5 Ways to Travel Sustainably & Support Local Cultures

Learning about different cultures from around the world is one of the most enriching experiences that I have had on this amazing adventure around the globe. However, having an open mind and the willingness to connect with others across cultures is not something that came naturally for me.

I grew up in a small, conservative town in the south of the USA. Growing up, we had just under 10,000 people and was an area very safe in comparison to other parts of the world. Life for the most part was generally comfortable and considering there was no mixture of cultures living together in one small area, it was generally peaceful.

Leaving my small state and venturing off into the world completely alone was an act of courage and something that tested me on all different levels, especially culturally. I truly believed in my heart that my way of living was the right way and that everyone else was just wrong. My narrow mindset limited me and made me a judgmental person towards anyone that did not believe exactly what I believed, or acted according to my ways of thinking.

Each country from around the world has had a way of changing my narrow mind and getting me to open my mind a little bit more. What I have discovered is that travel is about learning to adapt and expand your way of thinking.

The art of travel is about having true, authentic experiences that can change your perception about the world and make you a more well rounded individual.

The girl who left Arkansas in 2013, to the current moment that I write this article, has had a transformation of night and day. This has been cause by many factors, the main one being my deep rooted commitment to travel sustainably and responsibly in every way that I can.

Being a sustainable traveler does not mean just traveling the world, only focusing on taking care of the environment, although that is a very important aspect of sustainable tourism.

Traveling sustainably focuses around the idea that you should travel in a way that is beneficial for the country and culture that you travel to, as well as you as the traveler. Its about working together with local cultures and making it a positive experience for everyone, while leaving a minimal impact on the environment.

From my personal experience, here are 5 ways that I have found to travel more sustainably, while supporting local cultures at the same time.

1. Take time to learn and ask questions about the culture, customs and cultural differences.

This is something that you can do before leaving your house. Take time to read about the culture and learn as much as you can. A little knowledge before traveling can go along ways. Continue learning as you visit the country by having the courage to connect with locals, ask questions or even take a class or two.

Different cultures across the world have their own unique dances, art, festivals and gastronomy. Hands on experience is one of the easiest and best ways to learn, so don’t be afraid to get a little adventurous!

This is a photo I had in the Garifuna Community in Hopkins Village in Belize. I was able to do a full cultural immersion, dress in traditional clothes, learn the traditional way of cooking and end with a private drum class. I was not the best cook or drum player, but what matters in the end is the interest and the lessons you learn from trying something completely new.

However, if you keep an open mind, you might find in the end that you are actually a good drummer, so open yourself up to live all kinds of new experiences.

2. Travel outside the city to smaller villages or communities that tend to not have as much tourism.

This does not mean you cannot see the big cities. It just simply means that a more sustainable option would be to organize your trip to explore more unmarked territories.  In more traditional towns you are more willing to find the true culture and beauty of the country.

The photo below is from a small Indian Village in Panama. I was able to visit them by a small boat, see their traditional dances, style of living and art work. These type of experiences can really open your eyes to how most people lived years back. Many of these indigenous families live completely independently from the society and live only from their own produce and art work.

3. Choose locally owned accomodation and dining.

This is one of the best ways you can support the local community. Cities are full of Hiltons, Marriott, McDonalds and Starbucks. Look for privately owned places instead. This will give you a more cultural experience and will also support the real local economy of the destination you have chosen.

If you are wanting a full cultural immersion, you could try Couch Surfing, which can you an authentic experience.  CouchSurfing gives you a deeper look into the local culture by giving you the opportunity to stay in the homes of locals, spend time and explore the culture together and form a new friendship. I have Couchsurfed across the whole world and the experience has truly added value to my life and travels.

4. Work or volunteer with an organization that supports a good cause

There are countless organizations that are making a difference in the world today. Find a cause that is important to you and reach out to them in order to volunteer. Even if you don’t have much time to volunteer, even helping out for one day or visiting the organization to learn about the work they are doing can be a great way to show your respect and support for them.

In Costa Rica I was able to connect with the Ostional Wildlife Reserve, which is dedicated to helping the turtles. Each year thousands of turtles visit the shores in order to lay their eggs. During this process, the vultures are always in the surrounding area waiting for their next meal. When they see the eggs of the turtles, they quickly fly their in order to snatch them. Also, when the babies leave their eggs and make their way through the sand to enter the ocean, they are at risk as well by the vultures and other external factors.

This organization helps assist the mothers in order to keep their eggs safe, as well as babies that are trying to make their way to the ocean to start their life on Earth. They have been able to save thousands of turtles each and every year, which is a perfect example of sustainable work.

5. Pack for a Purpose.

This is an American Non Profit organization that challenges travelers to make a sustainable impact and support local cultures by just one small step. The concept is very simple. Usually a travelers carry 1-2 bags full of materialistic possessions. The majority of time time half of the items in the bag are unused and just extra weight. This organization challenges travelers to take out a few kilos or unnecessary items and put school supplies to donate to kids in need in that extra space.

Thanks to this simple action, they have been able to give thousands of kilos of school supplies each and every year, supporting and helping thousands of peoples and communities around the world


Traveling sustainable in a way that is beneficial for everyone can be done be just one small simple act. So, the next time you are planning your next vacation, keep these 5 actions in mind and choose to be a more sustainable traveler!


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