5 Ways to be a Socially Conscious Traveler

Lost Girl of the Week, Spiritual Travel, Travel Philosophy, Volunteering & Giving Back — By on March 16, 2009 at 11:55 am

There are some people who start life with the travel bug in their blood, and this today’s guest blogger Shadia Garrison-The Mindful Tourist-is one of them. She was born in Cairo, Egypt to parents who meet as Peace Corps volunteers living in Tunisia, and has since journeyed all over the planet. She recently spent a year living in Chile, traveling the length of the country from Punta Arenas to Arica (and making side trips to Bolivia and Argentina).

“During that year, I saw how immersing myself into the culture gave me a much richer experience than those expats who decided to stick to the “American” pubs or typical tourist areas, instead of meeting Chileans, having discussions with them about their country, their politics, etc,” she says. “I ended up with a Chilean husband through that experience, so it worked out pretty well for me!

The Lost Girls loved Shadia’s philosophy on mindful tourism, so we asked her to help us better understand of what it means to be a “socially conscious traveler.” Here’s she offers a definition, plus five things to keep in mind before booking your next flight abroad. You can learn more about Mindful Tourism by visiting her blog of the same name.

How do you tread lightly, act modestly and get off the “tourist track” in the countries that you visit? Tell us how in the comment section below.

5 Ways to be a Socially Conscious Traveler

by Shadia Garrison

Socially conscious tourism is an umbrella term that encompasses parts of ecotourism, cultural tourism, and sustainable tourism. You can be a socially conscious traveler no matter where you go: Paris, the Amazonian rainforest, even Orlando, Florida. Here’s how:

1. Learn about and embrace the culture around you With the rise of Google, these days it’s not too difficult to learn about cultures in any corner of the world. Of course you can learn about the place through tourism board sites but you may also want to check out local blogs. They will give you the down and dirty truth about a destination, as well as clue you in to local haunts you might not hear about otherwise. Going a step further, I like to find novels or movies that feature my future destination-they really give you a sense of the people and landscape.

Different parts of your own country may have different cultures. Accept, don’t criticize. Hell, if I’m going to Tennessee and embracing its culture means I’m eating biscuits and gravy for breakfast each morning, who am I to judge?

2. Contribute to the local economy Stay at locally owned bed and breakfasts or other local lodging options (which also tend to be more eco-friendly than large resorts with heated pools); take tours with locals who can point out where they broke their leg back in 3rd grade or who will take you to their mom’s house for tea

Steer clear of eco-unfriendly activities such as swimming with dolphins, four-wheeling through the rainforest, or helicopter tours. No explanation needed, right?

3. Become a temporary member of the community Pretend you belong: walk the streets; talk with kids playing pick-up soccer (better yet, join in the game); duck into the hole-in-the-wall cafe to have a drink with the neighborhood workers.

After a few days of buying small items at the neighborhood deli in a small town in Italy, one day we walked in and tried to pay with a large denomination bill. When the owner said he didn’t have change but to just take our items and come back tomorrow with smaller bills to pay, we knew we were in!

Go back to those blogs you used for your research, get in touch with the bloggers – they’ll be happy to talk to you via email about your plans in their city. If you get lucky, you may even meet up in person at their favorite dive bar.

4. Leave the place in better shape than you found it This doesn’t mean you have to carry around a bag and an EZ Deluxe Litter Stick. Instead, strive to have a light footprint, don’t “love it to death,” give constructive advice if asked so that experiences are more authentic and even better for future tourists. Develop sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with your guides or hosts. In short, instead of leaving behind your trash, leave behind some of your good will.

5. Remember, we’re all in this together Not to get all “puppies and rainbows” on you but everyone you deal with in your travels is a human being and is doing the best he or she can. Your vacation is a part of your life – as such, it won’t be perfect in every way. Accept that fact and be kind to everyone you encounter, even the airline attendant who scowls when you request a blanket or the front desk clerk who objects to your switching rooms. If you do that, you’re well on your way to being a socially conscious traveler.

Shadia Garrison created The Mindful Tourist blog where she attempts to write snarkily (new word!) on socially conscious travel. Her recent trips have included Costa Rica, Chile, Italy and Ireland, and she’s planning a socially conscious trip to Mexico City and Zihuatanejo, Mexico this June. In 2011, she’ll be taking a trip to Laos and Thailand (so please drop her a line if you have any “insider advice” about these destinations!).

Shadia received an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology from Indiana University which “reinforced the belief that traveling to new places offers as much opportunity to learn from and appreciate the past and current cultures of the place as does visiting museums, beaches.”

She started her blog in order to reach out to others who feel the same way she does, and “would love to get involved in a socially conscious tourism nonprofit enterprise, like a lodge that provides both needed services to members of the local population and also meaningful experiences for tourists.”

Shadia and her are trying to raise their two sons (ages 8 and 5) to be avid and socially conscious travelers

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  • Mamacita Chilena says:

    I love how random Lost Girls is! I too live in Chile with my Chilean husband. I see you’ve moved on to greener pastures, but still…small world!

  • Shadia says:

    Hi Mamacita – not sure if where I am constitutes greener pastures but once a “gringa huevona,” always a “gringa huevona!”

  • Baby Jane says:

    Thanks for sharing this informative article… I love travel

  • thatsmikey says:

    This is such great information for eco travel. I want to put it on my blog! another tip if you are in eco-friendly lodging is to search out is by visiting what the websites say, make sure there specific example like eco resort