Responsible Travel: Focus on interactions rather than transactions

Uzbekistan: People are the best part of travel 

Radical Travel is the theme of the summer issue of YES! magazine, a national publication based in Seattle focused on peace, social justice, the environment and the new economy.

I contributed two pieces to the current issue, out on newsstands on June 1 and available here by digital download. All of the suggestions that follow are based on personal experiences, leading me to believe that people are the most important part of travel.

Here's my take on how to substitute interactions for transactions when you travel, and find ways to support the local economy. 

Three ways to travel that build real relationships. Interactions, not transactions:

* Share a meal with a local through and, web sites that connect travelers with people who love to entertain. Dine on red bean soup with egg noddles in the home of a filmmaker in Budapest; feast on vegetarian lasagna while soaking up canal views from a houseboat in Amsterdam; or gather for a rooftop brunch of artichokes and orange salmon in Barcelona. Prepare to linger over wine and conversation with your host and other guests. Eight other guests and I recently stayed past midnight sharing food, wine and conversation in the home of a French journalist covering the Yellow Vest protests in Paris. 

*Host other travelers or be a guest in more than 2,000 households in 48 states and 50 countries by joining the Affordable Travel Club, a Washington State-based hospitality exchange group for people over 40. More personal and less commercial than Airbnb, the club arranges for hosts to offer an extra bedroom, breakfast and a hour of their time to acquaint travelers to the area. 

*Discover what natives love about their city by spending time with a Global Greeter , volunteers who act not as guides, but as new friends in U.S. and foreign cities. I recently spent a delightful day with Valerie, 42, a volunteer with Lyon City Greeters, wandering through the city's network of underground passages, then sampling oysters and white wine at a Sunday market. 

Tea in Seoul with a volunteer goodwill guide

Also...Seek out organizations that arrange walking tours with university students and others who want to practice their English. Saigon Hotpot  sets up city tours, meals in students' homes and street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City. In Seoul, South Korea, English-speaking volunteers organize city-sponsored walking tours to local markets, parks, traditional neighborhoods and areas  showcasing futuristic architecture. 

At lunch with Saigon Hotpot students

Join a local meet-up group where locals go to practice their English, or search to find people interested in meeting for coffee or a meal. My husband and I  remain in touch with the two Peace Corps workers we met for dinner in Albania one evening through Couchsurfing.

Three ways to support local economies:

*Lodge locally: Sleep where your dollars make a difference by staying in independently-owned hotels, small inns and home stays rather than chain hotels. Look for hotels that partner with non-profit organizations to train and employ disadvantaged youth. Guidebooks focused on sustainable travel, such as the Responsible Travel Guide to Cambodia, can help with suggestions, such as booking a room at the Robam Inn in Siem Reap whose owners returned to start the business after taking refuge in Canada during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Tashkent bread market: Buy locally 

*Spend intentionally: Eat and shop at places dedicated to fair trade. Consult listings on the World Fair Trade Organization's website. Explore beyond tourist areas where small entrepreneurs can't always afford the high rents. This is how I found Belil, an art gallery and cafe in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, selling textiles made by a women's weaving cooperative with whom the owners work to create modern designs.

Local textiles in San Cristobal, Mexico 

*Tour responsibly: Use local guides who can offer insights into the culture as well as sightseeing. University students working for tips often guide tours listed on, a website that offers group walks in dozens of cities worldwide. Global Exchange,  a San Francisco-based  human rights organization, sponsors "Reality Tours''  focused on relationship-building and promoting local economies. An upcoming trip to Palestine will include home stays with farmers during the fall olive harvest, and visits with fair trade cooperatives on the West Bank.

Also...In countries where sex-tourism and child labor is a concern, look for hotels and other businesses with ChildSafe certification.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating and fresh approach to travel, Carol. Pamela and I have lucked into a bit of this here and there. Your advice really opens things up.