. Even if you don’t have a lot of building experience, they can certainly use your help in whatever capacity you are able to assist. They have opportunities to assist in North America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. If you have been dreaming of visiting one of these regions of the world, this is a great way to do so while giving back.
Travel Off the Beaten Path
When we travel, we certainly have things in mind that we would like to see on our trip. Typically, these things all reside within heavily-trafficked tourist areas that most travelers visit. While there is nothing inherently wrong with visiting the popular tourist spots when you travel, you should be aware that spending your money in these popular tourist spots typically doesn’t go as far in the local community as it would if you spent your money elsewhere.
These popular tourist spots are typically where you will find the big, international hotel chains, restaurants, and tour operators. Spending your money at these hotels, restaurants, and attractions promote job growth locally, but not nearly as much as it would if you spent your money at a locally owned hotel, restaurant, or business that will reinvest the money into the local community.
I would recommend planning at least a few side excursions to some of the less tourist-heavy areas to do some sightseeing. When we were in Africa, we didn’t just stick to the safari-agenda that many travelers follow when the visit Tanzania. In addition to our safari booking, we also spent some time outside of the heavy tourist spots. We visited downtown Arusha to do some shopping, shopped at local grocery stores and bread bakeries, took a local coffee tour (which I linked to below), and made a side excursion to the island of Zanzibar to spend a few days.
Use Only Eco-Friendly Tour Operators
One of the easiest ways that you can give back when traveling is to make sure that you are doing your due diligence on the tour operators and tour guides that you choose to do business with. Doing business with tour operators that are environmentally conscious and good to the local community can help lift up the community while doing business with tour operators that are not socially and environmentally conscious can negatively impact a local community. Here are some of the ways you can tell if a tour operator is Eco-Friendly.
- Their environmental policy – Do they have their environmental policy listed on their website? If they are serious about the environment, it should be. Also, is the policy that they list detailed or purposefully vague? If they are serious about their impact on the environment the policy should be very detailed on the ways in which they have set up their business to not negatively impact the environment.
- Relationship with Local Community – When booking, ask them about their relationship with the local community. Do they hire locally? Do they invest money back into the local community in the form of endowments, scholarships, donations, or community service efforts? Do they respect the local culture and not infringe upon local customs and traditions? Harmoniously working with the local community is a vital part of being an eco-friendly tour operator.
- Their energy and waste policies – Do they list their energy and waste policies on their website? If they are serious about working to prevent pollution and protect the environment, they should have clear policies listed on their website. If they don’t, inquire as to what those policies are. They should have a clearly defined policy for recycling and managing waste disposal. If they don’t, they are not as eco-friendly as they may claim to be.
- Their Wildlife Policies – Does the tour that you are planning to take involve wildlife? If so, is the tour’s interaction with the wildlife designed to do good for the animals or just make the guests of the tour feel good? In other words, is the tour really in the best interest of the animals? For instance, you may have always wanted to hold a koala, but research has shown that humans holding koalas creates a great deal of stress for the animals. If the tour you are planning to take involves wildlife interaction and the tour company isn’t able to show that the tour doesn’t negatively impact the wildlife, I would avoid taking the tour.
- Eco-Certifications they hold – There are multiple certifications worldwide that tour operators can earn to show that they are eco-friendly. These certifications include the Qualmark certification in New Zealand, the Ecotourism Australia accreditation, the Green Tourism certification in the UK, and the Rainforest Alliance accreditation in South America. If the tour company you are looking at holds one of these certifications, you know that they have put in the work to prove they are committed to protecting the environment and local communities.
Donate the Clothes You Bring on Your Trip
If you are looking for a really easy way to give back to the local community you are visiting when traveling, there may not be an easier way to give back than to literally donate the shirt off your back. Ok, maybe not the shirt you plan on wearing home, but you can donate some or all of the other clothes that you packed with you for your trip.
In the United States, charities such as the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross are always looking for these types of donations. Most countries you visit will have similar charity organizations that will be more than happy to take clothes donations from you. So instead of packing that new outfit you just bought, try filling your suitcase with clothes that you can donate at the end of your trip. On the plus side, it will create a lot more room for you to bring home extra souvenirs in your bags.
Donate Unused Frequent Flyer Miles
Another really great way to give back while traveling is to donate the frequent flier miles that you earn from traveling. Sure, those frequent flier miles can help you save some money on future travel expenses, but they can also do a lot of good for a community in need. If you don’t absolutely need the cost savings, donating those frequent flier miles is a great way to help those less fortunate than you are. In case you are interested, I have listed the frequent flier donation programs for the major US airlines below for you to review.
- Delta Airlines – Skywish Miles
- American Airlines – American Airlines Make a Difference
- United Airlines – Charity Miles
- Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards Designated Charities
- Alaska Airlines – LIFT Miles Program
- JetBlue Airlines – TrueBlue Giving Program
- Hawaiian Airlines – Charity Donation Program
Traveling more may seem more like benefiting than giving back, but if you really think about it, the mere fact that you are traveling is benefiting the communities that you visit. Especially if you follow the principles that I have laid out in the guide, traveling can be a great way to help struggling communities worldwide. When you visit, you bring money into these communities that otherwise would go elsewhere. As long as you are making sure your travel choices are eco-friendly, your travels will help boost communities that desperately need your support. So by all means, keep exploring this world and continue to be an ambassador for underprivileged communities everywhere.
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