By Matt Wilson
As a traveler, you have two choices: You can buy an all-inclusive package, never step foot off the resort, and return home with sunburn, a hangover, and an extra 10 pounds. Or you can venture outside your comfort zone, leave a place better than you found it, and return with a refreshing new perspective.
Being a socially responsible traveler doesn’t mean you have to spend two weeks laying bricks instead of daydreaming on the beach. You can relax at your dream destination and still make a positive impact on the local economy and your worldview.
Photo by jpereira_net
Go to Learn
If you haven’t experienced a culture personally, it’s easy to write off an entire country as “impoverished” or “politically unstable,” when each place has its own complex history and social structure. Seeing areas’ hardships, customs, and attitudes can inspire you to give back in a variety of ways.
You don’t have to make your vacation an all-out service trip to gain insight and contribute to improving the local economy. Sometimes, just immersing yourself in the culture and staying open to new experiences is enough to achieve a larger benefit.
On our trips, we don’t go to Latin America to “help” we go to learn. If you open your eyes and see how things are different outside your home country, you have a better understanding of how the world works, as well as what projects or social causes you might support.
There are plenty of socially responsible vacations that don’t require you to dig a well or build roads. Costa Rica offers a chance to learn about sustainability in the world’s greenest country, as well as explore a plethora of jungle activities. In Nicaragua, you can catch some waves and see how local micro financing is improving people’s lives. Iceland offers travelers a chance to see the effects of global warming while exploring volcanoes and glaciers.
Photo by avlxyz
Keep It Local
The biggest way to contribute is to spend local. Stay at locally owned hotels; they employ locals and are less likely to pollute the environment than massive, foreign-owned resorts. Eat at local mom-and-pop restaurants instead of chains.
By speaking with community members instead of resort-goers, you’ll get an authentic experience. If you want to hang out with other Americans, stay in the States. Talk to locals to find out about their political opinions and their daily challenges. Ask someone where to get the best ceviche, and invite him along.
Be your own travel agent and scout online before your trip to find the best local places to stay, eat, and experience. When you arrive at your destination, you can maintain a carefree attitude and feel good about how you spend your money. Socially responsible traveling is popular at the moment, and travel platforms like Under30Experiences can do the legwork for you.
Travel for a Greater Purpose
What do you get by making social responsibility a priority on vacation? It might be cliché, but it truly is possible to leave a place better than you found it. Boosting the economy by supporting local businesses is like making an investment in that country. It helps everyone who lives there, and hopefully, it will be a better place when you return.
Traveling to new places and soaking up other cultures makes you a more well-rounded individual. Perspective gained from travel can help make you more socially conscious when you conduct business, and you can bring the lessons you learn abroad back to family and co-workers.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already on a mission to be mindful of your decision-making. That will spill over into being socially responsible at whatever latitude you find yourself. If nothing else, the act of travel promotes greater understanding, leading the way toward a better world. Go on vacation. Be a part of it.
About the Writer
Matt Wilson is co-founder of Under30Media and Adventurer in Residence at Under30Experiences, apply to their members-only travel platform for ambitious young professionals today.
Feature photo by Visions Service Adventures