How Altruistic Traveling Can Redefine Travel and Adventure While Making the World a Better Place
Do you consider yourself a rich person? If you have the leisure of traveling, then you are, believe it or not.
This thought might not occur to us while paying bills, rent, and other minuscule expenses that leave us with little to show for at the end of the month. Still, those of us who have the privilege to travel belong to the upper percentage — the top 5% of the world’s population when it comes to wealth. Although we’re no Jeff Bezos, the fact that we can afford to go on a trip makes us richer than millions of others (yes, millions!).
Traveling is good for both your body and mind. Only a day or two abroad will likely lower your stress levels significantly. What’s more, traveling broadens your horizons because spending time in local communities improves your understanding of different cultures. It can even increase cognitive flexibility. So with frequent (or even occasional) traveling, we can help ourselves immensely. But can we also assist others along the way?
With Great Privilege Comes Great Responsibility
To blatantly misquote Spiderman, “with great privilege comes great responsibility.” Traveling is often viewed as a luxury and indulgence. And in many ways, it is precisely that.
We work hard to be able to take a few (or more) days off, and we set aside a specific budget to use those few days in another place. We spend quite a bit more than we would at home (we’re on vacation after all). In other words, we eat, drink, and spend time more frivolously than we would otherwise, and we lounge around while indulging in our well-deserved leisure time.
And it’s lovely, right? Those days have a huge positive impact on our health, mood, and demeanor. But why hog that positive impact and keep it contained to our own microcosmos when we can share it with the world? That’s where altruistic traveling comes in.
What Is Altruistic Traveling Anyway?
Altruistic traveling means getting so much more than simple travel experiences. It means giving back, or rather merely giving out time, skills, and efforts and supporting local communities that we travel to.
Fundamentally, an altruistic trip changes the world. In layman terms, being a responsible traveler means that you leave the community you visit at least slightly better than when you found it.
Altruism — Myth or Future Mindset?
Altruism means being selflessly generous. It’s charity in its purest form where we give without expecting anything in return — not even praise. Many have tackled the topic of altruism and whether there was such a thing as a truly selfless deed — from the French sociologist Emile Durkheim to the ever-so-famous sitcom Friends.
Recent studies show that altruism is both an inherent and taught behavior. As such, we can teach it by example. That’s precisely why altruism and, in turn, altruistic traveling is one of the ways that we, as a society, can change the world.
What Every Average Joe Can Do
Although Americans are not as likely as Europeans to venture outside of their home borders, they do make up a significant percentage of travelers. An average Joe from America will visit three countries during their lifetime, while their English cousin will visit ten. Both travelers will have an impact on their destination countries. If nothing else, they’ll contribute to the GDP.
However, imagine if every traveler was a supporter of sustainable tourism and chose their destination in a charitable way. For example, you see a community in need, and you visit it to lend help, expertise, hard labor, or anything else you might have to offer. In turn, you get invaluable experience, forge precious friendships, and broaden your horizons.
Imagine how that would change the world. You’d go somewhere and leave a mark, help a community, and change the environment at least a bit. In turn, others would do the same while visiting your motherland. Imagine the effect that would have on society as a whole.
How Altruistic Traveling Can Make a Difference
Given that many have been quick to label volunteer tourism as “egoistic” and “self-serving,” there’s been extensive scientific research on the topic, trying to determine where volunteer traveling falls on the altruism spectrum, considering that the traveler benefits from it (spiritually if not materialistically).
The truth is that altruistic trips make an impact. The fact that said impact is both external and internal is a lovely bonus. So how does altruistic traveling make a difference?
It’s a Different Kind of an Adventure
Traveling is always an adventure. Let’s be honest; even traveling to a nearby city you’ve never been to is a hoot. But altruistic travel offers a different type of adventure. It lets you get into the nitty-gritty — the very fiber of the local community.
How many times have you traveled someplace and then stuck to what you knew — people, places, guides, etc.? This type of travel pushes you out of your comfort zone for all the right reasons.
It’s Exciting, Different, and Unique
When you pick a destination guided by altruism, you’ll choose a community in need. Sure, Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia is gorgeous to look at — a real architectural wonder. But wouldn’t you rather pick up a hammer to make a wonder of your own? Or participate in helping a community in any other way?
So forgot that trip to Venice (thus helping a modern marvel that suffers from overtoursim) and build a school for girls in Kenya instead, volunteer in a survivor’s center in Rwanda, or teach English to the kids in Manila.
Memories from our travels are something that we will always hold dear. You’ll never forget backpacking through the hiking trails of Tibidabo or eating gelato in Milano. But, although gorgeous, those experiences aren’t as gratifying as offering a helping hand to someone.
It’s an Opportunity to See Your Deeds Make a Difference in Real Time
One way or another, we all give back. Whether we donate to charity, volunteer at our local community, or take up altruistic traveling — people are givers because we love to do it. We love to see our influence, and we adore being able to take pride in something.
And there’s no better way to see how our actions make a difference in real time than with altruistic traveling. You’re there in the dead center where each step you take, each action or word of kindness you offer, or each nail you hammer makes a visible difference.
It Gives Us a Purpose
Traveling can often leave people feeling empty because it can sometimes be more of a “roaming without a purpose” than a “throw caution to the wind” adventure. Altruistic trips give each of our adventures a purpose. That purpose, in turn, makes the journey more fulfilling.
It Changes Us
By choosing others over ourselves, we make a selfless “sacrifice” that makes us happier. After all, the easiest way to achieve happiness is to make others happy, right? However, that “sacrifice” will also incite a change, however small, in ourselves. We will be more open-minded, more tolerant, and more understanding of people’s suffering. We’ll also be more grateful for everything life has (and hasn’t) given us. No matter how you slice it, we benefit from that sacrifice.
For the World
Local Communities Thrive
Tourism makes up around 10% of global GDP. Worldwide, tourism brings in seven trillion dollars in profit. But how much of that goes to the local communities?
Well, not to be a Negative Nancy here, but the answer is almost nothing. Local communities rarely thrive and realize their full potential. Economies prosper from mass tourism, but it’s mostly the tourism titan corporations that reap all the benefits. The old lady who sells beads on the corner in Bali and the local produce guy in India aren’t the ones who will be filing their taxes in a higher bracket just because tourism spiked in their area.
Social impact tourism aims to change that. Organizations that make it their objective to help local communities with altruistic traveling connect eager travelers with people in need.
Every choice we make while traveling can help (or not). When we pick local accommodation instead of a hotel chain, we’re not making a rich person richer; we’re helping a small business owner put food on their table. The way we choose to spend our “travel budget” can make a real difference.
Give Others a Breather
Specific places all over the world are so famous and frequently visited that the sheer volume of people is ruining them. The Great Wall of China, for example, that once protected China now needs protection from tourists. Numerous landmarks and cities are crumbling beneath the increasingly heavy weight of mass tourism.
Altruistic tourism, on the other hand. has another layer of social responsibility because it offers travelers a chance to ease the burden that these places have to carry. Aside from other benefits, walking off the beaten path is favorable for both parties.
Altruistic traveling often includes volunteer work, but it’s also socially and environmentally aware. The social responsibility that selfless travelers demonstrate helps raise awareness of just how big of an impact tourism has on the environment.
In other words, aside from offering a helping hand to the local communities, altruists also strive to be environmentally conscious and diminish their own negative impact, be it by helping preserve the local flora and fauna or by choosing green travel alternatives.
How to Be an Altruistic Traveler
The beauty of this social movement is that anyone can participate. If you have the means to travel, you can choose to be driven by altruistic motives on your journey. What’s more, you don’t have to go all out because you can determine the level of involvement you’re comfortable with.
However, to make sure you execute your altruistic travels according to your needs and capabilities, there are some things you should consider.
Do Your Research
Traveling with a cause shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Before you decide to make a difference, you should devote some time to researching both what altruistic traveling is and how you can participate. What does that mean, though?
Consider Your Strengths
We all have something to offer to others. Sometimes, that’s a specific skill, and others, it’s merely our time and effort. However, not all causes need the same skillset or volunteer profile. If you’re a teacher, it might be better to utilize that expertise on your altruistic travels than, for example, your carpentry skills. Pick projects and causes with that in mind.
Choose Destinations and Causes Carefully
If you’ve ever been to an underdeveloped country, you’ve probably seen just how much the locals struggle. Third World countries that have a staggering number of people living in poverty are always full of opportunities for altruistic travel.
However, depending on our own means (monetary and otherwise), we might not be able to venture to such places. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ample opportunities all around us. After all, helping a local community can start at home or in the “neighborhood.” It can be difficult to find worthy causes, though, which is why altruistic traveling companies, platforms, and organizations should be on your list of considerations. It just means that we need a helping hand (before we can offer one).
Of course, the best way to be socially conscious and have a purpose while exploring the world is to team up with organizations that specialize in impact trips, volunteer work, and sustainable travel. Companies like Medipacker help connect people who want to make a difference with communities that need help.
A Few Words for the Road
No matter where your life path leads you, always strive to offer a helping hand to those in need. Altruistic traveling is just one of the ways we can change the world — one travel at a time. By providing for others, we also provide for ourselves and gain experience, skills, and friends that wouldn’t be a part of our worlds otherwise.