We need to start seeing beyond the beaches.
Words by Janice Miller, chief executive of Kidasha
As our evenings get longer, bottles of Pimms reappear in the supermarkets and tights get shoved to the back of our sock drawers. Many people’s thoughts turn to a trip abroad and where they’ll head for their long awaited holiday. Flights are booked, Airbnbs perused and we start warming up the Instagram filters. But how often do you think about what it’s like to live in these seemingly exotic locations? Once there, do you wonder if the beauty of the tourist track might belie more serious issues? Does some of your tourist expenditure reaches the locals who need it most?
More often than not, these aren’t things we think about. Hey, we’re on holiday! It’s a time to unwind and de-stress, not start worrying about the state of the world. But it’s this lack of insight into holiday hot-spots that keep us blinkered to the realities of life in the developing world.
The charity I work for, Kidasha, supports some of the very poorest and most vulnerable children and families in Nepal. Whilst Mount Everest is known the world over and people travel thousands of miles to marvel at its peaks, they rarely lower their eyes to look at what is happening in the rest of the country. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, made poorer by the devastating earthquake of 2015. Whilst tourism is the lifeblood of the Nepalese economy, so much more could be done if visitors took time to research their holiday destinations and set aside a little of their spending money to support local projects and charity work in countries like Nepal.
So how can we enjoy far-flung holidays without neglecting the communities we’re visiting? Simple steps can be taken than can turn us all into travellers with integrity, allowing us to embrace the experience and relax in good conscience:
Do your research
Take a few moments to understand the country you’ll be visiting. What are their biggest challenges? What sectors does their economy rely on? What’s the average family income? Knowing a few facts will help you make more informed choices whilst there, as well as ensure you remain culturally sensitive during your trip.
Spread the wealth
It can be tempting to spend all your time (and money) in your resort or hotel, but making an effort to spread your holiday budget across as many businesses as possible can make a real difference. So (as long as it’s safe) explore some of the shops or market stalls off the main thoroughfare, try a different restaurant for dinner each night, and buy your presents in local towns rather than at the airport. Not only will this micro-spending help individual families, but it could also help you discover new experiences.
If you’re travelling to a few different places on your holiday, it’s worth considering spending a night or two in a homestay, where you stop off in the home of a local resident as opposed to a hotel or hostel. This particular ethical move (which is now well established and safe to do) is mutually beneficial, as it means that some of your hard-earned holiday budget goes to local people who may not be wealthy enough to run a fully-fledged hotel business, and in return you receive a genuinely authentic insight into the culture you’re exploring.
Eat local food
How often have you been on a far-flung holiday and still seen a burger and chips at the top of the menu? It’s tempting to stick to what we know when it comes to dinner options, but it’s actually quite damaging to choose Western food over local dishes because it’s expensive for locals to import. This means that smaller, independent restaurants often can’t compete with bigger establishments, and suffer as a result. By making a beeline for eateries that aren’t geared towards tourists, you provide organic and ethical support to the local economy. And you never know: by going beyond your culinary comfort zone, you might just find your new favourite dish.
Talk to people
It’s all too easy to switch off and be antisocial on holiday (most of us use them for a much-needed digital detox), but just because you’re not tweeting doesn’t mean you should stop talking. Take time to get to know the locals and learn about their way of life, as many of the world’s problems stem from a lack of understanding between different cultures. Even just a quick chat with your hotel receptionist is a small but significant gesture towards building those bridges and communicating your will to be culturally sensitive.
Don’t forget to tip
Different countries have different etiquette when it comes to rewarding good service, and it’s important to look these up before you travel (in some cultures, over or under-tipping can prove to be a real faux-pas). But it’s safe to say that not tipping at all is rarely the norm. You should bear this in mind when formulating your holiday budget, as tipping is an important form of economic support in countries that are yet to develop policies such as a national minimum wage.
Spread the word
We never fail to post our glamorous beach snaps on social media, so why not make space on your newsfeed for a post or two about the humanitarian concerns of your holiday destination? This is actually a great way of spreading the word about particular causes, as your followers will already be interested in what you’re up to out there, so a call to action will be relevant and won’t feel like spam. Social media plays a big role in travel marketing, so building organic awareness in this way paves the way for a future wave of ethical holidaymakers.
Make a donation
After you’ve enjoyed whatever it is your holiday destination has to offer, do all you can to give back. Carefully research which charities are providing vital services in the region and make a donation. Make sure you do your research though, as there are a fair few bogus organisations out there vying for your cash, many of whom keep an eagle eye out for earnest tourists looking to make a difference. Or, if the charity has a UK office, you could offer to volunteer for them on your next free weekend. Or perhaps make them your chosen charity when you finally sign-up for that marathon. Keeping your holiday destination in your thoughts after you’ve boarded the plane home can make a massive impact and supporting the areas via vetted, effective charities is a great way to do it.
So grab the sun cream and enjoy your trip to the full. Just remember there’s often more to a country than meets the eye and that we can all play a role in helping support their development.