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When you hear the phrase “sustainable travel,” what comes to mind? Helping the environment? Eco-Hotels? Not wasting water? Using less hydro? Flying less?
Yes, all of these may come to mind, of course, but there are other ways to travel sustainably that have more to do with helping the economies of countries, which in turn help locals thrive and survive.
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When tourists spend their money at local businesses they improve the economy and in turn, then increases the employment rate. Rather than eating at the big chain restaurants, try to eat at locally-owned establishments instead, which in my eyes, means you’ll get a more authentic meal as well. By using Airbnb or small local hotels, travelers leave their money in the community.
Now, according to Sustainable Travel International, sustainable travel is when travellers positively impact their vacation spots and the world in general. The best way to achieve sustainable travel is by thoughtfully planning out our vacations that we take. Travellers might consider how their choices of destination, the transport they take, the cuisine they eat, the accommodations that they stay at and the tours they join, affect the world.
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And they do…more than some know. Hear me out…then think about it.
Buying shampoo bars and drinking from paper straws may be a great thing for less waste in our dumps, but it’s not going to help put food on the table of a single mother who sells homemade bracelets along the streets of India. It’s just not. We have to diverge away from the thought process that we are all here to “save the world”.
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Now don’t get me wrong…Recycling, flying less and driving less may help emissions to some extent, but tell that to the billionaires who are telling us not to drive so much and not to eat meat and that we should all buy electric cars for the “greater good”, while they live the jet set life, flying to all corners of the globe in their private jets weekly as they are eating Kobe beef steaks like it’s as normal to them, as us grabbing a chocolate bar at the local gas station.
Now, I’m not being pessimistic, but I am a realist. That being said, here are 5 ways you can be a sustainable traveller in the non-traditional sense of the phrase.
Hire Local Guides
Who knows their country and city streets better than the locals? Nobody, that’s who. By hiring a local to take you around and show you all the cool, lesser known spots, you’ll be giving money to help support them rather than guides that work for larger companies and you’ll get to see a destination from a local’s POV. They are more knowledgeable, since they’re from the destination and this creates job opportunities for people from the area. It’s a win-win in my books. I remember one time I went out with some new friends in Canary Islands and that same night, we ended up at their relative’s home, hearing stories and drinking beers. It was definitely one of my fondest memories from travelling and connecting with locals. Another great local experience from Canary Islands, was riding motorcycles with my friend and owner of Canary Ride in Gran Canaria. Supporting local businesses while having a great time is the best travel experience. Riding ATV’s in Malta on the island of Gozo with a local guide named Ray, was also an incredible experience!
Travel Off Peak Season
Everyone and their mother travels during the summer months, which is considered peak season. Instead of visiting Spain during the sweltering heat of the summer months, why not go in October when the weather is still warm, but more pleasant to be out and about in all day. Sure, throngs of tourists are fantastic for local businesses to make loads of money, but what happens in the fall and winter months when the tourists all go home and cities, towns and villages go quiet? I always travel off season. There are less crowds, shorter lines, you get to experience authentic local life, cheaper flights, cheaper accommodations, cheaper food, oh…did I mention it’s cheaper? 😉 By travelling in the off season, you’re also contributing to the local economy during a time when they may be struggling with a steady cash flow that they were used to during peak season.
Head Off The Beaten Travel Route
Every country I go to, I try to visit the smaller towns and villages, so I can help support their locals and boost the economy for those that live there. Instead of visiting the tourist laden cities such as Vienna, Amsterdam and Munich (although they are must see places as well), why not visit lesser known places such as Gouda, Bremen, or Steyr? All of these places are less filled with tourist crowds, yet are filled to the brim with just as much charm, maybe more!
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Stay In Locally Owned Hotels/Apartments
Sure, you could stay at the local Hilton, Best Western, Sheraton, or big chain hotel brands in any major city and town, but why not spend less money and have a more authentic stay in a neighbourhood apartment owned by a local? During my travels, if I can help a local pay their latest bill by opting to stay at their guesthouse, pension, or chalet, I will always choose that option over staying at an ostentatiously stylish, chichi type of place. Sure they are beautiful and the amenities are usually super fabulous, but in the grand scheme of things, as long as it’s clean and comfortable, I’m only really at the hotel/apartment to sleep. That being said, I have stayed at some really great hotel chains, but they are usually local hotels and not the larger chains you see in every city all over the world. Booking.com now has locally owned apartments to book as well at some amazing prices! Book through the ad below to find out some great deals.
Adapt To Local Customs
Culture shock is real, especially if you don’t have a lot of travel experience under your belt. As a foreigner going into another country, it is imperative to adapt to local customs and cultures. Doing so, as an outsider, shows locals that you are open to learn, are a respectful tourist and therefore the locals will welcome you into their country with open arms as a visitor. If you enter a temple in Thailand, take off your shoes. If locals eat with their hands, you should try as well. If local transit does not permit food, don’t bust out snacks to eat. Taking cooking, dancing, or music classes is a way to respectfully learn about another culture without alienating or stigmatizing people and their culture. Another way to adapt to local life abroad is to learn a few key phrases in the local language. Trust me, knowing a simple “thank you,” “please,” “excuse me” and “hello,” goes a long way and locals will absolutely appreciate you trying to communicate in their language, even if you butcher the pronunciation entirely.
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Empower Local Communities
By eating in the local restaurants, or at the street food vendors while travelling, help locals thrive and empower them by making money to support themselves and their families. Hitting up the local veggie and fruit market helps local farmers earn money to help pay for machinery to tend to their crops, plus the food is way fresher than from a grocery store! Purchasing locally handmade ceramics, bracelets, or sculptures help the local artist put food on his table, while doing what he loves to do. Staying at a local guesthouse helps a single mother put her son, or daughter through schooling that may otherwise not be attainable if not for renting out rooms in her home to travellers. All of these small, yet powerful gestures will help empower the local community wherever you are travelling, which then helps people in their everyday lives, more so than you would imagine.
As a traveller, do you consider yourself a sustainable traveller in the non-traditional sense of the phrase? After reading this list, do you now understand how supporting the local people helps build their economy, which then translates into helping locals thrive and support their families? What is something you do to ensure that you are a sustainable traveller? Let me know in the comments below! xo