To travel responsibly has many different meanings for people. For some, being a responsible traveler means taking the necessary precautions to travel safely, being aware of your surroundings, dressing according to cultural norms and being cognizant of cultural sensitivities. For others, it means being mindful of one’s environmental impact. There are travelers who take extra steps to limit the amount of trash they create abroad, and they purchase carbon offset credits that airlines offer.
These are important to traveling responsibly. However, when I think of responsible travel, I think of the personal obligation I have to the communities that I visit. In particular, three things come to mind:
1. Think about what you can contribute to the area. The disparities between first world and developing countries are vast. For example, 60% of the population in Guatemala lives on less than $30 dollars a month. Average school costs are $2 per child per month. This means a family with four children spends nearly 15% of their income on education, making it impossible for a majority of parents.
One way to contribute is being mindful of what a few dollars mean to local vendors. When negotiating prices for craftwork or textiles, a few dollars affects you less than it does the vendor. A dollar or two could put a child in school.
Another way is volunteering. There are fantastic organizations that could benefit from even a day or two of your volunteered time.
2. Know the historical and political influences that help shape the country you are visiting. Every one has a story that gives context to a country’s glaring and subtle characteristics. Take South Africa’s colonial history and it’s subsequent apartheid rule, which helps explain Nelson Mandela’s mission and why racial tensions are still uneasy today.
Why are Mexicans so polite and friendly to Americans? After centuries of subjugation by the Spanish, Mexicans refused to give up their dignity. Instead, they decided to face hardships with profound respect to everyone, a cultural norm that persists today.
3. Endeavor to build relationships. This can be as subtle as a heartfelt “thank you” to the woman selling fruits at a corner stall or a chat on the malecón with a Cuban to ask her perspective on la revolución.
Finding meaningful ways to connect with the people in the countries you visit not only shows respect for them, their history and their country, but also inevitably becomes the best memories of your travels abroad.
Travelteerism is a tour operating company founded by Casey Miller, Harvard graduate with a background in international development. Casey takes the above ideas very much to heart when carefully crafting itineraries for his clients around the world. Travelteerism’s motto is “See the world. And serve it too.” Their belief is simple: travelers are in a unique position to profoundly impact the people and places they visit. Travelteerism’s tours couple high-end travel with short, but meaningful volunteer opportunities in the countries they visit. These volunteer opportunities are designed to connect travelers to the places they visit, and also provide cultural context that ultimately leads to an unforgettable trip abroad.
If “Travelteerism” on your next trip sounds right up your alley, we would be honored to help you plan your trip to help others.