One big takeaway this season is the importance of supporting our local communities. One way we can effectively do so is when we travel to really focus our dollars on the communities we are visiting. There are has never been a better time to support local, and I hope you’ll join me this season in doing so while traveling.
After 6 months of virtually no travel, the communities that thrive on tourism, now need our support more than ever. There are a few critical ways we can do so, and some of which require doing before we travel. The planning stages of travel offer an opportunity to dive into how we can support communities we are visiting.
It may not always be possible to do so in every decision, but I hope it can be a priority moving forward. There are a few tough decisions, like when it comes to accommodations and I recognize there may be some blurred lines of what local is. Staying in locally-owned accommodations is great and we also have to recognize that large resorts do hire a lot of staff who live locally. I don’t think it is an either-or, but rather being more thoughtful in our considerations.
We can support locally-owned businesses in other categories, so I’ll go into that in more depth below. Here are some thoughtful ways to support local communities while traveling.
How to Support a Local Community When Traveling
1. Dine at local restaurants
One of the top ways to support a community is through dining locally. If you’re on a trip for say three nights, that is 12 meals or opportunities to support local. My recommendation: support the local “mom and pop” restaurants, cafes, and diners. These are so important to a community. Even though we may not be able to eat at the actual restaurant right now or may not feel comfortable to do outdoor dining, we can still do takeout at most places.
My tips for eating locally are:
- Do a Google search for “local restaurants in x” to find some options. I’ve found there is a great emphasis on local travel right now, so we’ve been able to find some great options for this with minimal effort.
- Plan on looking at the restaurant’s website far in advance of the meal. We found multiple times that smaller restaurants needed orders in early for dinner, so we’ve missed out on a few local gems because of this. Every restaurant’s protocol has greatly changed so it’s good to do just a bit of digging ahead of time.
- Purchase directly from the restaurant and leave a tip with cash when possible. For more contactless options, I’d recommend pre-paying over the phone to limit interaction.
2. Shop local makers — through groceries, wineries, and more
Oh there are so many wonderful ways to support local businesses when traveling! I have a few ideas:
- Local farmer’s markets are WONDERFUL for shopping local. I love to stop at one when I’m traveling where I can stock up on produce and meats from makers in the area. I’ll even bring a box of produce home for the week when I can.
- Bring home gifts from local stores or mercantile.
- Wineries and breweries are wonderful businesses and many are locally-owned. You can stop in for a tasting or bring back a few bottles. I always like to bring back a few for friends as gifts. We often bring wine over to friend’s houses so instead of stocking up at our big grocery stores, I’ll purchase a case from a winery we visit to keep at the house for future gatherings.
- Shop now for Christmas gifts. Keep an eye out while you peruse boutiques or markets that have local artists.
- Purchase local goods to take home with you.
3. Choose accommodations mindfully
This one is a tough choice when it comes to what type of accommodations to book. It’s a grey area in the decision as locally-owned boutiques and private rentals are important to support as well as larger hotels that employ a lot of locals. Both are vital to a thriving economy.
A few ways I think about being mindful in choosing accommodations is by booking direct to the property, especially boutique and smaller hotels which will keep all of the profit.
I’m a big fan of Airbnbs, you’ll notice that there is a ton of content on wonderful rentals on the blog. One of my favorite recent posts is this roundup of 25+ Airbnbs in California.
I also look at hotels first that are focusing on supporting local businesses through their purchases. What I mean by this is a lot of hotels are supporting local artisans and makers by what they purchase for their food and beverage programs. May seem vague, but the hotels that are doing this will often market it on their website as it is something to champion for their community (here are a few example hotels: The Harbor House Inn, Nick’s Cove, and the Farmhouse Inn.) I look at things like where are they sourcing coffee from and does their in-house restaurant purchase from local farmers and etc..
4. Consider your footprint and support through donations
If this health crisis has revealed one major truth, it’s that our decisions truly matter to every community. When we travel, we have to think about our impact and footprint. There are many ways to be thoughtful and responsible travelers right now.
I’d recommend reading through the full guide on how to travel responsibly in California, the principles shared there are true of all travel right now. If you’re spending time in the outdoors, leave no trace. If you pack it in, pack it out. Keep our national and state parks clean. And please, wear a mask.
Some national and state parks aren’t opening as well and losing funding, so one great idea that came in from a reader was supporting through donations. I hadn’t thought of that, but love the concept of supporting the communities in the area and the parks themselves. An example is Glacier National Park has online donations available (as does many national parks). You also notice that many Navajo Nation Parks are closed due to COVID, and it’s impacting the financial stability of these counties greatly. There is an opportunity to support through donations here.
5. Support local activities and excursions when possible
Certainly one of the hardest-hit sectors of the travel industry has been local guides and tours. It’s tricky to navigate as health is a priority and often time these activities involve a lot of interaction.
In talking to a few local hotels and businesses, there are still a few ways to support:
- Kayaking is a wonderful and socially-distanced activity. Many tour companies on the coast are open and doing distanced guided tours. If you’re not comfortable with being with a guide, you could still rent kayaks from a local company to support.
- Renting a bike can be a great experience and supports a local business that rents these out and allows for limited interaction.
- Boat rentals are another local business to support and experience to do that is outdoors and distanced.
There are several ways to support a community with our dollars right now. I hope our focus on local business will continue this season. And most importantly, doing it safely that allows our communities to thrive both in health and economics.
Thank you to everyone who sent in a note on ways to support our local businesses while traveling.