Traveling locally sometimes can be a scary experience. Language barriers, unpainted walls, and open-air tables can be intimidating for the novice traveler to approach. Questions like will I get ripped off, will I get sick from this food, will I be able to communicate often come up. But when we say no to the suit behind the desk charging $175 for a room, we often find ourselves pleasantly surprised. We meet kind locals who share their secrets on where to get the best dish. We support a local family-run guesthouse that gives some of its profits to support classes at the local temple. Traveling locally helps distribute your travel dollars to the people who really deserve it- the locals. Here's why you should actively chose to be a “responsible traveler:”
1. Support traditions, character, and prosperity- We travel to destinations to see unique dress and textiles, to taste exotic dishes, to experience beautiful sceneries and adventures. Respecting differences helps preserve one-of-a-kind businesses and protect the character of a community in a rapidly homogenizing world.
2. Keep your dollars in the local economy. When you shop at locally owned shops, the revenue is shared amongst the community. When shopping at chain stores, employees are often just paid minimum wage, your dollar ends up in the pocket of the guy in the penthouse in the four cities over.
3. Inspire entrepreneurship. Locals are much more inclined to start their own business when they see their neighbor succeed against the 'big guy.' Entrepreneurship inspires innovation and brings prosperity to more families helping create a larger middle class.
4. Build competition. This point reflects the one from above. Having many small business owners bring competitive prices and a variety of unique experiences to tourists. Many people benefit. When we allow for one business to run the show, prices inflate and quality and quantity of services and experiences drop.
5. Inspire community involvement. Local entrepreneurs and community members are inspired to become more directly involved in decision making processes when they have stake invested in the community. Supporting small business ownership allows for local community empowerment.
6. Build infrastructure. Many times communities with little local support lack basic infrastructure including public toilets, streets lamps, postal systems, sidewalks, and strip malls. Supporting local small businesses helps develop need infrastructure for tourist and local comfort.
Choosing how you spend your tourist dollar effects more than just you. Stayed tuned for Part 2- How to Support Local Communities While Traveling.
If you yourself have experience or education in business, join our Microenterprise Volunteering Program that helps impoverished Thai communities develop small sustainable businesses.