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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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Stay Local

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.

House neighborhood

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.

Shop Local

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.

Shop locally

Party Local

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.

Ask around for local sports clubs – they are sure to organize weekly outings for a fraction of the cost of a package tour.

Travel Local

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.

Remember …

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.

PRODUCTS THE RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER SHOULD HAVE: CLICK PHOTO↓

 

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: Feature photo by Hailey Bartholomew for TEAR Australia released under creative commons via DFAT. Photos in pinterest collage by Dirk GuinanNess KertonConor Ashleigh, & Jim Holmes for AusAID. Sports locally by Connor Ashleigh for AusAID. Shop locally by Jim Holmes for AusAID.

    34 Comments

  1. What a great article. Mitch & I would totally join the sporting activities as we love sports indeed! Nothing better than mingle with the locals in their hobbies and perhaps learn a new local sport.

    • I find getting involved with local sports is something people usually overlook when they travel, but it’s a great way to get involved with locals, and as you said too, sometimes even learn a new sport!

  2. This is great Megan! Supporting local communities and looking for ways to give back is very important for us We always look for various ways to connect with locals and support their local efforts. We always shop local whenever we can.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Anna, and to hear that you’re already conscious of supporting local communities and giving back :)

      I find shopping locally is a mutually beneficial thing anyway, because our $$ go directly to the artisan or shopkeeper, and we in turn get something totally unique that’s not mass produced and can’t be found anywhere else :)

  3. Some good advice but our favourite is the Party Local. You always get to meet some locals there, the interesting ones and sometimes the odd ones too.

    • Absolutely! We always ask the hotel concierge where they’re going after work – best way to hear about the local favorites that way!

  4. Totally agree. It’s a win win situation because not only is the travel experience itself much richer when you get to the heart of the local community, it’s also much more beneficial for the community itself, rather than all your money going to the big international chains.

    • Absolutely – sustainable travel when done correctly can absolutely be mutually beneficial :)

  5. I like to find something locally made as a souvenir from my trip. I end up with unique things that are often talking points, plus it supports the local economy.

    Airbnb, which I admittedly don’t like for a number of reasons, can actually be really bad for the economy. It can drive up prices for already inflated real estate. And most cities and states both tax and regulate hotels, and the tourists who stay in hotels are usually an important source of tax revenue. But many of Airbnb’s customers are not paying the taxes required under the law. That means the locals are forced to bear the burden of increased taxes.

    • Interesting point re Airbnb, I had never considered your points before. Funny that your comment came through when it did actually, because we’ve been recently comparing the housing markets in Tasmania, considering an interstate move. While the purchase price of housing is 50% what it is in Canberra right now, rent is actually on par.

      Which I thought was crazy, but it’s because a lot of home owners instead of renting their properties, are selling them to tourists as Airbnb. So there are less rentals which is inflating the market, as you’ve pointed out.

      I might look into this effect further and write a separate post.

      Thanks for the very thought provoking points.

  6. I love this post, whenever I travel, I always make a real effort to do and support everything local including my stay. Great post

    • Thanks Noel, so glad to hear that you’re a supporter of sustainable travel! Happy travels :)

  7. Very important topic to write about, Megan. Spending our money locally in a meaningful way is crucial for the survival of the local culture. One of the reason, why I think the myth of “traveling for free” is not only untrue, but also hurtful – we should be spending money traveling and it should be supporting local economy.

    Happy Travels!
    Ioanna (A Woman Afoot)

    • Glad you’re on the same page Ioanna :) Really great point about the myth of free travel, you saying this reminded me of an example we were given recently of the cruise tourists who head into Venice.

      The mass tourism is impacting the city on a collossol level, though the main crowds of tourists who come through are cruise ship passengers, who head in for the day to sight-see and then head straight back out, usually not spending money on dinner, or obviously a hotel room. Travel should absolutely support the local economy.

  8. I love running in foreign countries to really gain an insight into local areas. I’ve a.so attended some amazing yoga classes while travelling

    • Absolutely Anne – makes you feel a little closer to the city too, in terms of viewing it from a local perspective :) Happy travels!

  9. This is a great read, Megan. Growing up and living in a developing country, I can’t stress these points enough. All of these are so rampant in many places. As a traveller, I make sure that I follow as many as these possible. And in fact, I can happily say that I do always take local transport, dine at local places and stay in homestays almost always. Having a first-hand experience has made me practice sustainable tourism. I hope many more of us are contribute to the communities as travelers.

    • Thanks Reshma :) I figure the whole point of traveling is to experience a different culture, country and way of life, so our presence should have a positive impact otherwise we’re ruining what we’ve come to see.

      So glad to hear that you’re an advocate for sustainable tourism – I think that leading by example and spreading awareness is the key :)

  10. I would never classify myself as a truly sustainable traveller, nor would I espouse that I am an overt supporter of local communities. However, when I read this, I think I am to a degree. Most of our travels are spent in motorhomes or self drive situations where all we do is spend time in and with local people – buying from their local markets, using family owned businesses, buying locally in general. We never, ever eat in chain restaurants – again always our own market food to make our meals or family run local restaurants. We’ve also stayed with local families too. A good article that makes you think about your processes and what/how you can still improve what you do to help contribute even more.

    • So glad that you enjoyed the article Kerri, it sounds like you’re already traveling in a really sustainable way without thinking about it which is fantastic! I find the little things really go a long way – like refilling water instead of buying plastic bottles and throwing them away, and spending our money at local shops instead of the chains.

      If we can spread awareness and make everyone think about their processes, those little contributions by individuals can make a huge impact if everyone makes the change.

      Happy travels!

  11. Lots of great suggestions! It’s so important to consider how you are impacting a community when traveling–glad to see a detailed post about ways to support the local economy. I always love eating locally sourced foods and buying local crafts!

    • Thanks Jenna! Absolutely – we all have some form of impact on the communities we visit and travel to – its just making sure our behaviour impacts in the right way :)

      Love locally sourced food and crafts too!

  12. I really appreciate your thoughts on sustainable tourism. Awesome!! Keep up the good work :)

    • Thankyou Prakash :) Here’s to spreading the word about sustainable tourism in 2017 :)

  13. I love this idea of giving back to local communities – As travellers we have a responsibility, but sometimes Ill admit it is hard. Thanks for reminding us how simple it can be / its the little things!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Jordan, I agree, sometimes it’s very easy to forget, so I find reminders on small things we can change never hurt :)

  14. I agree with you that every traveler should have a solar powered backpack. Great advice though! Nice photos as well. Keep sharing!

    • They’re quite genius those backpacks – I love ours! Glad you enjoyed the post :)

  15. These are some great ideas! I also always travel with a steripen too!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Hailey! Steripens are fabulous! Happy travels :)

  16. Agreed ! Travel experience is far better when supporting local communities

    • Absolutely Michel :) Happy travels!

  17. Yes! This is so important. Even when indulging in local ‘human tourism’, ensuring that they actually benefit and aren’t being exploited is key (for e.g. The Karen people in Thailand – they do increase their economy, but they are effectively prisoners of their own village for tourist’s benefit).

    Great article will be bookmarking this one!

    • So glad you enjoyed the article Scout – I hadn’t heard of the Karen people in Thailand, I’ll do some research into them; it’s sad to hear that tourism has had that effect :(

      Hopefully with more and more people joining the responsible travel movement, we’ll be able to make sure future travels have only positive impacts on the communities we visit.

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