Gift a tree instead of stuff
When you want to give a gift to others, give a tree instead of a card or stuff. It costs just £2 for a tree to be planted by Forests without Frontiers, for example – imagine how many trees could be planted this year if everyone on the planet gave a tree instead of a card. This is how we can give the right way to our planet earth. When we travel, it’s also giving the right way to a destination.
Give your respect
The first step to responsible travel is to take with us a general attitude of respect, both for the physical place we find ourselves in and the locals we encounter. We can help cultivate a spirit of positive change by making an effort to take care of the landscape, and by being polite and thankful towards locals.
Be mindful of what and how you give
As well intentioned as it is, giving ‘stuff’ such as clothing or pens out randomly to villagers and their children in rural communities can sow community conflict and encourage a culture of dependency. As one of our readers says: ‘I watched two Maasai women in Africa fight over a T-shirt that a smiling tourist had handed out.’ If you’re going to give, make sure it’s fair, and only give small amounts of something useful (and not made of plastic) to everyone rather than one or two things to a few.
Choose your food
In some parts of Asia, the first English words children learn are “Give me sweet.” Is sugar that rots their teeth and spikes their blood sugar really what you want to give? There are a lot of hungry children in the world, and they need sustenance and nurture, just like your own children. Go prepared and give healthy snacks individually wrapped to eat there and then, rather than sweets. If you give packets of things, such as crackers, open the packet there and then too – in some countries unopened packets are taken off children and sold back to shops. Be sure to wrap your food in something sustainable, and avoid plastic and foil wrappers that will only add to the garbage heap where recycling is not available.
Overbuy things you like and rate
If you like something, be generous and buy two of them, especially if they are hand crafted and being sold to you by the person who made them. This fuels local culture and employment. As one guide told a travel blogger: ‘Crafts are the best thing to buy; they have people’s dreams woven into them’.
Bargain up quantity
Haggling is part of many cultures, but let people earn a real wage by not bargaining them out of a meal that evening. If you want something, and the seller is over-charging for it, ask for more of it for the same price rather than offering them less money. You can afford it. This is especially true of people who sell stuff on the street and are battling weather, traffic and crime just to make a living.
Say yes to having your case carried
It’s easy to be irritated by people offering to help carry your suitcase at airports or stations and then to ask for a tip if this isn’t the practice in your own country. But if you relax and let go a bit, you’ll see that actually, this is an easy way for locals to earn money and for you to get a bit of help.
Don’t give to beggars
Whether they are children or adults, it’s wise not to give indiscriminately to beggars, for this can encourage ‘begging’ as a job choice or alternative to school, when those that do it are often part of professional begging rings and will not see any or much of the money in any case. Give food to the individuals instead, as above, and give to well chosen local charities you have checked out in person that you know will use the money to help those in need in the place you are in directly.
Give your time
Mindful volunteering is still very much in need all over the world. But choose your organisation carefully. Never volunteer to work with children in orphanages, for example, unless you are a professional, fully qualified childcare or teacher with experience and can do so for a minimum of four weeks. If you have no specific skills, go through a work exchange organisation such as HelpX or Workaway.
Give your attention
Be much more than a consumer, and take an interest in local cultures – those poorer than you often have talents and wisdoms to share instead and, just like you, are looking for human connection. Take an interest and have a chat – you’ll be surprised what you get back in return. One reader on a travel forum recently wrote: ‘When we visited Bijapur in Northern Karnataka, kids wanted pens, but more significantly, they just wanted to chat.’