When they hear about “sustainable travel,” the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is the environmental aspects of traveling. People think of eco-lodges practicing the classic reduce, re-use, and recycle model or mission trips spent getting their hands in the soil. While these are important parts of sustainability, this is a topic that goes beyond the environment; it encompasses the economic and social components of traveling, too.
Tourism can be a boon to local economies; tourism accounts for more than 35% of GDP in some locations, such as the Maldives and the British Virgin Islands. However, the money you spend in a country may not always stay there. Rather than staying in the local economy, it may go to business owners overseas.
To combat the drain of funds from the community, travelers can make tweaks to their itinerary. Selecting locally-owned accommodations and local tour guides are great ways to ensure that the money spent stays where it’s spent. When buying souvenirs, choosing handmade goods from the artisans themselves rather than frequenting the tourist shops also supports the community.
You don’t need to take a mission trip to an orphanage to have a social impact on a community, and in the case of working directly with orphanages, you probably shouldn’t (kids get attached and then you leave). Consider how your actions while traveling affect the people in the area; do they empower or create a culture of dependence? Are you leaving locals in a better place in the long run, or just temporarily?
If you want to have a positive and sustainable social impact, donate to local nonprofits that are transparent about financials and employ community members. Choose to buy from vendors that give back to the community or have programs that empower women. Don’t expect the locals to cater to tourists, either. Sometimes the very culture you have come to experience and cherish gets swept away with the influx of outsiders expecting insiders to conform to their norms.
There is much more to be said on this topic. If you would like assistance in planning a sustainable travel experience, I would love to help you get started. If you’re intrigued by the topic and want more information, take a look at some of the resources below:
Sustainable Travel International: https://sustainabletravel.org
Intro to sustainable travel: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/travel/sustainable-travel.html
Tips for sustainable travel: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/lists/sustainable-travel-tips/
Countries that rely most on tourism: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/Mapped-The-countries-that-rely-most-on-your-money/
Green Traveler Guides: https://greentravelerguides.com/tips/resources/
Author: Debra Harris
As founder of Life’s Journey Travel, I’m deeply passionate about creating custom travel experiences that allow my clients to truly savor the journey.