8 Ways to Make a Positive Impact Whenever You Travel

Hanakapiai Falls, Kauai, Hawaii/Oyster
Hanakapia Falls in Hawaii

Chances are, if you are reading this you love to travel. So do we! And when we travel, we like make sure that we leave a positive impact with every stamp on our passport. We recently talked to a few hotel workers, fellow travelers, and guesthouse owners about the easiest and most effective ways that you can make a positive impact on the people and communities you visit. 

While some of them can totally change the way you travel, they don't have to -- some are as easy as saying thanks to those who deserve it. If you want to get your hands a little more dirty in this game of positivity, though, read on for some stellar tips. 

Got any more ideas? Let us know in the comments. We are always looking for ways to give back to the beautiful communities that become our temporary homes.

Hotels in this story

1. Skip Most of the Big Chain Hotels and Mega-Resorts

The Master Suite at Casa de Las Olas in Tulum

The Master Suite at Casa de Las Olas in Tulum

One of the biggest money-sucks for a local community are the mega-resorts — the more all-inclusive, the worst. Not only are these resorts notorious for paying the lowest wages in the industry, but they usually ensure that practically zero, zilch, nada of your money is reaching the local community. This means that your beloved destination is in no way benefiting from your arrival or hard-earned cash. Instead, choose to stay at a locally-owned, small family hotel or guesthouse. Even better? Find an eco-friendly place like Casa de Las Olas or Suenos Tulum that sources locally and has alternative energy sources, without skimping on comfort.

2. Eat Like A Local

Photo by Johan Fantenberg, Flickr

Photo by Johan Fantenberg, Flickr

It always surprises us when we see someone traveling in a distant land…and eating at a place like Outback Steakhouse. Maybe it’s the uber-foodie rumbling inside us, but we think more than half the fun of traveling is stuffing our faces with local cuisine! So ditch the familiar, globalized restaurants and tuck into some street food or a local speciality from a popping spot in town. (We usually judge a spot by the number of locals that are packed inside; a lot of locals generally signifies a top-notch restaurant.) 

And, hey, we realize there might be a bit of hesitance when you are someplace that has a reputation for upsetting tummies, but you can fish out quality and community-friendly, expat-owned local restaurants. For example, Negombo’Lords Restaurant has a passionate British expat owner who serves up delicious dishes, maintains a sanitary kitchen, and is a major contributor to the local community. 

Tip: If you want to go really local, shop like one. Grab some food at the local market or a fresh-caught fish from the local fisherman and have your local guesthouse cook it up for you; many are more than happy to do so.

3. Leave the Staff Cash Tips

Photo by Steven Depolo, Flickr

Photo by Steven Depolo, Flickr

Another easy-peasy way to make a positive impact — even for travelers who stay (and maybe never leave) the comfort of their all-inclusive mega-resorts — is to simply leave a cash tip. Because, as Sarah, a local Sri Lankan guesthouse owner put it, “The best way [to make a positive impact] is to give the staff a cash tip and to have an appreciation for the fact that what seems like a cheap destination may not be cheap to live.” Unfortunately, tipping is a no-brainer that often gets overlooked. Even if your bill already includes a service charge, you should know that not all of that is heading for the staff. Sometimes up to 40 percent can be taken by the hotel, particularly in these larger resorts. If you can, try to leave it in the local currency so the staff isn’t left with exchange fees. 

4. Give Compliments When They Are Deserved

Don’t have enough spare cash to leave a tip or just can’t afford to? Well, leave a simple note or verbally say thanks to your hotel staff, hosts, or waitresses. Even better? Tip and say a kind word. Everyone likes to hear a little encouragement and compliment for a job well-done, and hotel and destination staffers are no different. When someone deserves praise, make it rain — a kind word never hurts.

5. Bring Items to Donate to Local Schools

Photo by Steven Depolo, Flickr

Photo by Steven Depolo, Flickr

Another fantastic idea we’ve been clued in on is to pack a small suitcase full of pens, paper, crayons, and other essential school supplies to drop off at a local school. Many of our favorite destinations are in countries with lower economic status and little-to-no school funding, so even critical, everyday items aren’t being provided or are running desperately low. Every little bit helps.

6. Donate Clothes to the Community

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr

Ever bought flip flops just to wear on vacation, purchased a coverup to enter a religious site, or nabbed an umbrella for that rainier-than-expected night? If you aren’t planning on using your newly purchased clothing item post-getaway, or just have some stuff you brought with you that you don’t really want to wear anymore, give it to the local community. Oftentimes hotels will have donation stations near their front desks, or you can just ask a staff member to help you spread the love. 

7. Choose Excursion Companies with Sustainable Practices

Photo by Jan Hazevoet, Flickr

Photo by Jan Hazevoet, Flickr

Beyond choosing hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants that maintain sustainable, community-friendly practices, you should also be careful about the excursion companies you choose to use. Traveling to an exotic place often means beautiful beaches and reefs, dense jungles, wide open landscapes, and wildlife. Make sure the tour provider you are paying to show you all of these things cares about maintaining them. Don’t be afraid to ask about the company’s sustainable practices and eco-friendly features, or if your money is contributing to the sustainability of these gorgeous places. 

8. Do Not Enforce Your Lifestyle or Beliefs on the Locals

Photo by J3SSL33, Flickr

Photo by J3SSL33, Flickr

One of the most positive things you can do while traveling — which is often one of the hardest for some people — is just soak up the culture and people of the places to which you are traveling. Don’t force your beliefs, social, cultural, or religious customs on the people or place you are visiting. This also includes wearing the appropriate dress in conservative countries or establishments, to show that you are respectful and open-minded. Even if you are behind the walls of a hotel the entire time, the staffers are locals, and need to be respected as such. Remember we are the guests in their homes, and while we all may be guilty of viewing foreign lands through the filters of Western lives, it’s often a different world. And that’s exactly why we love to travel. 

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