In a continuation of the last entry which featured 20 mindful travelers detailing why community-based tourism is the only sustainable future for the travel industry, I asked travelers to share with us their most memorable and transformative ethical experiences with locals. Today, September 27, is the United Nation’s World Tourism Day. Around the globe today we rejoice in the growing movement towards sustainability in the travel industry. This is just the beginning of a paradigm shift to making responsible travel the norm, and rerouting tourism funds into the hands of locals rather than faceless institutions that do not benefit the communities we are so fortunate to visit across the world.
Community-based travel experiences are something I seek in every locale I visit. This year I spent six months in India. Half of my time was dedicated to Sambhali Trust in Jodhpur, a women’s empowerment NGO that is UN verified. I joined the grassroots charity to provide them with my senior-level professional skills in communications and worked on developing their media outreach, social media, and general marketing practices. I also developed a women’s empowerment workshop which I shared at each of the projects. You can read about the details of the presentation, activity, and the way these incredible, yet marginalized, women responded here.
Ellie of Soul Travel Blog: Discovering the Abatan river in Bohol, the Philippines will stay with me for a long time. Having previously seen the effects of mass tourism on the island on the touristy, commercial Luboc river cruise, the Abatan was a haven of calm and authenticity. Process Bohol runs small tours showcasing the work that they are doing to protect the delicate mangrove ecosystem and Abatan river basin. Revenue raised from tourism goes directly towards training locals to be kayak guides and providing an economic incentive for locals to protect and respect the river environment. If you come in the evening, you can even see fireflies.
Nam of Laugh Travel Eat: My favorite responsible travel experience was my time with Earth, Sea, and Sky in Zakynthos, Greece. Unfortunately the program has since closed down due to lack of funding, however, Yannis, a local that grew up right on the shores of Gerakus beach, taught me a lot about the impact of tourism. The island is a popular nesting ground for many Loggerhead Sea Turtles, but most of these beaches were destroyed by tourism. My month there was used to monitor the tourism levels, protect nesting sites, and promote awareness.
Bianca of The Altruistic Traveller: The best kind of responsible tourism experiences are homestays. There’s nothing like living in the footsteps of another culture a world away from yours. The experiences humble you and the hospitality I received from people around the world is always overwhelming. I would definitely recommend a homestay as a responsible way to support community development and immerse yourself into another life while traveling.
Naomi of Roaming The Americas: The most meaningful travel experiences for me have been homestays. There’s something about living with people—sharing daily routines and meals—that roots you in a place and culture. At the end of my semester in Costa Rica, my study abroad program traveled to Guatemala for 2 weeks, and part of that involved community stays. Being placed on a small-scale coffee farm turned out to be one of the best parts of my semester. I spent time with the families who called this place home and got to know the couple who owned the farm. I harvested papayas until my muscles throbbed, talked with a man about life in the States as we raked coffee beans, enjoyed views of the Guatemalan countryside from the back of a pickup truck, and ate chocolate-covered frozen bananas on the porch with the kids who lived on the farm with their parents.
Lourdes of place OK: One of my favorite experiences was in Cuenca, Ecuador. My daughter Nicole, who is my partner in our travel blog, and I, visited this incredible community project called Kushiwaira, in Tarqui. That community respects and preserves original values and activities. They honor Pachamaama (Mother Earth), use plants for medicine and also prepare excellent food for shared group meal known as pampa mesa.
Cin of Cin Travels: My first responsible travel experience was in El Salvador, the country my parents are from. I went with USEU–Union Salvadorena de Estudiante Universitarios. Through the organization we were able to study at the University of El Salvador and make different visits all around the country to learn about the people of El Salvador, how they live, their social struggles, and what they do to make their homes a better place. It was an unforgettable experience that made me so proud to be Salvadoran.
Angie of @Angieemarti: I have had many incredible ethical travel experiences but there is one, in particular, that stands out most for me. When I visited the Great Barrier Reef I was set on doing it in such a way that I could properly appreciate the Great Reef without harming it further or damaging any of its fragile ecosystems or species. I went with a group that promoted sustainable travel and I learned an immense amount of information about the truth of what is happening to coral reef around the world. The research that I learned about and the consequences of what could be the future of one of the most beautiful and unique ecosystems on our planet, frightened me so much that I decided to start the #AOI2017 initiative on Instagram. The main goal is to raise awareness and educate others about the dangers facing our oceans.
Dawn of 5 Lost Together: While researching our trip to Nicaragua I came across a Spanish school and sustainable tourism foundation that I completely fell in love with. I liked the idea of spending a week at a Spanish school where we could work on our language skills. La Mariposa was exactly what I was looking for: a Spanish school in a small community in rural Nicaragua run by a British expat that is committed to making a difference in the lives of people in this area. I was devastated to learn that they were full at the eco-hotel for our planned visit, but elated that we could still participate and stay at a homestay in the town. Our mornings were spent in 1:1 Spanish class and in the afternoon we participated in planned excursions to local attractions like volcanoes and lakes. Our evenings were spent with our host family where we attempted to communicate in our very poor Spanish. La Mariposa supports schools, a health center, women’s cooperative, an organic farm, and many other important community projects.
Gustavo of Choose Honduras: I have been working on sustainable tourism development initiatives in Honduras and Nicaragua since 2002; experiencing first-hand the transformative change that tourism can have on the livelihoods of a local family. Income from tourism activities persifies the family budget and they become less dependent on a single source of income which reduces the pressure of younger generations to migrate to inner cities or overseas looking for factory work, as tourism becomes a viable opportunity for them to become entrepreneurs in their own community. Sustainable travel is a feasible means of generating income in communities in least-developed countries that have limited access to jobs but have amazing natural and cultural elements in their surroundings. The generation of income through tourism creates awareness of the “value” of the natural and cultural resources in their surroundings, and thus an incentive to protect it.
Susan of Brooklyn Tropicali: My most recent experience living with a local family at a homestay in Peru was incredibly meaningful. It was my third homestay experience, but the most memorable. We stayed with Fernanda and her two sons on a small and remote island on Lake Titicaca in Peru. There was no cell service, no wifi, and no cars to be found. No police and no crime. Just communities who have lived and worked together for centuries. We learned about their routines, lifestyle, and culture. They asked us lots of questions and were eager to share anything they could about themselves. I knew every dollar we were spending for our stay and meals was going to help them improve their lives–furthering the education of Fernanda’s sons and grandson, and giving them access to expensive healthcare. Fernanda made us promise that we would return with our child someday. And I’m sure we will!
Kiona of How Not To Travel Like a Basic Bitch: I have loved every authentic travel experience I’ve had. But my most recent experience was doing a homestay with the women who weave Guatemalan textiles at Casa Flor Ixcacao. From start to finish, it takes one month to make a Guatemalan shirt, and that’s not counting the time it takes to grow their own cotton and herbs to make the natural dyes. To really understand their way of life, I was eating, drinking, laughing, joking, talking politics, meeting their kids, taking showers, sleeping, watching them weave, helping them dye fabrics, visiting their gardens, and learning from these women and their families. No hot water, no problem. Their hospitality was all the warmth I needed! So from sustainable clothing to community-based travel, all of my dollars made decisions to preserve the environment and cycle money back into the community that gave me this beautiful experience.
Tanya of Can Travel Will Travel: I loved my time at the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri, Cambodia. It’s one of the only ‘truly ethical’ elephant projects I’ve come across. We spent lots of time observing 7 beautiful elephants from a distance. They do not allow riding, washing, or feeding, additionally, the use of bull-hooks, restraints and any form of cruel treatment is forbidden. We also spent time volunteering in the tree nursery where saplings were being grown to replace those lost through logging. This is part of the conservation efforts in the neighboring Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, home to a good number of wild elephants. We were also happy to learn that 50% of profits are donated to charity.
Sara of The Life of a Solivagant: Madagascar, as a whole, was a very localized travel experience. The entire time we were there, we were able to see the flora and fauna in a natural setting. Being able to see wildlife, in the wild, is an experience like no other. We had local guides taking us around who were full of information about everything we saw. There was no question we asked that they could not answer. They grew up in these rainforests so they learned it all throughout their lives.
Dorit of Whole Healthy Glow: Traveling to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala was an incredible community-based experience. Not only did I get to explore the beauty of the lake but I also got to meet local Mayan women and learn about their struggles in life. I helped give back to them and their community by working with a non-profit there. The more we expose ourselves to other people and cultures the more we learn about ourselves and what we can offer to give to those who need it. To support local communities and not harm their land or culture but respect it should be the foundation of travel and to meet other like-minded people.
Read more about responsible travel on Miss Filatelista here.
How are you celebrating World Tourism Day? Have you had any community-based travel experiences? Share them with us in the comments!