If you’re tired of the same-old resort vacation or trips that don’t involve any local interaction, it may be time to rethink how you travel.
“A lot of people want to give back when they travel. I just don’t think they’re aware how,” says travel expert Barry Choi of Toronto.
Choi says if you’re interested in giving back to the community or volunteering during a trip, it’s not just about hiring local guides or finding a tour — you should also think about your carbon footprint.
“Waste reduction is pretty standard in North America, but sometimes even more important in other countries,” he tells Global News.
Below, Choi and Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, offer their tips on how to travel and give back.
Collect funds before you go
Choi says one thing to do before you go on your trip is to collect either funds or goods to bring to a specific organization, cause or event.
For example, if you know of a local school or church that could use school supplies or monetary donations, collect them from your family and friends before the trip, and when you’re there, deliver the donations in person.
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“Sometimes people start to wonder [with large charities] how much is given back to the local community. This way you put funds or donations into the hands of people who need it.”
Book excursions locally
Choi says if you’re a fan of staying at resorts, most airlines or agencies will try to get you to buy excursion packages right from the resort or airline. With a little research, he says, you are likely to find reviewed tour packages by locals that are not only cheaper, but the money you spend will go back to the locally-owned business.
And if you don’t have that option near your resort, the best thing you can do is tip generously, he adds.
Rethink those souvenirs
Tip says if you want to take home a souvenir, avoid common ones like magnets, t-shirts and shot glasses — they tend to be mass-produced in other countries. “Skip them unless they are made locally by local artisans,” he said via e-mail.
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“Buying directly from artisans who use traditional methods is a great way to support the development of the local economy.”
Try volunteer tourism
If you want your entire trip to be about giving back, consider volunteer tourism. There are several operators in Canada that provide volunteer-based trips, but Choi says they tend to be expensive.
There have also been reports of some of the concerns around this type of tourism, The Guardian notes, especially since it is unregulated.
“At its best, they say, the industry can be both useful and a good experience, but all too often ‘voluntourism’ is ineffective as a means of providing help to targeted communities. At its worst, it can be dangerous for communities and for the volunteers themselves,” The Guardian notes.
Choi adds in these cases, as well as excursions that exploit things like poverty, travellers should be cautious of the operators they are travelling with.
Consider sleeping options
We all love the idea of staying at a luxurious resort or hotel during vacation, but if you really want to give back to the local city you’re in, consider sleeping at a bed and breakfast or smaller chain of hotels.
“It also allows you to engage directly with the community and have a unique cultural experience,” Tip says.
Hire local tour guides
If you start exploring on your own, you’ll often get bombarded with guides offering up their services. Choi suggests doing the research beforehand and hiring a local tour guide to show you the best of culture, food and entertainment.
Know your stuff
And before you start booking any excursions, getaways or activities, understand the history of the country you are going to. Learn about the challenges, the people and the environment, Tip says, and think about how you can contribute back.
“Think about how you can make a positive impact during your trip and connect meaningfully with the communities you visit.”