During a recent visit to Israel, my Israeli friend Roi offered to take me to a Kibbutz I had stayed on during a college break many years ago. Kibbutz Tzuba, located on the edge of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills, had been a very special place for me.
Much has changed. It has grown in size, and the cows have been replaced with a beautiful hotel. I never would have recognized it.
It was there, however, that I had learned what it meant to be a ‘traveler’ and not a ‘tourist’. I learned how to immerse myself in the local culture, and that offering even just a smile can open up the possibility of new friendships and connections. I learned how to give of myself during my travels.
At this ‘giving’ time of year, I think it’s important to reflect on what travel means to you. Are you a tourist, or a traveler?
Being able to interact with and give to the people you meet, the communities you visit, and the destinations you explore is one of the greatest rewards a traveler can experience.
By giving of yourself, not only will you be helping people and the planet, but you will feel energized and happy.
Here are 8 giving suggestions for your next journey, near or far…
1. Get Involved
Travel with a purpose. Sure, you can follow the tour leader, or walk in the footsteps of the author of your guidebook. But traveling with a purpose is a trend these days for travelers of all ages to get involved during their vacations. You can still indulge in that luxury resort, sightsee, and get that spa treatment. But do some good and leave a lasting impression with the local people or the destination.
There are entire trips where you can volunteer to work with people, animals or science through organizations such as Earthwatch, Global Volunteers, or tour companies like G Adventures. Or you could volunteer for a day at resorts like Sandals, which offers Reading Road Trips through their Sandals Foundation.
2. Go out of your way to talk to people
Make every effort to talk to people. You’ll not only make friends, but you’ll gain a better insight into the culture, traditions and psyche of the people at your destination. And hey, if you don’t speak the language, even better! I once found my way to a hospital in the Czech Republic using my version of sign language and charades, and, once I got over the size of the needle they gave me, the experience became a much-loved memory.
3. Don’t be afraid to laugh
When in another culture accept that strange things can happen. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself! When in the Czech Republic, that hospital visit for hives resulted in me needing two bottles of medicine: a medicinal liquid soap, for washing, and a liquid medicine, to drink. Not being able to read Czech, I got them confused, and ended up drinking the soap! The result wasn’t pleasant, but I’ll never forget the fun times I had with my Czech friends and their families as I told the tale the next day.
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4. Offer positivity
Positive thoughts and actions spread positivity. The somber, white-haired groundskeeper at Sweetheart Abbey looked down as he clipped and trimmed the shrubs on that sunny, crowd-free day in New Abbey, Scotland. As my friend Finlay and I walked by, the groundskeeper looked up, and we gave him smiles. He suddenly returned our smiles with one of his own, eyes alight, and began giving us answers to questions we had about the abbey. We looked him in the eyes as we thanked him. That brief spark of connection happened some eight years ago, but I remember it as if it happened yesterday.
5. Be understanding
Accept the fact that things can and will go wrong. When the tuk-tuk in front of our van overturned in Dehli, the already crowded street became a mob scene, and delayed us to the point that we arrived at dinner over an hour late. We accepted this as a fact of life, and didn’t report it to the tour company. It wasn’t the driver’s fault, but we didn’t want him getting any bad marks from the company. We knew we did the right thing when we saw the relief on his face the next day.
6. Travel with respect
Respect can go a long way. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t litter, destroy property or dress inappropriately for the community you are in. But also be respectful by asking for permission before taking someone’s photo, and try to avoid wearing high fashion outfits or expensive jewelry in locations where folks are struggling to put food on the table.
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7. Show fairness
In many cultures bargaining for goods is standard practice. Just don’t try to bargain the price down so low that the seller couldn’t make a profit. Will it really hurt you to pay that extra 50 cents? Be fair, and you’ll walk away with an item that will remind you of your trip forever. Don’t do as I did, the first time I tried to purchase a pair of beaded earrings at a stall in Taroudant, Morocco. I negotiated the price down so low that the seller refused, and I walked away thinking he’d come running after me. Didn’t happen! Now I often regretfully remember them as the ‘Moroccan earrings I didn’t buy’.
8. Give your empathy
One of my favorite things to do on overseas trips is to visit local schools. Some travelers dig water wells, help paint buildings or teach English. Others donate money to their favorite causes. Even on a trip to a Caribbean resort like Sandals, people can bring pens, pencils and notepads for the Sandals Foundation. These things help people educate and empower themselves to better their situation.
Remember, travel experiences don’t end when you fly home. They will stay with you for a lifetime, weaving themselves into memories that influence the person you are and the person that you will become. When you give of yourself, by interacting with the destination in a positive way, both you and the destination will benefit.
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