How does this sound? Sipping your early morning coffee while looking out over Mount Kilimanjaro as you mentally prepare yourself for a day of encountering some of the world’s most dangerous predators. What if I were to tell you that the safari you’re about to embark on is owned by native Tanzanian entrepreneurs? Better yet, that the coffee you are drinking was locally grown and with each sip you are funding running water at a local orphanage? Your impact on society is something to keep in mind as you plan your summer adventures.
“Native” and “local” is what separates a vacation from socially responsible tourism – which promotes self-reliance and economic development through travel. Socially responsible tourism is more than a vacation, it is education. Your dollars will go into the pockets of the local economy, to start alleviating social issues and activating social change.
Socially responsible tourism hits all the senses – seeing, touching, smelling, hearing and tasting the local spices of the Indian markets, but more importantly, it is also about taking in the reality of poverty in the Kolkata slums and getting involved in the fight to alleviate it. You will not only see what is “pretty” but also what is real.
Whether you’re traveling alone, with family or a school group, there are many organizations that now look to traveling on a socially responsible scale and will set up trips for you. Trip packages include sightseeing, free leisure time and volunteer work – all while giving back to local causes. For a great example of a socially responsible organization check out The Village Cooperative. Located in Indianapolis, IN this non-profit organization is dedicated “to the creation and support of income-generating projects in the developing world”. With upcoming trips to India, Kenya, Thailand or Cambodia, The Village Cooperative will take you to all corners of the globe. Have a passion for a cause? Turn your passions into actions with these tours.
If you don’t want to go through a travel organization, here are some tips for making your own vacation more socially responsible:
Think locally, not globally. When doing research for a vacation, look for hotels, rental companies or guided tours that are owned by locally accredited companies. Doing this gives back to the local businesses and people, benefiting their economy. If you hire a driver, guide, or even eat at a restaurant, provide fair wages for their services. If you are interested in doing some volunteer work get in contact with a local organization and set up a date. You could even ask the hotel for information on volunteering in the area and they may even be able to help you book the appointment.
Know the local customs. While traveling you are a representative for your own country, so always do research on local traditions and customs before you go and be respectful to those traditions. Learning a few phrases like “thank you” or “please” in the native language always helps.
Ask the locals. Clearly the easiest way to understand an area is to ask someone who lives there. Asking residents can help you find some of the best restaurants in places you may have never looked or the best gifts to take home as souvenirs to your grandma – and the best part, it is all benefiting the local community! It is also a great way to get a true feel for the people living there.
And remember, always check with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention before traveling abroad. Part of being a responsible traveler also means not spreading diseases or bringing them back with you.
Last, as always, it is important to get travel insurance. Search around for the best insurance plans for you or your group. After all, it is better to have it and not need it than not have it when you do need it!
How will your summer adventures positively impact the global society?
Written by Megan Schipp