You often hear people talk about the benefits of tourism for local communities. The main argument in favor of mass tourism is that it creates more jobs for locals and more opportunities to promote their culture.
But is that all there is to it?
In reality, we witness large hotel chains spreading into developing countries, and cookie-cutter holiday resorts, not to mention foreign-owned food chains offering uniform food all over the globe. The world is becoming increasingly globalized and culture is being diluted and lost.
The situation is hardly black-and-white, though. For a local community to truly enjoy the benefits of tourism, we have to become more responsible as travelers.
Mind you, sustainable tourism works both ways. By supporting local communities, adventurous travelers can immerse themselves in the local culture in a meaningful way. And the experience becomes more unique.
As travelers with an eye and heart for adventure, we believe that sustainable tourism can and should be mutually beneficial, so have put together the following tips on how you can make a positive impact on local communities every time you travel. While still having the time of your life.
How to Support Local Communities When Traveling
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If a rich local experience is something you crave, you’re unlikely to find it staying in an international hotel. So what are your other options?
Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to travel on a budget, plus you get to interact with locals on a more personal level by staying in their home. Chances are your host will let you use their kitchen to prepare food and give you first-hand advice on how to make the best of your stay in the area.
Also, Airbnb gives you all the comfort of a mid-range hotel room while actually staying in a unique and locally owned establishment. Let’s not forget that it’s also safe. Airbnb is a community marketplace with a worldwide reputation, meaning that hosts need to comply with Airbnb’s rules on responsible hosting.
You could also consider swapping your home with another homeowner for your next holiday. With a bit of luck, you can have as much fun as Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet in the eternally romantic Holiday. Even without it, a house swap offers a genuine local experience.
Wine & Dine Local
Ever tried sour espresso in Berlin? What about a homemade baklava in Istanbul or the traditional Spanish paella? Restaurant chains may have some local delicacies on their menus, but they are either overpriced or simply not authentic.
Besides, by eating locally, you can be sure the food is fresh and healthy, unlike the generic ‘’specialties’’ that came straight from a microwave. And it’s reasonably priced because the ingredients are grown locally.
In larger cities, locals even host dinner parties for tourists in their own homes. Explore websites like Withlocals to find your dinner get-together with lots of home-cooked local food.
Related: Eating Withlocals in Thailand
During my one-month study visit to Valencia, I woke up one day to a chatty bustle coming from the street. To my amazement, my seemingly ordinary street was transformed into a full-blown street fair. Not only did I get to buy the most amazing pair of pantalones cagados but also got to practice my Spanish in a meaningful, real-life situation.
It was then and there that I actually started looking around more closely.
I started noticing charming little shops selling handmade jewelry and clothing that I literally couldn’t find anywhere else. Your money is going directly to local artisans and their products may also have a whole story behind them. Some even come in a unique packaging so they are perfect as personalized gifts to someone you care about back home.
From open mic nights in Nashville to karaoke parties in Hanoi, there are so many ways for you to have fun like nowhere else! It’s not that difficult to discover what locals do for fun. What else is the Internet for, right?!
If you’re into live music, find out if there are any local demo bands playing during your stay and you are in for a real treat. Local festivals are also a great way to get to know the local culture and have an amazing time.
For example, one of the things on my bucket list is the Fiera delle Messi in San Gimignano, Italy. It’s a 3-day festival featuring musicians performing medieval music on authentic instruments in authentic costumes. And that’s only one example! Imagine how much more there is to explore.
Participate in Sports Locally
If you’re the sporty kind, there are plenty of options for getting the adrenalin rush you need, from mountain climbing to parachuting.
Ask around for local sports clubs – they are sure to organize weekly outings for a fraction of the cost of a package tour. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the natural riches of the area you are staying in – with the people who actually know their way around.
While car rentals are usually the easiest way to get around in any place, consider if this is absolutely necessary, considering the negative effect on the environment before you book. Not contributing to the carbon footprint is the least we can do as responsible travelers. You can always ask around about what forms of transport the locals use, or rent a bicycle.
Unless of course you’re traveling as a large group where travelling in one vehicle might be the most sustainable option.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. But remember – showing respect and appreciation for the community you are visiting is the key to unlocking the door to a rich cultural experience and true adventure.
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Photo credits: Feature photo by Hailey Bartholomew for TEAR Australia released under creative commons via DFAT. Photos in pinterest collage by Dirk Guinan, Ness Kerton, Conor Ashleigh, & Jim Holmes for AusAID. Sports locally by Connor Ashleigh for AusAID. Shop locally by Jim Holmes for AusAID.