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How to be a Better Traveler in 2020

japan people crowds kyoto

If we have learned anything from the year 2020, it’s that we need to do better. WE ALL NEED TO DO BETTER. But in particular for travelers, now is an especially crucial time to be aware and self-cognizant about how we fit into the global ecosystem. Travelers today need to recognize that the way we travel deeply affects the world around us and impacts future generations to come.

There are ten easy steps that you can begin implementing into your daily travel routine that can positively impact both the communities you visit AND your community at home. You don’t have to do all of them at once, but slowly incorporating at least a few will have a bigger influence than you may think!

Recognize your privilege

If you are traveling for leisure, YOU HAVE PRIVILEGE. Travel is a luxury, and one that the majority of the world does not have. Travel privilege is not inherently a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. Recognize that you are healthy enough to travel. That you are financially able to travel. However, travel privilege comes in various other forms as well. Depending on your passport, you are able to travel to more places. You may be treated better than others, even locals. Depending on your gender or skin color, you may be harrassed in the streets unprovoked. If you are able to travel, you have some degree of privilege, so acknowledge it and always stay humble.

girl red wall china

Do What You Can

You may have heard this one, but do what you can to be a more sustainable consumer. I’m going to break it to you slowly, but travel is not good for the Earth. BUUUUT, neither are a lot of things. Some people may choose to transition to a Vegan lifestyle to offset inhumane meat industry practices while others choose to campaign and donate to ethical livestock organizations. In the same way, there are many ways to make travel MORE sustainable. Don’t beat yourself up about not saving the planet all by yourself. You shouldn’t feel bad about not doing everything – but try to do at least one thing. Find something that is easy to implement, and then do it! It can be as easy as just swapping out your travel products for sustainable alternatives, or donating to a carbon pollution reduction program every time you take a flight! Small steps. That’s all it takes.

More Suggestions on Sustainability:

  • Sustainable Products for Travel
  • Tracking and Offsetting Your Carbon Footprint
  • Sustainable Travel Hacks

Respect signs and rules

At the expense of sounding like a grouchy boomer, RESPECT THE LAW. And I’m not just talking about the police, because, obviously you should respect the local law enforcement. But I’m talking about etiquette rules and social practices of the place you are visiting. One of the big ones – STOP TRESPASSING FOR THE GRAM. It doesn’t matter how cool the vantage point looks. If getting to it includes trespassing, just stop. The likes and shallow clout aren’t worth it fam. When it comes to the outdoors, this applies as well, because the signs are there both for your safety and the safety of the plants and animals around you. Every year, hundreds of people fall to their deaths at natural sites and parks because they ventured too close to the edge, usually for a picture. Don’t add to the statistic. Oh, and don’t trample wildflowers.

Take a Deeper Look at Your “Mission Trips.”

Volunteering abroad is great. In theory. You and a group of like minded individuals set out to a less fortunate place with the intentions of helping them. Your group will usually assist in building houses, babysitting orphans, or constructing roads. Again, all good intentions. But, before you sign up, ask yourself. Is your presence necessary in that position? Are you REALLYY an asset to the effort, or will you likely be taking a project away from a local company that could do the same job more efficiently?

Have you heard of the term, “white savior complex”? Ignore the ‘white’ part of the term, as it can be applied to anyone from any nationality or ethnicity. The term stems from more privileged people going to less privileged communities, making charm bracelets at an orphanage, and then posting on social media about how many lives they helped. Good intentions, but even these superficial acts can have long-standing negative effects on the local community. First off, short-term orphanage visits can cause developmental damage to young children and upset their emotional well-being, creating separation anxiety and unhealthy attachments.

These communities use resources to support volunteers that could be put to more sustainable use by reinvesting the resources into themselves. Volunteers are also (usually) inexperienced, and again, the community must use time, energy, and money to either train/teach/chaperone the volunteers, or to redo their unstable work entirely. Plus, it can take away jobs from local labourers. That said, not ALL volunteering trips are bad. Just be sure to take a deeper look at the who/what/when/where/and HOW of the trip. If you wouldn’t do the same task in YOUR community, why do it in somewhere else? Ask the trip leader if perhaps donating the money (instead of your time) to the program would be more positively impactful.

Reevaluate Animal Encounters

While on the topic of ethical engagement – let’s talk animals. Unfortunately, animals are one of the most abused and exploited groups in the world, in EVERY country. The reason, simply, because people love animals. This dynamic creates and industry that thrives on tourists’ demands to experience an animal up-close, with little regulations on if these experiences are even ethical. There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to animals, so just use your best judgement. Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Elephant Riding. BIG NO NO. Don’t ride elephants. AT ALL. Elephants are tortured for years in order to break their spirits enough for elephant rides. For more information on elephant abuse, refer to this article.
  • Chains on animals
  • Taking pictures next to normally-dangerous animals like lions, tigers, bears (they are often drugged out of their mindsss)
  • Overworked labor animals. Like horses, donkeys, mules, etc. These are animals bred for labor, but keep an eye out for any signs of mistreatment or malnourishment.


Decolonize Your World Perception

This may come as a shock to some, but history books are not unbiased. They praise certain historical figures chapter after chapter, but leave out the parts about slaughtering indigenous communities, exploiting resources, pillaging unarmed villages, and downplaying the enslavement of an entire continent. Today’s current global society is a painfully calculated result of colonialism. Recognize that. When you travel, make an effort to learn about the local culture of the region and the history from their perspective. How did World War II impact Korea during Japanese occupation of the region? Why is Cuba viewed as a dangerous country when it has one of the lowest crime rates and highest literacy rates in the world? When you learn to view a region’s history from their point of view, you are able to understand that country just a bit more clearly.

Support LOCAL – especially black, brown, and indigenous businesses

Speaking of decolonizing your mind, try decolonizing your wallet as well. As a traveler, your money speaks VOLUMES. The tourism market has the power to determine which businesses get published in the city’s “must visit” newsletters, which restaurants get placed on the food tour, and which companies get added to travel magazines. Never forget the strength of your money. That said, shop local. Big businesses have the luxury to afford lower costs, but small local businesses are the soul of the city. Plus, the souvenirs are usually better and more unique as well!

As you know, the world is unfair. So also keep a special eye out for businesses owned and operated by people of color and indigenous people. Statistically, they have lower loan approvals and higher interest rates, solely based on prejudices of banks and historical injustices. Be an ally and put your money where your ethical-consumerism is.

Give Back to the Communities you Visit

You came, you saw, you had an amazing experience. Travel really is transformative. Now, if you are so inclined, consider giving back to the communities that welcomed you for vacation. Donate to their environmental efforts. Buy some supplies for the local animal shelter. Tip the musicians bussing in the streets as you eat a romantic dinner.  This is probably the easiest and simplest request out of all the tips on this list. But if you are unable to give back to the communities you visit, you can still give back at home. The Global Dreamers Foundation is a non-profit organization that sponsors young adults with ethical and sustainable global opportunities! They are always accepting donations as well as applications

Stop Judging Someone Else’s Travel

Ah, now that you’ve home from your trip, no doubt travel is all you want to talk about. And, since you’ve now experienced such tremendous personal growth from following the first eight steps, you want to help make others better travelers as well! But…then you see your friends checking in at an American chain restaurant in Costa Rica. And going on a lion walk in South Africa. And going on a travel retreat with someone who isn’t even a local!! And even…TAKING A CRUISE??!? What are your friends thinking?

Well, before you jump on a pedestal and threaten to unfollow all of your friends. Breathe, and remember step 1. Humble yourself. First of all, not everyone is at the same point in their travel journey. A lot of people just don’t know that there are more sustainable or ethical options. Others have food sensitivities that make chowing down street food vendors with no ingredient list dangerous for them. Or mobility restrictions that make navigating to more difficult lodgings that may or may not be accessible to them. Don’t judge someone else’s travel because it seems basic or shallow to you. If you have suggestions, approach the topic from a stance of understanding and openness. If travel teaches you anything, it is that you don’t and never will know everything. Especially about other people. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

pink cherry blossoms flowers park

Bring Your Compassion Home with You

Now that you’ve spread so much sustainable positivity in the places that you’ve visited, you must now do the same at home. When you hear racism and xenophobia in your hometown, stand up against it. Be open and welcoming to different cultures, and make sure that your city does the same. During the 2020 COVID-19 #StayHome initiatives enacted by countries around the world, don’t be selfish. Don’t buy cheap plane tickets and potentially spread the virus to communities with already limited resources. To people who have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and even their lives – please show empathy. Be kind, above all else, and do not use your energy to spread misinformation or chew people out if you feel they are promoting unsafe behavior. Treat others with the same level of compassion and understanding as you would a friend.

Be a good traveler, yes, but be an even BETTER person.

Asia Giving Back Outdoors

Ethical Tourism for the Animal Lover

The thing we love most about traveling in a foreign place is the hours stretch out, time seems to slow down, stress fades away, and you feel like a kid again experiencing new things every day. You seem to remember every moment, smell, and taste. You pay attention to more and your soul is awakened!

Our most recent travels took us to Phuket, Thailand. This is the perfect destination to soak in the crystal blue water, burn your tongue on authentic street food, drink Chang beers while songs from the 90’s blare in the background, watch elephants roam free at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, get slobbery kisses from rescue dogs at Soi Dog Foundation, and dance your heart away in the back of a crowded club while the sun comes up.

Ethical Tourism for the Animal LoverWhile Phuket is a relaxing paradise, it is also host to many tourist traps. The walls and back seats of tourist agencies and taxis are plastered with photos of people cuddling sedated tigers and riding on elephants. Travelers visit these places, which claim to be ethical, though their practices are far from. Thankfully, with the help of the internet and social media more people are becoming educated about the proper treatment of animals and ethical tourism.

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

Ethical Tourism for the Animal LoverWe had the pleasure of spending the day at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, which is the first ethical sanctuary in Phuket. These rescued elephants roam on their own agenda, enjoy their newfound freedom, socialize with each other, and bathe freely in fresh water. Visitors are encouraged to observe from a distance and at the end of the tour we were given the opportunity to feed these gentle giants.

The cruel practice of conditioning the elephants who perform goes largely unseen by tourists. This brutal process is known as ‘crushing the spirit’. The elephants are kept in a tiny pen to prevent movement, with their legs tied tightly. They can be severely beaten with sharp objects, screamed at, and starved of food and water. Although many elephants spend their entire lives in captivity, an increasing number are being cared for by organizations that allow them to live in natural, big, open spaces with other elephants and with proper food and veterinary care. Ethical tourism is the only way forward for these captive creatures.

How do you know you are visiting an ethical sanctuary for elephants? Here are some tips!

Ethical Tourism for the Animal Lover1. A real sanctuary will limit contact with the elephants, with visitors observing them from a distance the majority of the time.

2. Avoid anywhere offering riding or allowing bathing sessions with elephants. It’s not natural for an elephant to be in the water all day with lots of people climbing all over them.

3. Looking on review sites and images online before visiting elephant camps.

4. Avoid any places that are using bull-hooks or chains, or lacking basic provisions

of water, food and shade.

5. Avoid any place that has elephants performing tricks.

Watching elephants getting to be elephants was an incredible moment that we will cherish forever.

Soi Dog Foundation

Ethical Tourism for the Animal LoverAnother common sight in Thailand are the many dogs and cats roaming the streets. We have always been passionate about dogs and cats, helping any way we can, and treating them with love and affection. Unfortunately, many people do not share these sentiments, which leads to neglect, abuse, and torture by the hands of humans.

Thankfully, organizations like the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, Thailand exist.

Soi Dog welcomes volunteers from all over the world as they play a hugely important role in the socialization of the animals in their care, in preparation of them becoming adoptable. They offer different volunteer programs which is worth checking out! We learned all about the facility, the dog meat trade, and of course got smothered in puppy kisses and kitty cuddles.

Ethical Tourism for the Animal LoverThe foundation works to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Asia. Not only do they campaign for animal welfare by working with the Asia Canine Protection Alliance, but they are actively fighting the Asian dog meat trade. The images of these suffering dogs were heartbreaking, but it gave us peace of mind knowing places like Soi Dog foundation are fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves and promoting ethical tourism.

We all have different customs, beliefs, and religions, but we all bleed red. It is the cruelty, torture, and the unnecessary pain inflicted on any animal that needs to stop because all lives matter. Animals are sentient beings able to experience emotions such as fear, pain, joy, and contentment. There are documented stories of animals doing things that we find extraordinary, but it just comes naturally to them. Elephants guarding people who need help, humpback whales protecting seals from killer whales, and dogs knowing when their human companions are sad. Empathy is an emotion we share with animals, and we all need to do our part in making an effort to treat all living things with kindness. We can easily do this by making sure that we participate in ethical tourism.

Compassion can guide us to acts of kindness, and who doesn’t want to live in a kind world?


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5 Alternative Ways to Travel

5 Alternative Ways to Travel

I think it’s safe to say that social media has bitten most of us with wanderlust and travelers are now exploring unimaginable corners of the world. As travel continues to become more people’s motivation, they will seek experiences that are completely unique whilst being affordable. With that said, it’s why we are seeing a rise in alternative travel.

Alternative travel, or termed also as anti-tourism, is a new way of experiencing travel to make it more meaningful and not conventional in nature. There are a number of reasons why people find alternative ways to travel, but I think the biggest determining factor is attainability. Budget is often something we consider when book flights and accommodation. Alternative travel makes things a bit more affordable as you save money or even make money along the way. Secondly, you learn empathy through authenticity. It’s a deeper dive into the culture and it’s people, and so you become hyper-aware of the way people eat, think, worship, and work. Finally, alternative travel brings accountability as we might look for ways to decrease our footprint, volunteer, or support locally.

Now that we know the benefits of alternative travel, let’s dive into some of the best ways to do it!

1. Volunteer

There is no better way to travel the world than by saving the world! There are a number of Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that act as the middleman between volunteers and local communities. All you have to do is cover the cost of some of the logistics and food per month!

2. Wellness Retreats

5 Alternative Ways to Travel

Travel teaches us so much about ourselves as we are oftentimes put in the most vulnerable of situations. There’s something so special about coming back from our travels with a peace of mind and reconnecting with ourselves. Think about ashrams, camps, and spas!

3. Teach or Study/Learn Abroad

5 Alternative Ways to Travel
5 Alternative Ways to Travel

The beauty of traveling abroad is exposing yourself to so many different cultures, why not partake in that? In college, I spent a year studying abroad and used it as an opportunity to learn a language and travel the region. There are also options to go abroad to teach English or learn/teach whatever you’re passionate about! Languages not your thing? Why not learn to cook up a Moroccan feast with La Maison Arabe?

4. House-sitting

5 Alternative Ways to Travel
5 Alternative Ways to Travel
5 Alternative Ways to Travel

The easiest way to get accommodation covered is house-sitting! You can find house-sitting jobs from a weekend to a year in length! It allows you to travel slow, live like a local and save an enormous amount of money. It’s how I was able to getaway to Haapsalu for a weekend in Estonia for free!

5. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

5 Alternative Ways to Travel
5 Alternative Ways to Travel

This has become a growing trend among young people who want to do good for the world by promoting sustainability and I got to partake when I went apple picking in Kent. WWOOF is a global movement that connects people with organic farmers to exchange cultural, social and educational experiences without monetary exchange. Ecotourism allows people to truly live, learn and share organic lifestyles!

So, are you considering an alternative way to travel in 2020? What’s on your itinerary?

Advice Giving Back Journal

5 Simple Ways To Deepen Your Travel Experiences

“Be a traveler, not a tourist.” It’s an overused quote in the travel world, but one that we wholeheartedly abide by. A constant theme here at Dame Traveler is the important lessons and empowerment travel can bring to those that experience it. Every trip, every adventure has limitless lessons to take in. Choosing to dive in and deepen your travel experiences is a decision adventurers will never regret. Here are some of our tried and true ways to intensify your explorations. 

Invest Your Time In Conversation

It can be a bit intimidating, but extending ourselves to conversing with the people we encounter in our travel experiences is the only way to really make a connection. So say “hello” to the person at the cafe next to you. Ask the owner of a shop if they’re from the area, or the story of their business. If you’re staying in an AirBnb, ask your host for their recommendations or if you can buy them a drink. Taking the small steps toward communication (even if the conversation is stunted by language barriers) elevates your travel experience ten fold. Be a student of this world. Ask questions. Adopt a mindset of true curiosity. Take the time to listen. You might not make a BFF through each conversation, but even the briefest encounters will teach you something. 

Go Local

Go local in all shapes and forms. Avoid restaurants that tout “tourist favorite” in its descriptions and choose a more authentic one instead. Go where the locals go. Eat where the locals eat. Live how the locals eat. You’ll deepen your understanding of the place, and you’ll have the unique opportunity to connect with the people who call your destination home. 

Your biggest power as a traveler is where you spend your time and your money. If you’re spending your hours enjoying the environment of a family owned boutique, book store, or cafe, buy yourself a little souvenir to remember it by. That little token of joy you’ll bring home will feel special and will support the well-being of the local economy. 

Spend A Few Days “Off The Beaten Path”

If you have the time in your itinerary, take a day or two away from the larger cities. Drive into the countryside or take the train to a more remote village. The act of getting off of the well beaten path will deepen your understanding of where you are. Not all life is city life. Not all locals look or dress like what you’ve seen in the metropolis you’ve flown into. What do the people’s lives look like outside of what your guidebooks have told you? There’s only one way of knowing, and it’s to get out there and find out for yourself. 


You don’t necessarily have to experience your whole trip truly unplugged (although, here are some ideas if that sounds like heaven to you). But, instead of being careless with your devices – be mindful of how much of your time is in front of a screen. Be present. Choose to experience your destination with open eyes. Notice the little details that are romantic and go unnoticed. Write them down in a journal. Keep a diary of your daily excursions. Collect moments. Find balance in documenting and being aware and present. 

Go With No Plan

Get wonderfully lost in the charming neighborhoods of your destination. Not every minute of your trip should be timed and planned. (If you’re a super planner, just dedicate a whole morning or afternoon to “wandering time.”) It’s during this unstructured time that we learn the most about ourselves and the place we wander through.

No matter what you do during your travels – taking the effort and initiative to deepen your travel experiences will elevate your entire trip. You’ll be shown more and you’ll leave with more gratitude and understanding. What do you do to get more out of your travels?

Advice Giving Back Journal North America Stories Trips

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

  When the word “travel” comes to mind – many of us think exploring, relaxing, or even cool content for the ‘Gram. Recently I had an opportunity to give travel a new meaning, helping others, and it changed my life in ways that I never imagined. I joined a three-day weekend with The Greatness Foundation and Baja Bound in Manaedero, Mexico to help build two homes for working poor families, visit local orphanages, and deliver supplies to a Migrant Camp.

  I learned the experience was like Adult Camp paired with helping others and thought, “Where do I sign up?”. The former Girl Scout in me was more excited for this type of travel than any vacation. Today I’m sharing life-changing experiences that may occur when traveling for the purpose of helping others.

1. Perspective

  We arrived to the neighborhood in Manaedero, Mexico and as we met the two families we were building homes for – I tried to process what my eyes were witnessing. Although I work for a non-profit, helping the homeless in the U.S., this was my first time ever witnessing this level of poverty. It was a beautiful sunny day with mountains nearby, but many families were living in a shacks made of tarp, scrap metal, and wood. There were dirt roads, famished dogs, and the home conditions were inconceivable. Most of the homes had no access to clean water, dirt floors, no bathrooms and barely had four walls. We were advised to not drink out of water bottles in front of the families so that they didn’t feel uncomfortable. Until seen firsthand, we can easily forget that majority of humans on earth live in these conditions. It gave me a new perspective of how extremely blessed we are to live in the U.S.

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

2. Unexpected Joy

  Unbeknownst, while building the homes we were able to get to know the neighbors. The absolute highlight of my trip was getting to know five playful and sweet sisters next door. While living a lifestyle we may not be able to imagine – they had constant smiles on their faces. On the first day while on the construction sight the oldest sister walk over to us. I noticed her look at my bracelet that I bought from a woman selling them down the street. I quickly realized that a $2 bracelet that meant nothing to me, was so desirable to them. I put a few on each of their wrists and loved seeing their faces light-up. This moment was an honor for me to bring dignity to the sisters and hopefully a reminder that they’re beautiful princesses.

  Each day we got to know each other more and I had fun teaching them English. They were proud to show me the inside of their home, which had conditions that would be considered extreme poverty in the U.S. It dawned on me that although we were seeing their home, they have never seen how we live and may not know that it’s different.  Lastly, I asked them in Spanish, “What do you think about Americans?” The oldest said, “They care about people”. I’ll never forget the time spent with the joyful five sisters and their simple yet quite rich lifestyle. 

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

3. Sense Of Community

  The morning of the first day fifty strangers gathered in a parking lot as we embarked on this life-changing journey. It was unique to be in a circle of people all with the same purpose that weekend – to help families in need. We assembled in a circle to introduce ourselves and shortly after caravanned from San Diego to Maneadero, Mexico.

  As we traveled in a van over the weekend, we were quick to share deep life experiences – travel, relationships, death, after-life, you name it. It was amazing to me that some volunteers traveled from all over the U.S. to spend their weekend helping the underpriveleged families. Quickly with traveling together, building the homes, sharing jokes, and singing songs, we became close-knit friends. I was shocked that I felt like I knew these humans for a lifetime and they felt the same.

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

4. Heart Expansion

  The light-hearted aspect of the trip is that the children of Manaedero, Mexico were extremely playful. Every day we were able to play, hug, and hang out with children. Unbeknownst to me, we had the chance to visit a local all girls orphanage. This orphanage was mostly girls whose parents aren’t able to care for them right now due to addiction but they’re also not up for adoption. I’ll never forget is when this beautiful little girl realized I was leaving and wouldn’t let me go. She clung to me for awhile and joked for the van to leave without me. My friends noted that I was “beaming” on this trip and I wouldn’t disagree.

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

5. Responsibility

  Reality slapped me in the face when we visited a Migrant Camp, which is basically families living in storage units in exchange for working on a farm. As I was delivering supplies to one of the units, I opened it, and inside was a 12-year-old boy. He seemed pretty jaded whereas the other children were playful. He allowed me into the tiny unit which was had a dirt floor with no bed. His parents work on the farm and he doesn’t attend school. I stood across from this weary boy and I realized there was nothing I could do to help him. I asked in Spanish what he wanted, and was shocked to hear him say “pistola” – a gun.

I felt horrible that night thinking about the boy and his family sleeping in the storage unit. I realized that life is a mere lottery and that they could’ve been born in my shoes, and I could have been born in theirs. Yeah, it was a rude awakening that there are hundreds of thousands of people that live in these conditions. 

   Witnessing the reality of people living in poverty is confirmation that we, the fortunate, are the ones responsible to help those who need it most. Poverty is a direct result of the fortunate not taking full responsibility in helping others. Responsibility is the biggest lesson that I learned over the weekend.

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your LifeHow Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

How Traveling for Philanthropy Will Change Your Life

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