With the world teetering on an economic precipice, those with money to spend on travel (or anything else) may want to consider how their dollars can not only provide them value but contribute to others simultaneously. Numerous organizations have sprung up in other sectors to encourage shopping that enables local populations to become self-sustaining such as Food for Thought, Chocolate4Good, One World Projects and other Fair Trade businesses. Unsurprisingly, fair trade travel groups have popped up, with the goal of linking tourists and fair trade tour operators. But travelers don’t need an organization to help them to help others. Thoughtful choices is all it takes to make the difference between funneling tourist dollars to a large corporation and directing them to struggling local enterprises.
A simple option for doing good with travel dollars is to choose a destination whose economy needs a lift. The Washington Post reported Saturday that Spain and Portugal have joined Ireland and Greece in the list of European nations whose debt threatens to crush their economies. One tourist’s dollars will not alleviate a nation’s economic woes, but it will assure the tourist that he is doing his part to help those in need.
If visiting a nation in the throes of a debt crisis is too limiting, there are plenty of alternate ways to make travel dollars matter. One of the biggest tourist expenditures after airfare is lodging. Directing lodging dollars to local entrepreneurs by renting rooms, patronizing hotels owned by locals, and staying at B&Bs will better serve the traveler’s conscience than booking a room at a corporate chain hotel.
Setting up outside heavily trafficked tourist locations will spread tourist dollars beyond the typical reach of the tourism industry. Familiarity is undoubtedly a major reason for choosing a chain hotel. But with online access, it simply isn’t the chore it once was to locate a reputable entrepreneur with rooms to let. Smaller, family run lodgings typically offer a more personal touch and provide the opportunity for meaningful interaction with local residents.
The same principle is applicable to meals. Not only are the meals offered in restaurants established to serve locals often superior to and/or more authentic than those in tourist draws, the food dollars are going into the heart of the community where they will likely have a greater impact on the local population.
Staying within sight of tourist attractions does offer the traveler a certain convenience. But with the time savings comes loss of serendipity. So much of the joy of travel stems not from viewing paintings in a museum but from happenstance encounters and living like the natives for the duration of the vacation. These experiences don’t come from immersion into activities designed for and marketed to tourists.
Straying and spending beyond the boundaries of tourist attractions makes memories and helps the tourist to do the most good with his travel dollars.