We have a duty to show up in the world with meaning and purpose and commitment to doing good. And to use any privilege that we have to make positive change and to disrupt oppressive systems.Meena Harris
To say the world is in a crazy state right now would be a massive understatement. With the pandemic dialing down and the world opening back up finding your travel groove again in this new normal is a bit confusing. With Russia invading Ukraine and seeing the world on the brink of war is unnerving to say the least and my heart goes out to those caught in the conflict.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how I can personally make travel a better experience not just for myself but for the countries/cities/towns I visit. No matter where you go, you leave an impression. Lots of Americans are known for being brash, loud, and rude when they travel and I do my best to be the opposite of the stereotypical traveler.
What can you do to leave the destinations you visit a better place? I’ve come up with some ideas, but you know I’m always open to more. Now it’s more important than ever to become a conscious traveler and leave a positive mark wherever you go. Mindless travel and blazing a path of destruction, litter, and negativity should be left in the past. This year I’m choosing to be more present and contribute something positive. Each place I visit is genuinely special to me and I want to contribute to that for any travelers visiting after me.
Pick Up Trash/Don’t Be a Slob
One of the simplest ways to leave a place better than when you arrived is to make it cleaner than when you arrived. Take a small plastic bag with you one day and make it a goal to pick up enough trash to fill it. If that’s too much just pick up one piece each day. Even one less piece of trash is a good thing.
On the flip side, don’t treat your vacation rental/restaurants/etc like your home. We all know the levels of slob we can suddenly reach and it’s not fair to make others pick up after you. Put your trash in the trash can. Pick up items off the floor. If you’re staying with a local, offer to bring your sheets to the washer or do the dishes. Help water their garden or put groceries away. The possibilities are pretty much endless. The benefits of doing something good for someone else that also keeps the place clean are also endless.
The more you immerse yourself in the local economy, the more it thrives. Instead of going to chain restaurants or big box stores on your next vacation, spend some time exploring what the locals have to offer. You’ll get a much more authentic experience and your money will go much further. Plus, you’re fueling someone’s dream.
Yes, we love chains and there’s a reason they’re so successful. However, when was the last time that you ate something prepared from scratch by the person who started the bed and breakfast you’re sitting in because it was their dream? Lots of time when we travel we just spend money without thinking about where it’s going. Take an extra minute to search out places where it will be valued the most. It really can make a difference.
Practice Small Acts of Kindness
Give a genuine compliment to one person a day. You never know how it could make someone’s day. Find a way to be the bright spot in someone else’s otherwise normal or even bad day. Hold the door open. Carry something for someone. Say thank you every single time. Buy a coffee for the person in line behind you. Leave a good tip.
People tend to underestimate the difference tiny acts of kindness can have. It doesn’t cost you anything in most cases but it can turn someone’s day around. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone do the same for you? Imagine if everyone who traveled this year did one kind thing. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see that.
Leave a Smaller Carbon Footprint
Yes, travel itself leaves a massive carbon footprint, but there are ways to reduce that and make the world a little better in the process. Take public transportation or carpool when you can. Rent an electric car for your vacation. Choose to take a bike tour instead of a bus tour. Walk around your destination instead of driving. Transportation doesn’t have to be all carbon all the time.
There are other ways to be eco-friendly when you travel that won’t inconvenience you either. Ditch the plastic bags and bring a reshoppable bag or a backpack to use for the entire trip. Think of all the useless, super-easy-to-rip plastic bags you’ll prevent from going into a landfill. Speaking of landfills, why not avoid all of the leaflets and handouts people on streets love to give you, especially in tourist-heavy areas? Most of the time we never even look at them anyway.
If you want to do even more, why not take shorter showers to save water especially in areas that are at risk of running out or are facing a shortage/drought. Leave no food on your plate. Maybe you stuffed yourself at dinner and can’t take another bite. Bring those leftovers home with you! You can even enjoy them later and save money on another meal!
Donate to Worthy Causes
I can’t speak for anyone else, but the past few years have taught me I don’t have a lot of money to spare, but there are TONS of causes I want to donate to. Whether you donate your time, items, or money, finding a worthy cause can help make the entire world a better place. I like to start small and donate pet items to my local animal shelter. I’ve also donated $5 at a time to causes I really care about like animal conservation and local libraries.
I recently saw a fun way to save up for a small donation. Whenever you buy something on sale, put the money you saved into a small jar. Once you have a certain amount saved, donate that! You might have saved on the sale, but you’ve given yourself an easy way to save up funds for something you would’ve already spent the money on.
Be Mindful of Over Tourism
NYC, Paris, London, any major tourist city. What do they all have in common? They are drowning in tourists several months of the year. Think about planning your trip so it doesn’t coincide with the heaviest season of the year. Imagine how you’d feel if your town was so packed you could barely get what you needed done. That doesn’t mean not visiting, but just being mindful of the best time of year to visit for yourselves as well as those that live there.
The last thing I want is to discourage people to travel. I’d love for travel to have the ultimate transformation where it shifted towards more sustainability and genuine appreciation for the people, places, events, and attractions travelers visit. There are tons of people who are already doing this and I love them for it. I just wish it was the norm for people to commit random acts of kindness or pick up some trash instead of making more.
Even though my blog is tiny I really do want to make a big impact. Travel has always been and probably always will be a massive passion of mine. I used to travel without a thought for the places I was going other than what it could provide me. Now I visit places to experience what they have to offer and try to give something back in whatever small way I can as a way of expressing gratitude. Hopefully this inspires someone else to do the same. The world could use some of that right now and forever.