Yesterday, I wrote 6 reasons why you should support local communities while traveling. Today, we'll give you actual ways you can help local communities.
We already know that supporting smaller local businesses helps overall economic growth for a larger group of people. Smaller businesses breed competition, diversity, infrastructure development, and the growth of a larger middle class.
Many tourist destinations are held hostage by large lavish hotels that pay minimum wage to their workers and monopolize the industry. Guests often indulge in 'all-inclusive' packages, giving all their dollars to the hotel, leaving little revenue to trickle down to the surrounding community. This creates an even larger disparity between the rich and the poor. When we distribute our tourist dollar across the community, economic growth happens throughout the local population. Check out these tips on how you can be a 'responsible tourist' promoting sustainability while traveling.
1. Stop being suspicious of people that look different from you. Really. Its about time.
2. Eat lunch and dinner at a locally owned and operated restaurant. Ask a few locals or expats where their favorite place to eat is. Or if you're a bit adventurous, just choose a place where there are a ton of locals there. Chances are the prices and quality of food there will be fantastic. My favorite lunch place in Phuket had meals for 35 baht ($1). Ae, the owner, apologized profusely when she had to raise her prices by 5 baht because of inflation rates at the markets. Every meal left my mouth happy. Step away from the hotel, walk a couple blocks toward the city, and start your feast.
3. Buy directly from the artist. Head to the art district or a nearby craft village if you'd like to bring some decorative arts home with you. You can watch the artist make the piece and see first hand what materials are used. With this you can ensure you are giving the artist a fair price on what you are buying according to their time, talent, and materials used.
4. Bargain respectfully. Just as mentioned above, visiting a local artist can give you a fair, awesome deal on unique pieces of arts and crafts. Bargaining respectfully is a responsible way to ensure that both the buyer and seller are getting a good deal. Bargaining is a part of many cultures. Keep in mind, pinching pennies off the total amount might seem like fun at the time, but those pennies may be providing a school lunch for their children. Likewise, if a seller agrees on the price you offered, take the deal. Backing out of it is rude and inappropriate, and will screw up future transactions with other tourists.
5. Buy groceries and snacks from farmer's markets and local grocers. Buying locally puts more dollars into the economy than shopping at chain stores. You'll probably even discover local delicacies that you would of never come across. My rule of thumb at trying local food- if it smells good, eat it. Another tip (from my personal experience because many things are sometimes cooked in oil) is look at the oil. Does it look like its days old and reused? If so, this might cause stomach issues. If that happens, pop a Tums or Imodium which should help prevent stomach issues from arising.
6. Book at smaller, locally operated hotels. Many small hotels and boutiques have an online presence to communicate with. Some might be harder to get in touch with. Look at guidebooks or google B&B's for more ideas. Smaller hotels often give you more personalized services and tips on local hotspots. If you're really adventurous and are traveling during low-season with a backpack, find accommodation upon arrival. Check out the room before booking, and even compare a few places to get the best price.
7. Rent a bike. Riding a bike around local communities gives you a faster way to cover more ground and check out hidden gems. When you're in a car, its easy to miss these places, but while on the bike you are aware of all your surroundings. (At least you should be for safety reasons.) You also cover more ground than when on foot and can easily stop by any place that catches your eyes. Grab a cool art piece from the cool shop in the alley, follow that with a drink on top of a cool look-out point, take a ride down to the road lined with open-air eateries. You've already distributed your dollar more than hanging around the hotel!
8. Take a course at a local shop, restaurant or school. Cooking, art, or adventure courses are offered just about everywhere. It also supports local artisans make a living. These courses often end up being the highlight of your trip. The photo above was taken during a falconry course in Nepal. The photo below was taken during a tikka painting course in Java. Both were stand-out experiences on each trip.
9. Tell your fellow tourists about note-worthy places and experiences. Nothing helps local businesses like word of mouth. Unless you happen to be traveling truly of the beaten path (in which case, you already travel locally), talk to your fellow travelers. You found an awesome little restaurant that serves delicious cocktails and appetizers- share it! If you just received the best haircut ever on the street corner, tell someone about it. Chances are they might want the same service. Businesses want business. They rely on you and the local community to keep operating and thriving.
If you yourself have experience or education in business, join our Microenterprise Volunteering Program that helps impoverished Thai communities develop small sustainable businesses.