By Raj Gyawali
For me, travel isn’t about ticking off boxes or putting pins on a map. Its true value comes from experiences that change our way of thinking and enhance our understanding of different ways of life. In turn, we as travelers also impact the people and places we visit by spreading wealth within the local economy and sharing the ideas we bring with us. In short: Travel delivers many wins, on many levels.
I have two stories, from my own experience, that show just how special a local connection can be.
The positive outcomes of this experience were amazing: the spread of money, the enrichment of meeting students from a different country and traveling with them, the building of a hostel, plus the overall enjoyment of being in a new place. Guaranteed, if we go back to the students and ask them what they remembered the most, it will be the school, the children that they befriended, the work they did and the immense sense of fulfillment that came with it. Ask the locals, and the answer will also revolve around what the students from the U.K. came and achieved.
Two years later, Tim brought another group who had fundraised to support their travel to come and conduct a free cataract eye camp in a rural setting in the mountains. Fast forward to 225 successful free operations later (most of the patients might still be blessing the students for the operation), the sense of fulfillment was so high, it resulted in wins on all sides. It also resulted in me pursuing a career in building a demonstrable model in social travel the moment the manufacturing business capitulated in Nepal. That was the birth of socialtours in 2002.
The money we paid for the homestay and the meal went directly to the family, which was greatly appreciated. I happened to meet the lady and her daughter several years later while trekking in the same area, and we had an instant connection upon recounting our experience together, despite not being able to recognize each other’s faces!
To make our actions even more responsible, we can consider paying fairly, ensuring our carbon footprint is low and that the suppliers are not exploited.
All it takes is some research, talking to the right people, and figuring out how to navigate the non-negotiables in travel (and determining their level of priority): lodging, food, language, safety and access. Once those are figured out, a new world opens up.
A word of caution: Balance is key. traveling off the beaten trail does not necessarily mean avoiding all popular hotspots. It is a way to enrich the experience that we would normally have in a country through a different mechanism, which generally leaves us (and everyone with whom we come in contact) with a warm fuzzy feeling.
See you down the trail!
Image credit: Jeff Hopper via Unsplash
Raj Gyawali is a local travel expert for Kimkim who lives in Nepal and runs his own agency, Social Tours, with a focus on sustainable tourism. When he’s not busy putting trips together or discussing responsible tourism policies, you’ll find him cycling the trails around Kathmandu. Follow him @KingGyawali