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Top 10 Ways to Build a Better World While Traveling Around It

05/15/2015 05:07 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016

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While traveling internationally is a bucket-list item for most of us, it comes at a huge cost that is more than just dollars out of your pocket. This is because about 80%* of your travel spending will never reach the economy of the country you're traveling to. So while you get a great experience, the community is left dealing with lots of trash and carbon emissions.

Unknowingly, travel can harm the environment, support corruption, and suppress people in the most dire of situations. But ethical and sustainable travel doesn't have to be hard, and it doesn't have to be more expensive. In some cases, choosing vacations that are good for the world can actually save you a lot of money and connect you to far more rewarding and immersive travel experiences.

This top 10 list can help you build a better world, while checking that dream country off your bucket list:

1. Travel to Ethical Places

Every year, Ethical Traveler reviews the policies and practices of scores of nations in the developing world. It then selects the 10 that are doing the most impressive job of promoting human rights, preserving the environment and supporting social welfare--all while creating a lively, community-based tourism industry. By visiting these countries, you can use our economic leverage to reward good works and support best practices.

2. Stay Local

Did you know that when you stay at an international chain, 80% of profits LEAVE the country you're in? Finding local ways to stay is easier than ever with groups like Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and Favela Experience. Not only are these local stays more unique and exciting, but they also keep travel income in the areas that need it most.

3. Eat Local

Eat at local restaurants that source food locally and are NOT in the tourist center of town. Exciting new startups, like EatWith, give you the opportunity to eat in people's homes - think of it like Airbnb meets restaurants. You get a home cooked meal at a fair price, and a more immersive travel experience in the process!

4. Use What You Have

You don't need new fancy clothes, bags, and accessories to go travel. If you don't want to feel like a tourist, don't dress like a tourist. Wear what you know and what is most comfortable. Plus, it's better for the environment to not buy thing you don't need. For tips on packing what you have, I like minimalist packing. More tips for guys here and girls here.

5. Don't Give Donations

OK, this one is ripe for debate, and the debate is worthwhile. Certainly, there are organizations that are worthy of your donations, but adequate research should be done before giving money. Even if you are touched by causes, it's possible that your donation does more harm than good. However, there is a place for charity, and the Center for Effective Altruism does the research for you. Other groups, like Global Giving, can help you identify the best places to give.

6. Don't Pay to Volunteer at Schools or Orphanages

Paying to volunteer means that your money, not you, is what the organization is after. As many countries lack oversight on nonprofits, you could be unknowingly supporting criminals. A haunting report titled "Cambodia's Orphan Business" tells you what you need to know, and this resource, www.orphanages.no, can help guide you through the decision making process if you are committed to the idea of supporting organizations like this.

7. Get Out of the Tourist Center of Town

Tourism is a great industry that has massive potential to create jobs in areas that need them the most, however, tourism centers are often full of chain restaurants who export profits and erode local culture. Use an alternative travel guide, like VirtualTourist and Boots'n'all to find more authentic experiences.

8. Use Local Tour Guides and Do Uncommon Things

In the most popular travel destination, tour guides are by people not from that nation. As many countries don't have effective regulation over touring licenses, this makes it possible for guides from other places to overshadow locals and erode valuable jobs, for the simple reason that they are better at marketing and selling their services to tourists. When you travel, it's worth the effort to find a local tour guide as they are the most capable of connecting you to more authentic experiences. To find local tours and get inspiration for more unique experiences, read this free Ebook, Adventures Less Ordinary.

9. Offset Your Travel

Did you know that flying one international round trip has the warming effect of 2 to 3 tons of carbon emissions... directly into the atmosphere. You can calculate your emission on TerraPass and donate directly to offset them.

10. Volunteer Your Real Skills in Exchange for a Free Place to Stay

One of the leading barriers to global progress is a lack of access to expertise, something the global development industry calls "The talent gap". By volunteering your skills—going Experteering—you can help solve real challenges to enable local organizations to grow, increase their impact, and create jobs. In exchange for your skills, you will earn a much more authentic, rewarding, and immersive experience. Ethical placement partners, like MovingWorlds.org, can help you find the right match with organizations that provide free accommodation and other local benefits in exchange for the right expertise.


While finding an ethical and sustainable travel experience might take a little more work, it is well worth it. Not only will it make the world a better place, but it will connect you to amazing experiences that you never thought possible.

Have other ideas for a more authentic, world-positive travel experiences? Let us know in the comments below!

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* Ref: United Nations Environment Program Report "Negative Economic Impacts of Tourism"