There is nothing like arriving at one of those faraway places you’ve read about or seen in documentaries. Discovering new destinations and connecting with the locals away from the tourist circuit has value beyond words and money.
To travel this way today is so much easier than it was in the past. With online resources like TripAdvisor, AirBnB and the thousands of forums and travel blogs available, it has never been more possible to go where tourism is minimal and unique experiences are yours at every turn.
Unfortunately, this accessibility has its downside too. The thoughtlessness of many travellers can have a negative impact on the places visited and their people. How we interact with the locals must be given careful consideration and even researched a little before the trip.
Some cultural behaviours arise within communities as a direct result of tourism itself. So, if you arrive somewhere and notice unusual things, ask some locals about it, or do a search online for tips from other travellers about how to respectfully and sustainably behave in these situations.
In many developing countries, a common practice is for tourists to ‘gift’ children sweets. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Remote communities often have limited access to dental clinics and visits to dentists for children are almost non-existent and very costly. In areas of poor nutrition, or limited accessibility to quality food sources, the sugary treats gifted to children by tourists may be the only thing they eat that day. If you step off a train and a swarm of children descend on you begging, find out from the locals what the best thing is to give. It might be bananas, or it might be coloured pencils. Those children will still be there long after you leave so indulge your generous spirit by all means – but make sure it counts
You can also contact local NGOs in advance and find out what is most needed and what would be most welcomed. Check out the work of volunteer dentists too, at Around Good People, for more information on community dentistry initiatives.
There are other ways to contribute and this can happen even before your travels begin. Before my trek to Nepal in 2016, my eldest daughter was looking to re-house some of her favourite soft toys from her childhood. She loved them dearly and wanted to see other children enjoy them as much as she had. After asking for advice from our local Nepalese partners, they thought that children in the mountainous areas of the Himalayas would welcome the cuddly toys.
So we packed them in our backpacks and carried them all the way to a little village between Ghorepani and Ghandruk on the Annupurna circuit.
With parental permission, we handed them out and it was a joy to see the children immediately start playing with their new friends. It was great to know we were adding to their imaginative play and sense of security, rather than perpetuating a cycle of poor health through dental decay! Check out our video below for the big moment!
Experiences like these are what motivated me to start Finders and Makers and I look forward to many more.
Do you have similar experiences of interacting with locals? Lessons you learned while travelling in less privileged areas? Our experiences are just the tip of the iceberg so feel free to inspire us with yours too!