7 Ways To Be A Better Traveler – Positive Impact Tourism

Many of us go traveling without any real purpose or direction.  This can be great but sometimes our travel can cause harm to the local economies, environments, and people.  Being mindful about how your travel affects others can make a real positive difference, especially in the developing world.   Here is our list of 7 ways that Positive Impact Tourism is important when you’re on the road.

1) Dress Like the Locals:

If you travel to a Muslim or more religious country, you don’t necessarily have to wear a hijab or dress to your ankles.  However, you might consider ditching the crop top and short shorts for a more conservative approach.  This is especially important when entering temples and other religious sanctuaries.

2) Understand Local Customs:

Before you embark on your trip, take a moment to Google “how to be polite in __________”.  This will go along way to encouraging the local people to not hate you.  For instance, in Thailand it is very impolite and unheard of to get visibly upset or mad at someone.  Keeping your cool can go a long way to having a more positive traveling experience.

3) Avoid Businesses Profiting Off of Animals:

Playing with the elephants, petting tigers, feeding the monkeys.  These things all sound mighty fun but these businesses are profiting off of keeping wild animals in cages.  These places are sad and there are few that should be supported.  Spend your money in National Parks where the wildlife is wild and will eat you if you try to pet it.

4) Reduce Waste Along Your Journey:

Carry a reusable bag and water bottle on your travels.  When you go shopping, insist that they put your purchases into your reusable bag.  Also, many hostels have drinking water stations so refilling your bottle can save a lot of money along with reducing waste.  Try to avoid plastic bottles in general, as usually you have an option to purchase soda in a can.  Refusing plastic straws is also a great way to help the environment as single use straws are very destructive.  Check out these bamboo drinking straws which are reusable and make you look super educated when you use them.

Make sure you read our post 8 ways to reduce plastic consumption when you travel!

5) Eat At Local Restaurants:

When you go to a new country and immediately go straight to McDonalds, you are being a very bad tourist.  Eating at the local establishments keeps the money you spend in the community.  Skip Starbucks and drink the local coffee.  It will be cheaper and you won’t look like a total douche.  Spending your money the right way is one of the most important parts of positive impact tourism.

6) Volunteer The Right Way:

Stick to volunteering on farms or at hostels to extend your stay.  Many “voluntourism” options create more harm than good.  Make sure to do your research especially if it involves elephants or orphans.  Make sure your work is having a long tetm positive impact before you begin your stay.  Here is an article from the Huffington Post about “voluntourism” and the “white savior complex” and how terrible it is for third world nations.  One of our favorite Instagram stars, Barbie Savoir, sums up the problem pretty well through her clever satire.

7) Learn The Language:

Locals understand that most travelers can’t speak their language.  However, it’s really easy to pick up a couple words to make yourself a more polite traveler.  Learning “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” in every country you visit can earn you a lot of respect and smooth over awkward situations.  Do not just show up and start yelling at everyone in English.  Bad Tourist!!!

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Building Plastic Bottle Schools in Nicaragua

While at Hacienda Merida on the Isla de Ometepe, we ran into Alvaro Molina, the hostel’s owner.  Molina and his family have taken on many local sustainability projects to benefit the island in addition to running their hostel.  Our favorite project was in building plastic bottle schools and other structures with recycled waste.

Building Plastic Bottle Schools in Nicaragua
Used bottles full of trash

One of the most unique projects Molina has taken on is a plastic and trash recycling initiative.  He uses a few different incentives to get Mérida locals to bring in old plastic bottles stuffed with trash they’ve collected.  Hiking guides must bring in bottles for the privilege of leading Hacienda Merida’s guests.  Locals can also pay with bottles for use of the hostel’s WiFi or massages.  Additionally, Molina will pay $.22 per bottle out of the hostel’s profits to anyone who brings them in.  Large families can stuff 30-40 bottles in one weekend and earn $8.00 extra for their needs.

Building Plastic Bottle Schools in Nicaragua
Alvaro Molina accepting some trash-stuffed bottles from local kids.

What are the bottles used for?  The answer is perhaps the most innovative part of this project!  Hacienda Merida uses them as building material for construction projects!  The bottles are used as the base and concrete is shaped around them to solidify the structures.  So far a large picnic table and benches have been built, and a one-room schoolhouse to be used by local children is in progress.  Molina is also planning to pay the teacher’s salary once the schoolhouse is up and running.

Building Plastic Bottle Schools in Nicaragua
Bottles used inside the schoolhouse wall.
Building Plastic Bottle Schools in Nicaragua
Schoolhouse in progress

It was great to see this unique, environmentally sustainable project being unselfishly funded by a successful hostel.  Hacienda Merida is a prime example of what can happen when a business invests in taking care of the local community and environment!

Hacienda Merida’s website

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