How to support the local communities when you travel
The least we as travellers can do when we are visiting a destination and getting welcomed by the locals, is to make sure our money goes to the local community and its population and that we leave the nature in just as good of a condition as when we arrived – or even better. Here are some ways of how to support the local communities when you travel.
Disclaimer: This is only a list that applies to some part of the world that may have more problems with poverty, corruption etc than a lot of tourist might be used to. So this list applies mostly to rich tourists visiting countries that are not as fortunate or has as good of an infra structure. Although supporting artisans and small local businesses is a good idea everywhere no matter where you are.
1. Stay in locally owned accommodations
Staying in international large all-inclusive resorts can often be the worst thing possible for the locals and the local businesses. First of all, the income of the accommodation goes to the international company and is taken out of the country, in to the pockets of some rich businessman. If these hotels also have restaurants and offer all inclusive, tourists can literally go to a country and stay their entire trip inside the walls of this resort, having all of their money going there and not spend a single cent on any local business. This can run smaller local business out of business too, since a lot of tourists no longer shop there if there’s a resort that offers everything.
2. Don’t litter – and pick up trash
Even though it may not always be the tourists that litter the most – it’s often a matter of education and being from a country that’s aware an outspoken about the cons of littering. But just because the locals might throw plastic in nature does not make it okey for you to do so. Instead you could even try to give back by helping picking up any litter you see, or if there’s a lot of trash in nature or on the beach – don’t complain about it – start a beach clean up and encourage both locals and other visitors to take one day and clean up the beach, park or what else kind of area it might be.
3. Research or ask for local organisations who you can support
In many places of the world, they do not share everything online as a lot of westerners do. That’s why you might not find too many organisations doing good work in the community, so if you can’t find anything – ask some locals! If you feel like you don’t have time to offer, money can be a good support too for them to keep doing their work.
4. Support local artisans and buy your souvenirs from them
Not only does this support the economy of the local artisans but it ensures your souvenirs are more real, as a lot of souvenir shops get their stuff mass produced in ex. China and that you can get in basically every country in the world with just the flag being different. The souvenirs will more likely be good quality, you will have the opportunity to meet the artists themselves and see how they work. It’s usually a lot more natural as mass production often use chemicals in making the products in different ways, while local artisans are more likely to use natural dyeing, natural material etc. And you will see who makes the products and you can be sure no child labour or sweatshops are being used.
5. Eat at restaurants and cafés owned by locals
Same goes here as the first tip. When you support locally owned businesses, the money goes to the locals and not to some rich foreigner who decided to start a business there. (Not that all businesses owned by foreigners are bad, but if you want to support the locals, do exactly that) Also it’s not uncommon for companies owned by foreigners to charge a lot more than locals because the places are westernised.
6. Obey the local laws and guidelines
They are usually there for a reason and it’s all about respect. Do they have special rules of how to dress in public or at special religious sights? Then obey them. Is nudity in public illegal? Don’t take those nude-standing-towards-an-awesome-view-pictures. This one is basically about being respectful. It can’t be that hard.
7. If you book through or travel with a tour company – make sure it’s one that give back the local community in several ways
Some examples of tour companies that give back and that actively support organisations at the destinations they visit are G Adventures. I have done a couple of tours with them myself and we went to several places to support female artisans and did homes stays where the women was in charge and got the money. So if you’re booking a tour, check out their policies and see if there’s any mention of how they are giving back.
These photos are from a trip I did with G Adventures a few years ago where they took us to a place with female artisans who showed us how they produced their products from raw cotton to finished products. We were then allowed to walk around in their store and most of us bought one or several items. Thanks to G Adventures who take their customers to this place and others like it, these women can provide an income for their families.
8. Support female local business first hand
Not only because women already have it harder in life and business life, but also because women have shown to be better at distributing and spending the family’s money better than men. So whenever you can, chose to support a female artisan or business owner before a male one to encourage women being out working and supporting their family financially.
9. Learn some of the local language
Another one that’s a lot of respect, to just learn a few key words like “Good morning”, “Thank you”, “Yes” and “No”. But more than this is also that it helps the locals out by eliminating the toughest communication issue. Maybe take the time to teach them some good words too, or give them a little paper with some good words to use. Or why not get a card with little icons on them, which can be used to “talk” to someone without using words?!
10. Don’t haggle too much
Haggling to save a couple of dollars? Or even just some cents? Stop. If you can afford to travel to the other side of the world you can afford to pay a dollar or a few more than what you consider cheap enough to buy. Those extra dollars probably had a lot more value to the person selling than to you as a tourist. To be sure you don’t spend way too much though, ask the staff or a local guide how much you should haggle so you don’t get fooled. But if you want something and can get it for what you consider is cheap – don’t try to make it even more cheap if the difference is less than what you easily can spend on a daily coffee or a spontaneous bag of candy.
11. If you take pictures of the locals, have them printed and gift them to them
First of all – always ask before taking pictures of people and definitely if you want to take pictures of children, make sure you ask their parents if it is ok. Not only ok to take the actual picture but also if you are allowed to display it online or in other ways to the public. This is a matter of respect. They’re not props for good photos or animals at a zoo, they’re people who’d probably like a photo taken of them as much as you and me who would like to be aware of the photo taken, agree with it and not have someone take sneak pics and then showcase somewhere you’re not aware of.
But if you are allowed to take their pictures, I would recommend you to print them to actual photographs and make sure they’re given to the individuals and families in the photos for them to keep for themselves. It is a small but lovely gesture that takes little effort and money and that is a nice way to show your appreciation to their hospitality.
If you are no longer in the area when you print them, see if you can send them to a local who then can distribute them.
12. Stay ethical – don’t visit Zoo’s or go to animal shows
Animals are locals too, aren’t they? Support local animals by supporting sanctuaries and actively choose not to support animal abuse in the form of Zoo’s or other ways animals are a form of entertainment, like for you to pay to take photos with.
13. Lend money to startups – micro loans can make a massive difference
14. Spread the word about the place
At least if tourism is at the local communities favour. Also recommend locally owned places and other businesses or organisations that support and work with the communities interest at heart.
Do you have any favourite places you’ve stayed, eaten or shopped at while travelling?