No doubt the term ‘mindfulness’ has made its way across your screen or into your eardrums in the past year or two. It typically carries a positive association with doing what’s right and savoring the moment (or a negative one, if you think it all sounds too new-agey). It’s no surprise, then, that the search term “mindful travel” continues to grow in the ranks of Google. Thoughtful travelers are looking for ways to contribute positively to the places they visit, while treading lightly. That means many of us are thinking about how our individual choices affect local communities, economies and the environment. The good news? A lot of the ways many of us already live mindfully at home also apply when we’re on the go.
Here are six ways you can strive to be a more conscious traveler on your next trip – whether you’re spending a weekend in a new U.S. city or heading out for a season abroad.
1. Find Supportive and Genuine Ways to Interact with Your Destination
The days of spending a vacation watching various landmarks fly by from the tinted windows of a climate-controlled bus are pretty much over. Today’s tours are more local and immersive, offering deeply authentic experiences with both people and places alike. If you’re signing up for a tour or class, try to find one with a local tour guide or teacher.
Unseen London offers city walks led by currently or previously homeless guides who introduce visitors to decidedly un-touristy parts of the city while supporting the most vulnerable members of the community at the same time.
Ocean conservation fans can get onboard (literally) with Kimpton’s Angler’s Hotel partnership with the University of Miami’s Benthic Ecology and Coral Restoration Lab, which offers guided reef excursions that support UM’s effort to reestablish the area’s coral reef population.
And if you’re more of a do-it-yourself-type, there are plenty of apps that can connect you with locals for everything from yoga classes to private dinner parties, to tours of their hometowns that are uniquely tailored to your own interests. Atlas Obscura offers some cool local-led experiences in various cities, for example.
As for taking photos of people during your travels, don’t forget to ask for permission. Not many locals want to be subjects in an Instagram story, but there are plenty of authentic ways to connect. When you get a chance to talk with someone, do more listening than speaking to show you’re there to learn.
2. Buy High-Quality, Locally Made Souvenirs
Some of the knickknacks hawked in tourist locations are actually made very far away from the place you’re visiting – and they tend to end up in landfills once you (or your gift recipient) tires of them. Opt for things you can eat or drink, or invest in high-quality mementos that support local artisans. Maybe that’s a bag of coffee, a chocolate bar made locally, a painting by a local artist or some inspired handmade pottery.
3. Learn the Etiquette, Customs and Language Before You Go
Find out about tipping etiquette. Learn what faux pas travelers are most likely to commit and how you can avoid them with a simple Google search. Language apps like DuoLingo make it easy to learn how to ask essential questions (but really, where is the restroom?) and express essential niceties (this is delicious!) in the local language.
4. Eat Independent… and Local
Do your research and find out which restaurants and coffee shops are owned locally. If you don’t have time to learn in advance, ask around in person. Even without intel, you can always skip the obvious chain burrito or ice cream shops and opt for something independent. Bonus: these local spots often have more personalized service, fresh ingredients and stories to share. They’re the type of businesses that say “thank you” for your business and really mean it, sincerely.
5. Give Back in Tangible Ways
Research charities that are doing work alongside local communities – and consider donating an hour or two of your time or making a one-time gift during your stay. New Orleans remains one of the most popular places for visitors to volunteer in the U.S. and VolunteerLouisiana.gov, can help set you up with a range of “voluntourism” opportunities. Whether donating your time to disaster relief efforts, stocking foodbanks, partnering with animal shelters, or even doing light construction work, it’s a way to keep the memory of your travel alive and ensure that your impact was about more than just passing through.
6. Choose Hotels that Are Committed to Conscious Travel, Too
At Kimpton, we take our impact on local communities and the larger world seriously. Our commitment to social and environmental responsibility has resulted in more than 100 practices that support sustainability, as well as exciting connections with local businesses and artisans.
Our hotels in Washington DC have partnered with Shop Made in DC, a company that rocks the maker scene. We love their mission to introduce visitors and residents alike to locally made goods while supporting brick-and-mortar shops and growing the DC artisan community at the same time.
Our Hotel De Witt in Amsterdam partners with Dutch lifestyle brand Marie-Stella-Maris for their super-lux in-room natural body and skin care amenities. A beauty company with its own humanitarian foundation, Marie-Stella-Maris’s mission is to support clean drinking water projects all over the world, a cause that truly makes for a better world.
Our wine partners at our nightly wine hours actively work to protect the
environment and local community. Photo credit: @iamsarahmize
And did someone say wine? Oh right, we did. Well, that’s because it’s on our mind a lot, especially when it comes to our nightly Social hours. All of our wine partners are thoughtfully chosen for their dedication to environmental and community stewardship, so you may find yourself sipping a pour from a vineyard that plants a tree for every bottle sold, joining us as we promote local winery owners serving up their latest vintages, or enjoying a glass from a women- owned-and-run company. Whatever your cause, we probably have a wine for that.
We believe these things matter, and we’re grateful you believe it, too. So here’s to happy (conscious) travelling, wherever you may go.