As terms like “socially conscious” and “eco-travel” have made their way into our vocabulary, many travelers have been thinking about ways they can support the communities they visit. While you may have snagged cheap international flights and want to make a difference to the place you’re visiting, it’s important to first adapt your travel style to be more respectful towards the people and ecosystem of your destination. While this may seem daunting, it actually only takes some little changes before you leave and while you’re on the road. And guess what? Not only does it benefit where you go, but it also enriches your experience as well!

Here are five ways to incorporate sustainable travel into your plans!

Take Time to Learn About Your Destination…Then Start Packing

Before you take off, take time to learn about the cultures and ecosystems of your destination. Because knowing a bit of how things are done in the local community can go a long way in demonstrating respect for the culture you’ll be visiting. Learning a few key expressions in the local language, like French or Wolof for a potential adventure to Senegal, will also help you communicate more effectively and integrate better into the local culture. Taking the time to learn before you go allows you to be a respectful traveler and leave a positive impression and impact on the community you’re visiting.

Go Local While You’re Traveling Abroad

One way to make sustainable travel a priority is to visit small local businesses instead of pouring money into large chain stores and restaurants. This helps support local entrepreneurs, strengthens the local economy, and makes a positive impact on the community. For example, instead of getting your morning coffee at Starbucks, you can grab an espresso from the family-owned café across the street. You can also stay at family-owned boutique hotels or on sustainable farms. Ecobnb.com is a great resource for finding such places. When you go to purchase souvenirs, try picking up handmade pottery or textiles from local artisans and craftspeople instead of a “J’aime Paris” shirt made abroad and shipped in for tourists. Not only do these actions support the community you’re visiting, but they’ll also help make your travel experience more authentic.

You may also like: 5 Apps to Make Your Trip Eco-Friendly!

Take Time During Your Trip to Help Out

Volunteering when you travel can be a great way to contribute to a community. The best way to do it is to connect with an organization led by locals. A great place to start with is a website like Volunteer Match, which pairs volunteers with local organizations. It’s best to connect with a local organization because they’ll have a better feel for what work needs to be done and how to best accomplish it while still respecting the culture of those you’re aiming to help. If you choose to volunteer with a larger organization with more of an international presence, make sure it’s a member of the International Volunteer Programs Association, a nonprofit that certifies and accredits volunteer abroad programs.

Share What You Learned on Your Trip with Others

You can continue to be a socially and eco-conscious traveler even after you get back home. Talk with friends and family members about the things you learned regarding your destination’s cultural norms and ecological issues. A trip to Brazil, for example, can be the perfect jumping off point to talk with them about the deforestation of the Amazon River Basin. It doesn’t even have to be preachy, you can recommend restaurants and local lodging companies to those planning a trip to the same place. They would greatly benefit from their patronage. And remember, these days sharing what you know includes social media… so post away!

Continue to Learn and Give Back AFTER Your Trip

There are many ways you can keep learning about and giving back to a community once you’re back home. You can use your newfound knowledge and perspectives, change the way you think about consumption at home, and how your decisions at home affect people abroad. A socially and eco-conscious trip to Mexico’s Central Valleys, for example, may inspire you to purchase authentic, fair-trade Oaxacan textiles instead of replicas from corporate home décor stores, which can help preserve an art form and a way of life for the people you met.

Knowing how to be sensitive to the needs of the people and culture of the destinations you’re visiting can be crucial when you want to be an eco-traveler. Next time you come across cheap one way flights to a destination that’s close to your heart, make sure you follow these simple tips to truly make a difference.

Are you an eco-traveler? Leave us some tips or lessons learned on your travels in the comments section!

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About The Author

An insatiable foodie, art collector, and international literature aficionado, I have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Canada. For the past fifteen years, I have written about my adventures for various travel and literary publications. I am the owner of Lucidité Writing (www.luciditewriting.com) and Bouchard Design Co.