A How-to Guide for
Adding Purpose to your Travel
Written by Dianne Sivulka, Owner of Travel of Purpose
Whether you enlist Travel on Purpose to design your customized vacation, join us on a future tour, or do your travel planning yourself, everyone can "Travel on Purpose" with a few simple things in mind. Sometimes a slight change in perspective is all that's needed to produce a meaningful shift.
Many of the places we vacation in are foreign countries with customs different from our own. When we enter as learners, curious to know more, we show up with a mindset that's eager to discover.
I love the way Shauna Niequist articulates this in her book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.
"We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that 'our way' isn't the right way, but just one way, that children worldwide, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighborhood—they love to play, to discover, to learn. I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn't bad, but instead, that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as but players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious."
Isn't that beautiful? Different doesn't have to be scary or uncomfortable. Instead, it can be exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand!
An essential way to Travel on Purpose is to be mindful of where your tourism dollars are going. By supporting locally-owned businesses, you ensure that the money you spend in that community stays in that community. Look for hotels, restaurants, and tour operators who live in the area and enrich the local economy by hiring locals and sourcing ingredients and products from nearby businesses.
In addition to improving the local economy, I always feel personally enriched when I stay in a small, locally-owned hotel. It's not uncommon to get to know the owner by name. I have found that they will go out of their way to ensure that their guests have a great stay. Getting to know people in this way always ends up being some of the best memories made on vacation.
This idea of supporting locals is also true for shopping. Many of us enjoy purchasing souvenirs and keepsakes when we travel. To honor local people and their businesses, always take a careful look at where goods are coming from. Ask yourself who is benefitting from your purchase. For more information on souvenir shopping, read this article: Ethical Practices for Souvenir Shopping: A Guide for Travelers.
Make People the Priority
Are you the kind of person who jumps in an Uber and by the time you get to your destination, know everything about the driver's family, the country he immigrated from, and what he cares most about in life? Then you've already got this one down and can skip to the next paragraph.
When we make people the priority, we generously form connections in a way that we are created to do. Everyone one of us, whether an introvert or an extrovert were made for community. It's true, we may not all be wired as the talkative type, but getting to know people in whatever capacity you're comfortable with can leave a lasting impression on you and those you spend time with. It can be as simple as asking a question. People like to be noticed and valued.
Here are some ideas to have a people-focused travel experience:
Take a cooking class in someone's home. These have become more widely available in recent years. Using sites like Tripadvisor, Airbnb experiences, and Facebook can help locate one where you'll be visiting.
Hire a local hiking guide or local city tour guide. I have found over and over again that people love the opportunity to tell visitors about their country, culture, history and even their own personal family stories.
Enjoy a cup of coffee and sit in conversation with someone who lives there. Enjoying time in a local café are some of the best travel experiences anywhere in the world.
Get Connected to a Do-Good Organization
Find out what challenges people face and who in the area is rising to meet those needs. Many of the places we vacation in are developing countries that struggle with education, healthcare, and food insecurity. What if we spent a sliver of our vacation learning about these needs? As people who live with extra, what if we exposed ourselves to the needs of others and considered how we might come alongside to help make a difference?
It's important to point out that there is a right and wrong way to do this, and I encourage you to exercise caution in this area. I recently heard a story of a couple who was vacationing in Thailand. They wanted to volunteer somewhere in the community when they saw the extreme poverty that was just outside their resort gate. They went to the concierge and asked where they could make a financial donation and spend a day serving. Sadly, the concierge connected them with an orphanage which they later learned exploits children for financial gain. This story highlights an unfortunate reality that when we show up as an outsider and throw money at a problem, it's quite possible that we may be doing harm, even if our intentions are good.
In the book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, authors Corbett and Fikkert explain that it's best to find out what God is already doing in a community, learn as much as we can, and then and only then if there is a way to contribute that doesn't undermine local leadership, get involved. It's important that we have an accurate view of poverty, don't attempt to swoop in and "save" the poor and support dignified ways of uplifting people.
All Travel on Purpose trips connect travelers with well-vetted organizations and follow a model that honors the assets of local people. Travel on Purpose partners with dozens of excellent organizations that are doing good work in their communities.
We would be glad to help make an introduction if you plan to travel to the following countries: Uganda, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, or Serbia.
This is what "Travel on Purpose" means to us.
What does it mean to you?
Send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know if we can help you plan a vacation or purpose and impact.
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