Traveling to destinations unknown can be a thrilling and worthwhile experience. At Harvest Retreats, we believe that making spiritual and inspiring connections while you travel can cleanse the soul. Thoughtful planning ensures that your vacation is not only fun and exciting but can help recharge your batteries and spread joy, empathy, peace, and kindness to others.
Here are a few tips to help you plan your vacation with a purpose: embrace the culture, voluntour your time, help the local economy, leave no trace, and limit your selfies.
Prepare to Embrace the Culture
Each destination, whether it's 50 miles from your house or 50 hours, has its own culture and customs tied to the communities that live there. To be a thoughtful and respectful tourist, there are a few things you want to do to make sure you don't upset or offend the residents of the location you're visiting.
- Learn the language. Even if it's just a few words like "Hello," "Thank you," “Excuse me,” and "My name is," understanding even a bit of what people are saying around you, and making the effort to speak to them in their language, helps you to take in the culture and communicate better with those around you.
- Wear clothing that matches the customs of the people. For example, if you are heading to a religious and sacred place, it's best to dress modestly so as not to offend people. Not every place you travel will have these types of social norms, so doing your research before you head out the door is a must.
- Learn the history of the place you're visiting. Not only does it make your visit more exciting to know more about the destination, but you also honor the culture of the people you're meeting by learning about their ancestors.
- Be aware of your own biases. Everyone has them, even the most progressive and open-minded people. It's just part of being human. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to treat people based on these unconscious biases. Recognize that there are many ways to live in the world and do not assign judgment to others based on cultural differences. Fight against your biases by following some of these tips we’re discussing, listening more, and diversifying what you consume, where you go, and how you spend your time.
- Take a look around you while you're visiting this new place and, as the old adage says, Do as the Romans do. By learning how the locals interact at the market or in a restaurant, you can avoid making any embarrassing faux pas that could offend or upset someone. Though most people will forgive small instances of foreigners not knowing certain social rules, some may take these as huge signs of disrespect. Learn by watching those around you interact with each other and you'll soon be closer to understanding these customs.
- To help you with each of these things, talk to people who have been there before. They will have excellent tips and stories that guide you to a better understanding of the way things work at this particular destination. Search for online travel communities or forums like Reddit to learn a few tricks before traveling.
Voluntour Your Time
Spending a lot of time on vacation at this spot? Why not give a bit of your time to local charities and causes that mean something to you? Reach out and spend a few hours assisting your fellow human beings. This not only means a lot to the people who live there but can boost your spirits and self-esteem just by giving a little bit of your time and effort.
Help the Local Economy
Support local businesses, not chains. When you are visiting new destinations, you may feel more comfortable going to a fast-food restaurant you recognize from back home. That’s ok - there’s a reason why when we’re tired, stressed, or in a new place we want to tuck back into our comfort zone. But lean into that YOLO a little and try something new - you’d be amazed at how much it will benefit you in the long run. Find out for yourself which local spots, like coffee shops, restaurants, and tourist destinations, are small local or family-owned businesses in the area, and choose to spend your money there. It'll help give a small boost to the local economy. Plus, I guarantee this is where you’ll find the best food, best stories, and get amazing local recommendations.
- Focus on visiting smaller cities and towns. These smaller areas need your money much more than the large cities do, and you'll likely have a nicer time exploring a less-densely populated area, searching for hidden treasures like cool restaurants and historical sites.
- Choose touring companies that focus on providing jobs to locals and engage in sustainable practices. They will also know more about the cool things to do and see there than outsiders who are contracted by large companies with headquarters outside of the area.
- Enjoy the work of artists in the area, both performing artists like musicians and dancers, as well as painters, sculptors, and more. These artists often rely on tourists to get fresh eyes on their works, and it's also a spiritually uplifting activity for people to view and engage with art.
Leave No Trace
Keep the places you visit the same, if not better than they were before you came. As the Girl Scouts know, you are to leave no trace when you visit a new place – taking only pictures, and leaving only footprints. This means picking up after yourself and leaving as little evidence that you were even there as possible. By not littering and perhaps even cleaning up after others who litter, you are making the place you visit a more beautiful, environmentally friendly place for all living creatures. This may be controversial, but that also means no building rock cairns, no taking home stones or shells.
Limit your Selfies
We all love a good photo of ourselves in front of something cool, but when you spend too much time trying to get the perfect shot, you miss taking in the scene with your own eyes. Slow down. Have a seat and people watch. Breathe in the sights and sounds. Remember that the point of vacationing is to experience new things, rest, rejuvenate, combat burnout, and maybe even be inspired. Snap a pic or two for sure #doitforthegram, but trust me, you’ll be amazed at how challenging and how rewarding it can be to put your phone away and enjoy the moment (which is why at my retreats I hire a documentary photographer to capture it all for you).
Traveling to a new place can change your perspective and reset your batteries. While you're taking in new sights and sounds, be sure to think of how your tourism affects the locals and the natural environment of the place you're visiting. Vacationing thoughtfully can help local communities and keep environments liveable.