7 ways we can universally give back as travellers

The more we travel, the more we realise we play an important role in supporting local communities as well as the environment, so that we can continue enjoying what we love! As global citizens who want to protect the world just as much as we want to experience it, here are some great ways we love on how to not only minimise our impact, but also give back when travelling:

1. Support the local economy

The easiest and most direct way of giving back is to ensure the money we spend during our trips goes back to local businesses and people!

  • Choose independent tours and excursions organised by local guides for a more immersive and authentic experience.
  • Buy local souvenirs and handicrafts rather than mass-produced items. This way you get something unique for yourself to bring home too!
  • Fancy hotels and chain restaurants are often owned by international corporations, which prevents the money from going back locally. Opt for local guesthouses, eateries, and smaller-scale businesses that directly benefit the local economy instead.
traveller enjoying a tea ceremony experience held by local in colourful dress

2. Donate

Especially when we are travelling in less-developed countries, we can really make a difference by taking the extra step and contributing a bit of money or necessities to disadvantaged groups.

  • Help fund a project or small business from anywhere in the world through loaning platforms like Kiva! You can decide how much and where your money goes towards, and even a repayment once your project is up and running! You can contribute directly or join Workaway’s lending team to start. 
  • Donate supplies through reputable organisations such as Pack for a Purpose. Check out projects in your destination that are in need of specific supplies (which can range from stationery and clothing to medication and electronic items), and use the available space in your luggage to bring them over during your trip!
  • Start a fundraiser and tell your friends and family about where you’re going and which organisation or project you’d like to support. Now it’s easier than ever to start a crowdfund to raise money for a meaningful cause, that you can then directly donate to.
  • If you’re a frequent flyer with more loyalty points and air miles than you can use, make good use of them by donating them to charity! Have a look at your airline’s policy and donate your points to nonprofit charities such as American Red Cross, Make a Wish, Miles4Migrants, just to name a few.
school assembly group of young children lining up in a field while a student plays the drums

3. Go green

We all know that travelling can take a toll on the environment, so by being more conscious of the way we go about and choosing more eco-friendly transportation, we can greatly reduce the harm made on mother nature. 

  • Travel slower. Travelling with public transportation on land or sea – particularly by train, bus or boat – is much more environmentally friendly than flying, and comes with scenic views of the local area that you wouldn’t get if taking a flight.
  • Discover local transportation options. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a rideshare, hitchhike, or even a chicken bus for a cheaper commute that can bring you lots of pleasant surprises and conversations!
  • Offset your carbon footprint if air travel cannot be avoided.We’ve recently partnered up with Ecologi where we would plant a tree on behalf of every new workawayer who joins our community. By planting trees and supporting reforestation projects around the world, we can all play a part in helping with climate change and reversing our negative impact from our travels.
rideshare traveller sits behind local with beard on motorcycle motorbike experience

4. Go off-beat

Yes, we know the appeal of taking that Instagram-perfect photo in front of an iconic landmark – but there’s so many more hidden gems around the world that have SO much to offer! Less-travelled countries are generally cheaper, their locals are friendly, and most importantly they get to benefit from tourism more than the big cities with popular sites. When considering where to go next, don’t be afraid to dig deeper and check out what other unique destinations are waiting to be discovered.

  • Try to pick lesser known destinations to bring in some extra income to less affluent communities; avoid cities and sites that are affected by over-tourism. When a place becomes swamped by visitors, and local shops and residences are forced to make way for holiday rentals, it’s a sign that it might be suffering rather than flourishing from tourism.
  • Discover nature reserves, natural parks and conservations – in a mindful manner. Visiting these reserves means our money goes back into conserving these stunning areas.
  • Do your research on your destination to-dos to avoid exploitative tours and wildlife tourism. Visiting reputable animal sanctuaries is a beautiful experience where you can encounter wildlife from a respectable distance and know that they are well cared-for. If you are going for a wildlife excursion, be sure to support ethical organisations that are respectful to the environment too to avoid unnecessary harm.
workawayer doing yoga relax in forest nature

5. Leave no trace

Needless to say, we should avoid leaving anything but footprints when we travel, but this is easier said than done! Here are a few easy tips on how to start minimising your waste when visiting a new place.

  • Trying out new food is a big part of why we travel, but by taking the extra step to bring reusable utensils and tupperware for street snacks, or swapping out that takeout for a more relaxing eat-in, we are also helping to reduce unnecessary single-use waste. Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle (and travel water filter) too.
  • Choose from sustainable accommodation options such as those on Ecobnb, which do their part in saving energy, reducing waste, using renewable energy, just to name a few. Or, try housesitting for free accommodation AND to help a local take care of their place while they’re away.
  • Bring an extra lightweight bag to help pick up litter when you’re on the road to leave your destination a little bit more pristine! Joining a beach cleanup, or even just picking up trash when hiking, can help make a significant difference.
workawayer participate in beach cleanup

6. Immerse locally

By directly exchanging our culture and skills with locals, not only do we get to teach and learn unique knowledge from each other, but we also create one-of-a-kind friendships that no amount of money can buy!

  • Stay with a local host. Wherever we go, we bring a part of our world and the stories, cultures and knowledge that come with it. Staying with a local family means you get to share your way of life with hosts, especially as they might not be able to travel. Cooking your favourite dish or having a conversation in your native language can be exactly what your host is looking for!
  • Look up events and interest groups in your area and join an activity that you enjoy back at home. Whether it’s a neighbourhood football match, poetry slam night, yoga or dance workshop, you’ll have a chance to exchange skills, unique viewpoints, or at the very least get to support a local event and have loads of fun.
  • If there’s a language exchange event happening in your area, definitely go try it out and be ready for an interesting session filled with conversations and laughter! Language mixes and meetups are for language learners around the world to practise in a relaxing environment; they are often free and is a great way to help someone polish their second language (and learn a different language yourself)! 
hiking adventure with traveller and local hosts outdoor excursion friendship

7. Volunteer

This is one of the most direct ways of giving back and our favourite one! Volunteering requires a bit more research, time and effort, but here at Workaway we’ve done some of the legwork for you and compiled 50,000+ fantastic opportunities worldwide. From this educational permaculture farm in Thailand, to this super creative marine conservation initiative in Norway, there are truly endless possibilities. If you’re able to dedicate part of your trip to a meaningful cause, we promise the experience will definitely be worth it!

  • Join a local community or nonprofit. Communities and NGOs often help bring local residents together and offer support in various fields such as farming and fishing, construction and carpentry, education, women empowerment and a lot more! Experience a completely different way of life while offering your helping hands, expertise, or just good vibes and company depending on the type of help the organisation is looking for, and be ready for an incredibly rewarding experience.
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter. Animal shelters, rescues and sanctuaries are often underfunded nonprofits that only rely on volunteers to run. Taking care of animals is a demanding job that requires lots of time, energy and patience, so a little help will really go a long way in ensuring the animals lead a healthy and happy life.
  • Offer your helping hands at a sustainable project. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re already someone who cares about the environment and wants to play a part in bringing positive change :) There’s so many eco-friendly initiatives around the world that are looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help bring their vision to life. You can help build earthbag houses, grow your own food organically, plant trees, upcycle trash to treasure, and even inspire more people to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle!
eco treehouse building workaway group community volunteer

There’s still a long way to go before we can all be perfect travellers who do no harm and give back 100% – but let’s try to leave the world a better place with every step we take… because we’ll definitely be going far and exploring deep! If you have more sustainable travel tips, share them with us in the comments below <3

sustainable travellocal communitiesvolunteeringeco communitygive back

About Jocelyn

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Jocelyn made her first backpacking trip through Europe during her study abroad in the UK, and is now living vicariously through the Workaway experiences she reads about e... show more...

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