Hola, amigos! I have just returned from an incredible trip to Colombia! It was my first time there, but my boyfriend is Colombian, so I basically had a built-in tour guide—can’t get any better than that! I love to travel and see how people live in other parts of the world, but tourism has a way of wreaking havoc on the environment and local communities. Since traveling is not something I plan on giving up (it honestly makes me happier than most things in this world), I thought I would share some ways in which I tried to make my vacation more sustainable and ethical.
- Staying at an Eco-Lodge
I traded in TV, WI-FI, A/C, and hot showers, to stay in an eco-cabana near Tayrona National Park. I did miss Instagram, but spending a few days in a cabin, surrounded by nature was well worth it. It was peaceful and secluded—basically our own private hideaway with minimal environmental impact. Plus, the owner encouraged us to eat as many mangoes as we wanted from the trees covering the property–yum!
- Shopping Locally
I ate, slept, and shopped only at local establishments. McDonald’s, Hilton hotels, and made-in-China souvenirs may be ubiquitous no matter where you travel, but I stayed far away from these chains on my trip in favor of supporting local businesses and consequently the local economy. After all, if you’re going to frequent the same places you do at home, why travel at all? To that end, I purchased souvenirs, specifically these two pairs of earrings, at a market in Bogotá. Both are handmaid and one-of-a-kind. I’ve always found jewelry to be a great souvenir because it’s easy to pack; it’s practical in the sense that you can wear it, rather than just sticking it on a shelf to be forgotten about; and it’s easy to find unique, locally-made pieces.
- Giving Back to the Community
I believe that giving back to the communities you visit, particularly in developing countries, is an important part of traveling. However, there is a right and a wrong way to go about this. Well-intentioned, but poorly researched donations can breed conflict and a culture of dependency. Local producers can also become disenfranchised when communities become overrun by charitable donations. One-to-one brands like TOMS have been guilty of causing this phenomenon (read more here). Giving to local social welfare organizations is a much better option because they actually understand the needs of the community. On my trip, I worked with Pack for a Purpose, who partner with nonprofit organizations around the world to collect donations from travelers that will actually benefit local people. Through Pack for a Purpose, I chose items to donate, based on a well-researched list, that people in the community actually need. In case you missed it, you can read more about my experience with Pack for a Purpose here.