As travellers, we seek experiences that enrich our lives and challenge us so we return home feeling transformed. The places we’ve visited are no longer faraway dots on a map, but are instead filled with memories of the faces of people we’ve met on our trip.

Audrey is welcomed for tea by a group of Iranian women.
Audrey is welcomed for tea by a group of Iranian women.

What if there was a way to travel and make deliberate decisions that would not only help to change our own lives, but also the lives of the people in those places?

Is it possible to align your travel approach and spending decisions with your values? Does how you spend your money when you travel really matter?

Yes, to all. Here’s why.

More than 1.1 billion travellers crossed borders last year according to World Tourism Organization statistics. That number is expected to grow even faster than before this year, a trend that will likely continue.

That’s a lot of opportunity for good — to benefit local communities by travelling with respect for local culture, economy and environment. However, there’s also great potential for harm.

Anything of such magnitude can cut both ways.

Admiring the glaciers at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Admiring the glaciers at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

That’s why our individual actions, however insignificant they might seem, matter. But this isn’t a zero-sum situation. The impact of aligning our travel-purchasing decisions with our values (i.e., knowing where our money is going and whom it benefits) is not just about “doing good” for others, but also about simultaneously improving our overall travel experience through deeper local connections.

Tourism is the people’s business; it’s often the experiences that involve people we’ve met along the way that are our deepest and most precious. These are the stories we’re likely to recall years after the trip is over.

With this in mind, here are five easy ways you can effectively give back when you travel.

1. Eat local, stay local

Patronize restaurants and hotels that are locally owned. This way, the money you spend remains in the local community; it goes directly to the family running the restaurant or guesthouse, or to a locally owned company that’s invested in the community. This provides another opportunity for you to engage with people, and you’ll likely get a fresher and more authentic meal at a local restaurant. And isn’t this why we’re travelling in the first place?

Sometimes eating local includes an impromptu cooking lesson.
Sometimes eating local includes an impromptu cooking lesson.

Note: If you are on a G Adventures tour all your accommodation and included meals will engage locally owned establishments.

2. Spread your money, locally

Try not to spend all your money in one place. Instead, consider visiting a variety of restaurants and shops in order to spread the economic benefit of your purchases around the community. For example, eat dinner in one restaurant, get drinks at a different cafe and buy your snacks for the bus somewhere else. As a bonus, this deliberate approach encourages curiosity and allows you to sample different foods and engage with a wider group of people.

In Bogota, Colombia, you can buy your avocado outside the restaurant and take it inside to eat with your meal. Everyone wins.
In Bogota, Colombia, you can buy your avocado outside the restaurant and take it inside to eat with your meal. Everyone wins.

3. Purchase souvenirs and handicrafts directly from the artist

Purchasing directly from artists may be challenging when you only have limited time. In this case, seek out an artisan cooperative or an artists’ market where craftspeople sell directly to visitors. It can be well worth the effort.

In Cusco, Peru artisans set up on the main square, Plaza de Armas, the first Sunday of each month to sell their crafts directly to travellers.
In Cusco, Peru artisans set up on the main square, Plaza de Armas, the first Sunday of each month to sell their crafts directly to travellers.

Buying souvenirs directly usually means more money in the hands of the artists. Look for cooperative shops that are transparent regarding the percentage of your purchase paid to the artist. A souvenir purchased in this way often carries more meaning, too, particularly when you meet the person who made it or can hear firsthand the story of the community where it was created.

4. Support social enterprises

A social enterprise is an organization whose business model, purpose and profits are tuned to optimize social impact, community development, and human and environmental well-being. For example, a social enterprise may sell goods or services, then channel the proceeds to job training and skills development for disadvantaged members of the local community (e.g., hospitality training for street kids).

Women prepare crafts for sale at a Planeterra Project in Moshi, Tanzania. Part of the proceeds go toward adult education for women.
Women prepare crafts for sale at a Planeterra Project in Moshi, Tanzania. Part of the proceeds go toward adult education for women.

In our experience, with social enterprises we find that the attention paid to the quality of the food, crafts and services is noticeable. A social enterprise context usually offers travellers more opportunities to engage with local people, learn about socio-economic issues in the community and directly or indirectly provide financial support to a community organization.

Note: Planeterra Foundation’s 50in5 campaign’s goal is to increase its social enterprise projects to 50 countries in the next five years.

5. Choose tour providers that are invested in the community

Community-based tourism, local guides and community visits offer some of the best opportunities to engage with local and indigenous people and to better understand how they live. When you book a tour or experience, ask questions regarding the organization’s relationship with the community you hope to visit and research what percentage of the fees stay local or go directly to the community.

G Adventures' Lost City Trek in Colombia works with indigenous guides to provide employment in the local community and enhance travellers’ experiences.
G Adventures' Lost City Trek in Colombia works with indigenous guides to provide employment in the local community and enhance travellers’ experiences.

It’s about voting with your feet, rewarding good product and making deliberate decisions about tours and travel experiences that reflect your values.

Perhaps it’s obvious that when you spread your travel resources around with a focus on the community you are visiting, the more that community benefits.

More subtly, your travel experience will also be the better for it. This is how “travel as a force for good” goes both ways by benefiting both the traveller and the local communities she visits!

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.