If you’re reading this, you probably love to travel.
You probably love learning about new destinations, trying new foods, and connecting with local cultures that are different from your own. Sometimes, however, it is easy to get caught in the trap of just “checking it off the bucket list.” I am guilty of visiting touristy spots just so I can take a photos and say that I’ve been there.
There’s nothing wrong with going to Paris and taking a picture with your croissant next to the Eiffel Tower.
But the majority of my travels are about more than ticking off destinations. I prefer to travel slowly and really experience a place before moving on. For me, travel is about getting to know locals and travelers, seeing how communities live, cooking and eating with them, and learning from life stories that are different from my own. In return, I want to give something back to the people I meet on my travels.
These are 11 ways you can make a positive impact on the places you travel and the people you meet.
Be Mindful of Your Environmental Impact
There are so many ways to be a more sustainable traveler. Choose public transport instead of driving, bring a reusable water bottle and filter (if needed), and eat locally produced food. All of these changes can minimize your carbon footprint help to leave a positive impact on the places you visit.
Eat & Shop Like A Local
One of the easiest ways to have a positive impact is to buy food and souvenirs from local establishments. Not only does this let you fully immersing yourself in the country’s culture but you support the local economy instead of giant foreign companies.
Skip the MacDonalds or Starbucks and instead opt for hole-in-the-wall cafés and family-run businesses.
Volunteering abroad is a very straightforward way and accessible way to have a positive impact on the places you visit. You can volunteer in animal conservation, environmental issues, politics, development – pretty much anything you’re into, there’s a way to help other people at the same time.
Personally I love working on organic farms through WWOOF. It’s a great way to connect with the local culture and customs. As a WWOOF volunteer you exchange food and accommodation for a few hours of work per day. Make sure to read up on the pitfalls of voluntourism before you volunteer abroad – not all volunteering opportunities are created equal! Be wary of companies charging tons of money to volunteer, whether in a developed or developing country.
Respect Local Customs
Have a positive impact on the places you travel by being sensitive to the local culture. When you travel abroad you will definitely encounter beliefs and ways of living that you may not have seen before. The most important thing you can do as a responsible traveller is to respect them.
Do this by following local dress codes and social cues and manners. Something as simple as how you greet another person can have different meanings in different countries.
Do Something Nice For Someone
A great way to have a positive impact on a personal level is to simply do something nice for someone. When a new traveler arrives in your hostel go out of your way to be kind to them. Say thank you more, share your food with other travelers, and make people feel comfortable and welcome. Doing something nice for someone also does wonders for your mood!
Be An Optimist
“You know what’s really cool? Wake up every morning, decide what you feel like doing, and do it.” –Amanda Palmer
Your outlook on the world while traveling are up to you. You can’t always control what happens but you can control how you view the situation. By choosing to look on the bright side, you will have better adventures, experiences, and meet awesome people. When you see positivity, you radiate positivity and have positive experiences. What is more, the people around you will want to share in your uplifting attitude, too.
Travel Like A Minimalist
Minimalism has become quite a buzz word, but minimalist travel is a sure-fire way to make sure you aren’t leaving a negative impact. If you want to learn more about minimalism in an accessible and palatable way check out one of my favorite bloggers Jenny Mustard.
Ask Questions & Have An Open Mind
It can be easy to assume things and apply stereotypes to foreign or unfamiliar cultures. Don’t impart your beliefs, customs, ideals, or ways of living on the people or place you visit. This includes wearing the appropriate clothing in conservative countries. Show that you are respectful and open-minded by asking questions about their culture instead of assuming they want to know about yours.
People may be curious about western lifestyles but that doesn’t mean they want to adopt those customs. As travelers we are guests in the countries of others. While we may be guilty of viewing non-western countries through lens of our own lifestyles, it’s often a different world that is complete and valid the way it is.
Smile Even When You Might Not Feel Like It
Let’s be honest, traveling doesn’t always look like Instagram photos. Sometimes it rains for three days straight, or your wallet gets stolen, or you eaten nothing but oatmeal for 3 days.
When I’m at a low point, looking at the situation as though I am an outside observer can make me smile. I think about how I’ll look back on this moment tomorrow or three years from now.
Seeing the humor in both the good times and the bad allows us to have a better impact on the places we visit by being a better human for those around us.
Make Conversation With People Who Make Your Sandwiches and Coffees
Having a positive impact on the places we visit has a lot to do with how we approach the little things. Ordering a coffee, for example – you can just ask the barista for a soy latte or you can ask them about their day, if they could also use a coffee, or how they feel about Donald Trump (actually don’t do that haha). Being present for these seemingly mundane interactions can lift our moods and elevate the energy of those around us too. Who knows, maybe you made her day by making friendly conversation.
Learn From Your Travels And Talk About It
Travel makes you a more amazing human being. It’s as simple as that! Embrace everything you’re learning and share your newfound travel knowledge with others. Sharing travel tips spreads the travel love and helps everyone have better and more meaningful adventures.
We all make mistakes when it comes to traveling responsibly, sustainably, and consciously. What matters most is that we learn so we can have a greater positive impact on future adventures.