Hey there everyone! Holy moly, I'm about at the 2 month mark until I get back on the road. My grandma is already getting sad about me leaving, but is pretty understanding most of the time... or at least she isn't constantly begging me not to go.
As excited as I am to be getting back on the road and having adventures and a social life again, I am also so grateful that I was able to come help her for almost 6 months. It's not the easiest adjustment going from urban life in Europe to living with family in rural Georgia, USA , but I've managed pretty well and I'm really lucky to be able to have this time with my grandmother.
Soooo, that (and a lot of studying) has been taking up most of my time lately. I have been meaning to talk to you all about something that has always been important to me:
Easy ways to support communities we travel to and live in.
I know, kind of a general statement. But there are a lot of simple things we can do to be supporting our local communities in a variety of ways as we travel, and in our home towns.
Shop Small/Local Businesses
This is one of the easiest ways to support local communities when you travel. Walk past the chain stores and into a smaller shop. Supporting small, independent businesses is an essential part of supporting communities in general as they provide jobs, and often better paying ones. You may or may not end up paying a little more, but you may also be paying less. Either way, you are strengthening the community. At home or on the road, where you spend your money reflects your values (although there are some times when you don't have a choice), so let's show small businesses and communities we support them. This also encourages human connection in general. When you know and care about who/where your stuff is coming from, you are more likely to build positive relationships with the people producing or supplying those products. One small note here on us "alternative/budget/hippie" travelers: I have heard a lot of tourism talk about how we don't bring money into communities, and I beg to differ. While I/we may not be bringing as much money into the communities, we tend to be very conscientious about spending our money to support local small businesses, and in my humble opinion, that's as good as someone who spends more money but primarily buys from chain stores or international companies.
There are lots of ways to help animals as you travel, even if you can't do a three week trip to save the sea turtles. Many cities and towns have animal shelters or rescues who are in need of volunteers to walk the dogs, or just play with the animals. Talk about a win-win... you get doggie time and the dogs get people time! And I know I'm not the only one who misses having dogs around as I travel or am stuck in a place with no dogs. Just do a quick google search, and your puppy-fix could be taken care of, and it's good for them, too.
In areas that have a lot of street animals, you can buy some dog/cat food and leave it out by dumpsters (where the animals go anyways to look for food), or ask around at restaurants for the scraps (unless you need them for yourself, then go ahead and eat first). Or, if you're staying in an area for a few months, you can temporarily adopt a street animal(s) while you live there, and then make sure they get passed along to someone else who will take care of them when you leave.
There are tons of simple things to do to be environmentally conscientious. If you're in a park or on a beach and you see garbage, pick it up and throw it away (not to mention: throw your own garbage away). Combine items from different stores into the same bag, preferably a reusable one. Even on the road, I have a reusable bag that stuffs into a tiny little sack and weighs next to nothing, plus it also comes in handy for more than just shopping. Use public transportation (or walk/cycle) as much as possible. Try and minimize buying items with excessive packaging. Recycle (and hey, some places this can even get you a little money). The list goes on.... what are some of your favorite simple things to do to take care of our planet?
For some good suggestions on doing it volunteering doing it (hehehe... because I'm twelve) while you travel, check out these articles about Volunteering Abroad. You can also contact organizations who are doing work that you are interested in. For example, I heard about the Gulabi gang, and was interested in volunteering for a few months with them. I sent them an email and was able to get everything arranged for me to come live and work there (for free, by the way. I just have to get there). There are plenty of groups out there who are willing to cover your room and board if you come work, especially if you can commit more time to the organization.
If you are permanently or semi-permanently living somewhere, check out local organizations that line up with your interests, and try to get involved, even if its just a few hours every week or month.
One quick note on volunteering after disasters: immediately after a disaster, unless you have training or experience in disaster response, don't just rush off to a disaster site to help (I say this as a nurse who volunteered with a disaster response team for two years). You will probably just be in the way and could take resources AWAY from those who really need them (after the Haiti earthquake, a huge amount of resources went to finding untrained volunteers who had gotten lost or injured). Usually 3-6 months after a major disaster is when volunteers without disaster response training will start to be needed, and needed badly as other skilled volunteers and resources are starting to go away. So wait a little bit, or if you really want to help, as The Broke Backpacker suggests, try organizing a fundraiser or something along those lines.
Try New Things and Open Your Mind
Okay, so you may be wondering how trying new things and opening your mind will help support communities... Opening your self up to new experiences and perspectives can lead you to finding new areas of interest to get involved in. I never would have imagined staying in a squat and learning about social currency and anarchy when I went to Ireland... but because I was open to new things, I learned a ton, had amazing experiences, and got inspired to do a ton of cool stuff! You may also find a great new local business to support. And for me, most importantly, opening up your mind can lead you to discover a new sense of compassion, and connection with people who are different from yourself. These human connections can drive our values and future actions to make us genuinely more concerned about, and committed to, helping develop strong communities world wide.
What about you? Do you have some easy ways to support communities at home or on the road?
I'd love to hear about them!