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5 Responsible Travel Tips : How to Support the Local Community

In last week’s post, I shared some practical ideas about how to engage with local culture in a way that’s both meaningful and respectful. Another aspect of responsible travel is supporting the local economy, and that’s what I want to dig into today. Part 2 of a 3-part series packed with responsible travel tips to incorporate on your next trip. Check out the Part 1 here and Part 3 here!


You’ve probably heard the phrase (or seen the hashtag) “buy local.”

Buying local is a pretty simple idea, and it’s how people lived for thousands of years. But over the last few decades, large companies have swollen in size and we’ve seen an increasing desire for convenience in our culture. It seems impossible sometimes to get close to the source when we make purchases–whether at home or while traveling. The status quo is going to the grocery store and staying at hotels with familiar names.

I don’t want to paint with a broad brush and vilify all large corporations–they’re not all bad and it’s a complex topic (some of them are actually seeking to do good with their profits). But most of the profits from your tourism dollars spent at a resort or chain restaurant don’t stay in the community you’re visiting–they likely go to a foreign-owned company. Supporting small, locally-owned businesses is one of the best ways to support community development and help the local economy grow.

Where do your travel dollars go? 5 simple tips to #travel and #buylocal Click To Tweet


There are some gray areas here that I want to acknowledge as well.

Don’t big resorts provide hundreds–if not thousands–of jobs to locals? In more than one country, I’ve been told by locals that working in the tourism industry was something they aspired to. 

And what if I have to make a choice between buying local and buying organic or eco-friendly? If there’s a locally-owned coffee shop that doesn’t serve organic coffee, and a large chain store down the street that does–which one should I visit? If it’s locally-owned, locally-roasted, fair trade, organic coffee served in compostable cups? Hooray! But seriously, not only is that a mouthful…you just don’t always find it.

So this is far from a black-and-white prescription to follow. (I’m not about all that.) There are often choices to be made in the gray areas of everyday life, including when we travel. But supporting locally-owned businesses is one of the best ways to encourage economic growth in the places we visit, so here are a few practical tips you can incorporate on your next vacation, travel adventure, or staycation. 

5 practical tips for supporting the local economy when you travel. #travelgood Click To Tweet

Where do your travel dollars go? 5 simple tips for traveling responsibly by supporting the local community. Part 2 of a 3-part series on responsible and sustainable travel. #buylocal @roamtheamericas

5 tips for supporting the local economy:

  1. Stay local.
    Look for hotels or hostels that are locally owned instead of large chains. How do you know if it’s locally-owned? If it doesn’t say on the website, ask. You can also consider staying at an Airbnb, a bed and breakfast, or doing a homestay. Not only will these options support the local economy, they’ll often get you out of the tourist hot spots and into communities where you can experience more of local life.
  2. When you’re in the market, look for the makers.
    This is something simple that you can incorporate into any trip, and it’s a great way to start small with responsible travel. Look for the people who are creating the things they’re selling—painting, weaving, carving, basket making–and purchase from them if you like their product. This is an easy opportunity to chat with a local simply by asking them about their work, and the souvenir or gift becomes even more meaningful when you know the person and story behind it.
  3. Take it easy on bartering.
    Yeah, yeah…they’re going to give you the tourist price. And it’s a personal choice as to how much you barter. But consider how much that two dollars you’re trying to save will do for you versus what it will do for someone in a developing country.  Don’t get ripped off, but don’t show disrespect to someone’s work.
  4. Don’t give to kids who are begging or working.
    This one’s complex. I could probably write a whole series on it, but in a nutshell–giving to kids might support people who are using the kids as a tool to make money. Also, it contributes to a cycle of begging and exploitation, and it supports their not being in school. Instead, find a reputable local organization that supports children and families to give to.
    What about this sweet child in front of me right now? In the moment, there are still some creative things you can do to engage and show love towards a child. I love these ideas from an article in Slate by Jillian Keenan: “Find an inventive, responsible way to be kind. Recently, I’ve been traveling with a small hand stamp. When kids approach me, I put a stamp on my own hand and give them the option to do the same…One friend of mine travels with a lightweight animal puppet and another always ties three long ribbons to her backpack and uses them to show child beggars how to make a braid.”
    Check out this article from Uncornered Market for even more on this topic.
  5. Seek out local guides and community-based tourism.
    Community-based tourism is a grassroots effort from people in the local community to provide experiences for tourists in a way that’s authentic to who they are and shares their culture with visitors. Finding a local guide is a great way to support entrepreneurs in the community, and it gives you a perspective that is personal and genuinely local.
    A few examples of organizations and companies doing this particularly well are De La Gente Coffee in Guatemala, League of Kitchens in New York City, Lokal Travel,, and Intrepid Urban Adventures all over the world.

Have you ever tried any of these tips? Which one would you like to try on your next trip?



Where do your travel dollars go? 5 simple tips for traveling responsibly by supporting the local community. Part 2 of a 3-part series on responsible and sustainable travel. #buylocal @roamtheamericas


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  • KRPS

    Thanks, great informative post, I pinned it!

  • Great tips here and I especially love your advice about child beggars, even the ones selling things. I once volunteered for a non-profit where we offered after hours tutoring opportunities for kids who were made to work during school hours by their parents. It was even more tragic to visit some of these parents and find them sitting at home. Their kids had become the breadwinners because they made more money due the cute faces the tourists loved so much :'(

    • @TofuTraveler:disqus – Wow, incredibly sad but that sounds like an org doing some good and important work. It’s so true–nobody wants to see kids struggling or living in poverty, and so our natural instinct is to give. But what’s on the surface isn’t always the reality. It’s shocking at first and counter-intuitive for a lot of people–most people just want to give out of good intentions–but I think what’s important is to find those alternative ways to give and show love, and encourage others to do the same.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences!

  • Jenny

    Great tips here! For #4, I carry a little book of Canada flag stickers with me (obviously I’m Canadian) to hand out to children. I’m always torn about whether it’s really a good idea though, because although stickers are harmless it still encourages them to beg from tourists. I like the idea of teaching them something though, so I’ll definitely have to consider that.

    • @disqus_hlkKqkGXG5:disqus – Definitely understand the tension there. I like the idea of teaching as well, even something simple like that. They might even teach you something in return. 🙂 (I’ve enjoyed learning little hand games–like the Spanish version of “Patty Cakes” and other games that kids play.)
      Thanks for stopping by & glad you found these tips useful!

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