Footprints left behind on a beautiful beach travel location.

Leave a place better than you found it

If you’re reading this, it’s likely the thought of exploration can be a sprig of fresh inspiration for you. Have you ever felt the need to give back to the destinations that offer you a boost? What if you could sprinkle a little positivity and goodness when traveling? 

Your everyday choices not only have the potential to uplift another community, but yourself as well. YOU have the power to leave a place better than you found it. By doing so, you might just find that life gains more meaning through living your values and connection to the bigger picture.

Everyday choices = Big impact

You may already be aware of some ugly truths behind the tourism industry: overconsumption, environmental degradation and cultural exploitation. How can we be better global citizens in the face of all that? 

“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” said Wangari Maathai, the Environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

To solve the increasing degradation of land and resources in Kenya, Wangari Maathai inspired women to plant trees, which brought life and strength back to their soil. Environmental protection was only the beginning. Her actions created a movement that ignited community empowerment, equality, reduction of poverty, and justice. You don’t have to be a martyr to make the world a better place. It’s often the simple things that build momentum and expand to become powerful forces for good. 

Behind how and where you spend your time and money is a person, an environment, or a community that can be nurtured. It’s also proven that giving back improves physical and mental well-being. Doing good is a two-way boost of joy. Are you excited to be the change?

3 Recipes for Reciprocity

Reciprocity is a healthy practice for enriching our relationships with other people but it also has an amazing impact when we travel. The coolest part is that you get to choose how to make a positive difference. We’ve curated three options to empower you to get on track to giving back. 

We all grow richer through what we give

There is massive giving power in money. 

If two hotels offer the same amenities and price tag, but one gives back to a conservation program, which one would you choose? 

Or, if deciding between two eateries that both serve equally mouth-watering dishes, but one is a franchise and the other is a family-owned single establishment, how would your choice be swayed? 

There is no right or wrong answer, but when you make value-aligned choices about where to spend your money, you support the causes you care most about.

Where you stay, what you eat, what you purchase, the attractions you’ll visit, how you’ll express appreciation with tips, and even your mode of transportation are opportunities to live your values. When you’re clear about what you want to support with your hard-earned money, spending money can offer a deeper sense of fulfillment.

Explore these questions to see what resonates for you. Dig in a bit by asking yourself why it matters. (Journal Alert):

  • Will the added revenue support a family, small business or corporation?
  • Does the business have philanthropic goals (for example giving a percentage back to social or environmental causes)?
  • Is it a social enterprise, non-profit or for-profit company?
  • What inspired the owners to do what they do and do their goals, mission, and story align for you
  • When purchasing handmade items or food, what percentage of funds go directly to the creators?
  • Could your choice have a negative impact or unintended consequence?

Fun practice: Pay attention to your emotional reactions and unpack your answers. Let your inner response help guide your actions when choosing how to invest your dollars.

Give the gift of your time

Volunteering for a social non-profit in Singapore showed me more than the perfect, shiny landscape of modern buildings and economic success. I learned about Singapore’s history and social programs through the kind of support we provided through the non-profit. I tapped into the beating heart of the people, which was more enriching than watching out-of-this-world light performances (but those are sometimes fun too!).

Your time, effort and skills can be an excellent asset to a place that requires your unique gifts. Rolling up your sleeves to help solve local challenges leads to deeper connection and understanding. 

Before making a commitment, it’s very important to do your research. Causes seek volunteers who are aligned with their ethics and goals.

Consider these questions when choosing an organization or group to help:

  • What kinds of causes are important to you? (Environmental, social, spiritual)
  • How much time can you dedicate to volunteering (include possible training time)?
  • What type of work would you like to do? (Manual labour, working with people, in a group or alone, skills-based, indoor or outdoor)?
  • Are you willing to spend money to volunteer? Managing volunteers incurs costs and some organizations require a contribution to participate.
  • What other requirements would you be willing to meet? For example many spiritual or religious organizations follow sacred traditions to be respected.

Once you have a good idea what your volunteer needs are, brainstorm and research where you would like to volunteer. See if one of these piques your interest:

  • Animal sanctuary or conservation group
  • Temples, churches or places of spirituality
  • Food distribution or soup kitchen
  • Environmental clean up
  • Health and wellness programs

Here’s an idea! If you already volunteer, find out if there is an affiliate office or partner program at the destination you are traveling to. You may have the opportunity to build on what you’ve already started.

Leave nothing behind but your footprints

Lessening your environmental impact will no doubt leave a place better than you found it. Your investment is simply taking the time to prepare for a journey that limits waste and reduces your carbon footprint. You’d be surprised by the number of ways to be a better ambassador for Mother Earth. In fact, here are a few to try:

  • Pack with the environment in mind. Use refillable and reusable containers to hold your personal products. 
    • Shampoo bars last a long time and can be stored in a face cloth for dual purpose. 
    • If you’ll be exploring underwater choose reef friendly sunscreen. 
    • And keep the plastic out of the waters and streets by practicing plastic free shopping. One plastic bag may not seem like much, but over a few days it adds up.
    • Tote a reusable and washable bag around to carry your finds. Fabric totes are better at protecting any breakables too!
  • Seek out modes of transport that are friendlier. Plus you’ll probably hear about some great travel tips from other adventurers, or witness what it feels like to be a resident first-hand.
    • Public transportation or shared transport services like Uber, Lift, chartered busses, or shuttle services are efficient. 
    • Better yet, be the mode of transport by walking or biking to and fro. You’ll take in new details that vehicles miss.
  • Consider routes with fewer connecting flights. Air travel is the least enviro-friendly mode of transportation. 
    • It’s landing and take-off that emit the most emissions, so minimize.
    • Additionally, once you’ve arrived, avoid jet-setting and take trains of busses instead. 
    • Finally, seek out airlines that give back to green initiatives. Every bit counts. 
  • Make food choices that leave little to no waste. 
    • Pack reusable containers, like a water bottle, sealable packaging, or other washable receptacles that can be used to store and consume food and drinks.
    • Prepping snacks while you’re on the road limits impulse buys of single-serve snacks when you’re hangry, and will likely be a healthier choice. 
    • When you can, opt for local ingredients!
  •  Sleep soundly at an Earth friendly accommodation. 
    • Stay at hotels and stays that have adopted local conservation programs. 
    • Save water by requesting linens and towels to be washed only when required.
    • And if your room has fans, lights or AC, make sure they are turned off before you leave.

Preparation goes a long way, so take the time needed to get ready for a low-impact journey and you can be the change.

We’re in this together

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.” – Jana Stanfield.

A practice of giving back while you travel isn’t going to solve all of the world’s problems but… 

It will make life better for another.

It will instill deeper connections with people and nature.

It will create a spark within you to act on the values you care about the most.

It will inspire a ripple effect of kindness outward beyond your imagination.

You don’t have to try to do it all. Start with your heart and let your giving back practice grow from there. If only 1% of those reading this blog give back (in their own way) the next time they travel, imagine the collective positive impact. We’re in this together. Your conscious choice is enough. Just make it happen!

Have you spread kindness while traveling? Share your bright ideas with the Living Atman community. You never know who your story will motivate!

Michelle Villarosa
Michelle Villarosa
Being an explorer is my way of life. Anywhere in the world, discoveries in nature, community and spirit bring me joy and light. You’ll find me in self-care rituals, cherishing the dance between birds and trees, dreaming of creative possibilities, or playing fetch with my cat Winslow and nursing my newly adopted pup Rosemary. The human spirit inspires me. It invites me to share my purpose of uplifting others. That’s why, with my intrepid husband who equally reaches for his stars, I’m taking the leap to create a wellness space on the magical island of Siargao, Philippines. Deep breath. Let’s go!

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