Thoughtful and open-minded travel promotes cultural understanding and acceptance, there’s no denying that. The more you travel, the more you realise that as humans we’re all the same, essentially. The borders and differences are in our minds.
I was a different person before I travelled. It has radically changed my outlook on life, and going all over the world has allowed me to see the different ways people travel to enrich their lives, and those of people around us.
There’s never been a more important time to travel. It can feel indulgent, freely wandering from one country to the next, but there are many ways to enjoy meaningful travel that can actually help the world around you.
1. Choose your destination wisely
2. Spend locally
When you do visit your chosen country, spend locally, not on the worldwide brands you know. Buy your lunch from somewhere unbranded. It’ll be an interesting experience whether the food is good or not.
Try something different, out of your comfort zone and live a little. As soon as you start paying for brands abroad you’re paying over the odds anyway.
3. Think about your accommodation
Some of my favourite travel experiences have been down to my accommodation choices. Choose somewhere local, run by locals and staffed by them too and you'll be pumping money back into the system. Stay at chain hotels and that money will be going straight to the fat cat at the top – usually American or Russian owned.
4. Make the effort to talk to a local
Put yourself in situations where you get to talk to locals, or just strike up a conversation.
Talking to locals promotes a cultural understanding that works both ways. The people you meet are usually the most interesting thing about travel anyway.
5. Don't act like a fool
Gawd, I’ve seen some idiot backpackers on my travels. And that’s putting it nicely. Don’t be one of them. How would you want your parents to see you behave? Would you be mortified if they saw you drunk down the Khao San Road or, even worse, disrespecting the locals?
When people from poorer countries don’t have the money to travel – as many don’t – their only impressions of your country depend on how you, their citizens, act abroad. A destination that only ever sees nationals drunk, disorderly and disrespectful is not going to have a good impression. Travel, and you’re an ambassador for your country – project the best impression you can.
6. Volunteer wisely
Find the right volunteering project, dedicate a good amount of time to it and you could make a big difference to the people or animals you help. Volunteering is a great way for anyone who’s privileged enough to travel to give something back to the world.
7. Only use tour companies with a responsible tourism policy
Choosing which tour company to travel with can be confusing. One of the most important things to look out for, to help the world, is to check that they have some sort of responsible tourism policy.
This will ensure that any activities involved in your trip have been assessed for their effect on the local environment. It also means that whoever put the tour together will have done so with the aim to support the locale, in a way you never knew you could if you’d been travelling independently.
If you're looking for advice on how to find a responsible animal experience, we've put together an expert guide.
8. Embark on your own photo project
You’re going to be posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram, right? Why not make it your mission to try and override the negative assumptions and beliefs you know people back at home have about the destination you’re in?
Every day go out and take a photo that challenges the general thoughts about your destination and post it online with well thought out captions. It’s these little messages and anecdotes that can totally change the way a country is considered. And those positive messages will spread.
9. Don't feel you need to do it all
Changing how and where you plan to travel might seem overwhelming, but just choose a battle or two to start and stick with that. Stay local a few nights, try a local restaurant when you would’ve gone for a chain or choose one of the more needy countries and make sure to get out and about to spend your money and invest back into the system.
Travelling to new destinations and promoting a better-informed view of the world to our friends and family is one of the best ways to help others see the world in a different light right now.