What You Need To Know to Travel Sustainably and Meaningfully

More than Just Memorable

Painting a Rural Community Church in Jamaica
Painting a Rural Community Church in Jamaica

The more I travel, the more I find myself seeking meaningful, not simply memorable, travel experiences. This desire has taken me down the path of researching how to travel sustainably, considering the footprint that I have left on past trips, and even partaking in immersion travels where the focus is on cultural awareness and international relations.

I know first hand that this kind of travel can take a lot of time and effort to plan out, so let’s talk about some of the easy ways you can start traveling sustainably today.

Keywords of Sustainable Travel

In recent years, many keywords have emerged in regard to sustainable travel. These words include – Green Travel, Social Responsibility, and Environmental Consciousness. 

While figuring out the nuances of each term can be a bit tricky, it is important to know that they all promote the same thing – that is traveling with footprints and impact in mind.

Decide What it All Means to You

Impact Travel Alliance Mission for Sustainable travel changes
Impact Travel Alliance’s Mission for Change

Kelly Campbell, co-founder and executive director of The Village Experience, an organization we partner with, says “Green/Sustainable travel is traveling in a manner that respects and takes into consideration the local community, wildlife, and the environment.” Her company organizes tours to Kenya, India, Guatemala and other countries, that also combines giving back to the local communities.

Meghan Aftosmis, SR PR and Media Network Lead at Impact Travel Alliance, states that green travel and sustainable travel are not interchangeable concepts. Green travel connotes that it’s solely focused on environmental conservation, whereas sustainable tourism has a much broader perspective and meaning. The keys to sustainable travel are that a destination’s local people, culture, economy, and environment – are all benefited by tourism in that place. Even beyond the travel industry, businesses often describe this as a triple-bottom-line: people, planet, profit.

With this in mind, think about your own travels and decide what sustainable traveling means to you. Ask yourself how you will integrate more best practices on your next trip?

Do Your Research and Choose What’s Right

Traveling sustainably with the Village Experience on a Kenyan Safari
Sunset on a Kenyan Safari with The Village Experience

With sustainable travel, as with any kind of travel, it is important that you do your homework before you go. Doing so will ensure that you not only choose the right destination, but that you also engage with the right kind of organizations and travel companies when you get there. To get an even better understanding of the destinations practicing sustainability, check out Go Eat Give’s recommended travel destinations and blog here.

One place to start your research is to look for travel companies that have direct partnerships with locally owned hotels, restaurants, excursion tours, and shops. Choosing entities like these, over large commercial tourism companies, helps to confirm that tourism dollars stay local. This also helps the community stay economically stable and that the culture of that destination stays intact.

Prepare For the Trip

Traveling Sustainably Starts with Packing Sustainably

If you are like me, you have a stash of basic travel products that you bring on every trip. In the past couple of years, I have personally added a reusable water bottle, snap and go snack containers, a cotton wrap sheet (to be used as a beach sheet, picnic blanket, or poolside cover-up), and a packable travel towel – to my ever-growing expanse of sustainable travel gear! Each item has saved me so much time and effort while I’m jetting off from place to place. It has also cut down on the waste that I have left behind.

These Hydro Cell Stainless Steel Water Bottles keep liquids hot or cold and come in a variety of fun colors. 

Take the time to purchase a few sustainable travel products that you can reuse on all your trips. Keeping these items on hand can go a long way in saving you money, while reducing the footprint you leave behind.

Engage With The Local Community

Immersion Trip to a Guatemalan Elementary School
Immersion Trip to Guatemalan Elementary School

In addition, it is important to continue giving back to the destination you visit every time you travel. By partnering with local charities and social enterprises that have sustainable visions and missions, you’ll leave a positive footprint behind. There are many easy ways to integrate this into your next trip, no matter where you choose to go. When you travel again, consider shopping at fair trade stores, taking eco tours, joining cooking classes led by locals, and eating at locally-owned restaurants

Another way to take this a step further is by donating your time. Many local organizations offer opportunities to volunteer for a few hours to a few weeks, bring much-needed supplies, or donate any special skills you may have. It is best to find out from the local organization what assistance they need. Go only with reputable nonprofits that ensure that no one is taken advantage of in the process.

Also, some of the activities Go Eat Give volunteers have done in the past include teaching English to businessmen and women in Spain, farming on a cooperative farm in Cuba, giving lessons on health and sanitation in Indonesia, and organizing life skills classes for women in India. Anything that involves touching wildlife is typically a No Go!

Start the Connection at Home

Even when you are not traveling, you can continue to learn about sustainable and meaningful travel while at home. Doing so will ensure that you have the right mindset before you take off on your next adventure.

The nonprofit travel organization, Impact Travel Alliance offers a series of virtual events that introduce travelers to a sustainable mindset. These are educational, offering facts and perspective from travel industry members from around the world. All events are free, but donations directly support their travel partners.

If you are ready to start planning your vacation, with sustainability in mind, of course, The Village Experience is offering $100 off any 2021 trip listed on their website. Make sure to mention this post when you book!

~By Jordan Dunn, Marketing and Communications Intern at Go Eat Give. Jordan is a Public Relations and Communications Marketing Major at Siena College in Upstate NY. She has a passion for writing, traveling, and advocacy. Follow her on Facebook and Blog about her personal travels.

Why Volunteering In Thailand Can Be The Best Travel Experience

Thailand is one destination that does not really needs a reason to visit. Anyone that’s ever wanted to order an escort should not pass on the opportunity to visit the wonderful world of Bangkok. Being regularly featured in most of the “Top Destinations to Visit” lists, its popularity in travel fraternity is not unknown. Then why should you be thinking about volunteering in Thailand? You might wonder.

Volunteering abroad is a form of traveling overseas that allows a traveler to gain experiences that are not possible on a regular holiday visit. There are things one gets to do, see, and feel that are unlikely during a regular trip.

So, what exactly are these differences? What makes a volunteer trip to Thailand better than a regular travel expedition? Here’s the answer to it all…

Living

One of the primary things that differentiates a volunteer trip to Thailand from a regular trip is the living arrangements. It varies drastically in many aspects; including style, area, facilities, and most importantly, the budget.

guest house thailandVolunteer in Thailand

  • Accommodation provided in a volunteer house placement.
  • Meals are provided at the accommodation itself.
  • Rooms allotted on same gender sharing basis.
  • Day starts fresh and early.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Living in a hotel room.
  • Have to arrange and pay for each and every meal of the day.
  • Day starts when you want it to (could be at noon as well).

While for a regular trip to Thailand, one need to do all the bookings in advance and pay for each meal and facility; for a volunteer trip, it’s a one time payment done in the form of program fee. It’s more like living in a home away from home, literally.

Networking

This is one of the most interesting differences between a volunteer travel and a regular trip to Thailand. It is known that Thailand is also denoted as The City Of Smiles, and that is for a reason. Volunteering in Thailand lets you discover that reason in its most genuine form.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • Get to interact with the natives on a much closer and personal level.
  • Get to make friends with people from across the globe while living together.
  • Get to learn a word or two of the local language.
  • Get to understand and immerse in the local culture.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Little to no interaction with the locals (unless you to stop to ask for directions).
  • Friends/family/partner (or whoever came along) are the only travel companions.
  • Get to witness the local traditions and culture, but without any insights to its roots; let alone getting to immerse yourself in it.
  • The only opportunity to learn something of the local language is either from the menu card of a local restaurant or billboards.

Local Guidance

This is a key aspect of volunteering abroad that makes the entire trip a great success. A regular holiday would certainly take you to some of the best places that your guidebook has mentioned. However, a guidebook is the result of a traveler’s findings and can provide only limited information and insights.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • A dedicated local coordinator appointed throughout the tour.
  • Recommended places to visit that one won’t find in guidebooks.
  • No need to hire a tour guide.
  • Help in making arrangements for weekend tours.
  • First point of contact in case of any problem or emergency.
  • Support and guidance throughout the sojourn.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Have to hire a local guide for each monument or tourist site.
  • Have to book your own tours and visits to tourist sites.
  • Have to rely on guidebooks for exploring.
  • Embassy is the only point of contact in case of any problem or emergency.

volunteer in thailand
Overall Experience

There are some travelers who crave for adventure, some like to explore the heritage and culture, while others just want to post those selfies to burn their friends back home. Volunteering in Thailand provides you an opportunity to experience all these things along with a few more, unmatched experiences, especially the experience of making new friends.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • Give happiness while making a difference.
  • Experience local living.
  • Learn to cook Pad Thai the authentic way.
  • Make friends with elephants.
  • Gain international work experience.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Limited adventures
  • Visiting heritage sites mentioned in the guidebooks.
  • Little to no interaction with the natives.

One volunteer travel abroad experience for me, gave me a new perceptive on life, and made me realize that this is the way I want to travel. I haven’t looked back ever since.

Dave in ThailandIf you have been to Thailand before and are planning another visit, try making it a volunteer trip this time and experience the difference yourself. And, if you haven’t been to this paradise ever, plan your visit now.

Resources for volunteering in Thailand:

Volunteering Solutions

A Comprehensive Guidebook

~ By guest blogger, Dave Dronacharya. Dave is a full time travel writer/blogger. His passion for traveling got him into the habit of writing, which soon turned into a profession. He writes and shares his personal experiences and facts in his articles with only one objective in mind; motivating others as well to travel as much as they can. His work is published on The Huffington Post, SocialEarth, VolunteersMagazine, and Cultural Trip. Follow Dave on Twitter.

Living Successfully: Five Lessons from Traveling in Cuba

Isn’t it amazing how travel can change your perspective? This probably applies no matter where you go. Yet, I think observing the daily routines of people in another country brings unique perspective. Having a cultural benchmark can focus your thinking on what’s important in life. Continue reading “Living Successfully: Five Lessons from Traveling in Cuba”

Can Americans travel to Cuba?

Yes, it is safe and legal for Americans to travel to Cuba. Since President Obama lifted the embargo, Americans can now go to Cuba provided it is for certain objectives. These include visiting family, educational or professional research, humanitarian and religion. Permits and visa are required but easy to obtain as long as you go with an agency that legally organizes trips to Cuba. Continue reading “Can Americans travel to Cuba?”

Why on Earth Would I Volunteer at a Shrimp Farm in Ecuador?

Several years ago, I made the decision like many others, to leave my well guided path of working my way up the ranks in a stable career, to venture off on a new journey traveling around the world and looking for alternative possibilities for earning my way in life.  I had no solid idea of where exactly I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, just that I had to start investigating the numerous opportunities that this vast world provides.

Continue reading “Why on Earth Would I Volunteer at a Shrimp Farm in Ecuador?”

Arriving on Kuningan in Bali

I arrived in Bali during an auspictious time. The streets were decorated with bamboo poles and prayer offerings were everywhere. I saw processions of women carrying towers of food and flowers; groups of kids of all ages playing the gamelan; and processions  taking Barong (mystical beast) through the streets. In fact, every home and business had its “penjor” (similar to a Christmas tree), but outdoors and decorated with fruit, coconut leaves and flowers. Continue reading “Arriving on Kuningan in Bali”

Why I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

The flight to Tanzania was long. It began on June 19th and I finally arrived the afternoon of June 21st.  Katyann picked me up at the airport, then we got Alexa and Kelly, before heading to Moshi.  We spent the day walking around Moshi, meeting up with some other climbers, and had a fabulous meal at the Union Cafe before retiring back to our hotel for the night. Continue reading “Why I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 2)”

Why I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 1)

For years I had the desire to travel abroad and volunteer, but it wasn’t until 2010 I took the leap and finally did it. I chose to volunteer through a non-profit organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), and I chose Morocco as my first volunteer country.  Continue reading “Why I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 1)”

Frequently Asked Questions about volunteering abroad

Recently, I have given a few presentations on volunteer vacations abroad, shares my stories and inspired others to travel. The question I get from my audiences after each presentation is “What do I do next?” So here is the answer to that and other frequently asked questions you may have about volunteering abroad.

 

How long do I need?

Typically a volunteer vacation program lasts a minimum of 1 week but you can go for as long as you can afford to. Students and retirees take 2-3 months off whereas professionals may only go for 1-2 weeks.

How much does it cost?

Each program is very different. Depending on the country, organization and activities involved, you can pay anywhere from $200-1500/ week. The costs include lodging, meals, airport pickups and some sightseeing activities. You will be responsible for your airfare and weekend trips.

How far in advance do I need to plan?

The further the better, especially if you need to save up or do a fundraiser to sponsor your trip. You need to plan at least a month in advance to arrange for visa, reserve your space, book your tickets, etc. Sometimes last minute spots open up at a discounted price but it’s rare.

What skills do I need?

You don’t necessarily need any particular skills. Most programs are designed so that the common Joe can be helpful and involved. An open mind, patience and respect for other human beings are probably the most important assets you can bring with you. If you have some experience in teaching, working with children or healthcare, it would help too.

What kind of work will I be doing?

Most places I have found have partners with local organization, such as orphanages, hospital, old homes, universities and schools. They send a constant flow of volunteers to do one of the following activities – play with children, do arts and crafts, engage elderly people, teach (English, Computer Science, etc.), or take care of babies.

Do I need to know the language?

All the places I volunteers at did not require me to know the language. There are interpreters if needed and basic English is understood in most countries. In Russia, language was a huge challenge as not many spoke English, but we managed just fine by speaking the language of games, arts and crafts.

Can I make an impact in a short time?

Yes, of course! You will be surprised to learn how much impact you can make on a life of another and on your own. When you bring a smile to a little child face’s who has not received much affection growing up in an orphanages, you would feel like you made an impact. When people see that you have taken the time and effort to travel all the way to their country and are spending your precious time with them, expecting nothing in return, it will stir a different kind of emotion. Undoubtedly, people feel more connected and grateful to each other, which is the entire drive behind the Go Eat Give movement.

What would a typical day be like?

A typical day would start early. Breakfast will be served at 8am, after which you will go to your volunteer workplace. Depending on the assignment, you may be scheduled to work for a couple of hours or half a day. If you are in a school, you can expect to work normal school hours. You would return to your home base for lunch. The afternoons are usually set for organized activities such as lectures, field trips, lessons, etc. (if the organization offers them). Evenings are free to explore the city, interact with other volunteers or catch up with your reading. Dinner is generally served early but you are free to stay up till late.

Is it good to go alone or with someone I know?

I have tried it both ways and see the value in each of them. I had more fun on the weekends since I had a friend to explore other cities with. We could plan our trip ahead of time because we planned sightseeing before and after our program as well. Going alone means you will get to meet people and make new friends. I have seen people pair up or go as a group over the weekend. I think if you are going for a longer period of time, going alone has more benefits. But be assured, you will never find yourself all alone.

If you have any other questions, please feel to reach out to me by leaving a comment below or email me at sucheta@goeatgive.com. I personally reply to every message.