Let’s start with a few basic premises: 1) You are a good person. 2) Too much tourism, when run amuck, can damage local culture. 3) You still want to travel.
The good news is that it is still possible to travel widely and do it with a clean conscience. But the trick is to do it responsibly, and to do it in a way that supports local businesses. At heart, the most obvious answer, of course, is to “eat local” and “shop local” and pretty much “do everything local.” (A friend once told me that her policy is to “date local,” but that’s another blog post.)
The biggest question, really, is how do you find out which local businesses to support? Consider these tactics:
Leverage the walking tour
Your guide on a walking tour is a largely untapped resource. Most people only ask them questions about the scope of the tour — the architecture in Budapest, or the history of the Roman Forum, or the birds that live in the forest. But your guide knows so much more than this! They live here! Every walking tour has plenty of natural breaks, particularly when the guide is waiting for stragglers to catch up. Stick to the front and ask them questions about local shops and local restaurants. But the way you ask the question is important. Which brings us to…
Focus on “your favorite,” not “the best”
If you ask your guide “what’s the best restaurant in town?” they will likely default to the priciest restaurant — the tourist trap. Instead, ask about their own personal favorite restaurant. Or even, “Where do you and your friends like to go?” This will unlock hidden gems.
Chat up your drivers
Whether they’re driving a taxi or tuk-tuk, the driver will know the lay of the land. And they’ll nudge you towards worthy, off-the-beaten-path options that might escape Fodor’s.
Take a cooking class
These are almost always taught by local chefs and foodies. Bonus? Even if your culinary skills are dreadful, the class will give you cultural insights, context, and local history that you’d miss at a splashy restaurant.
Shop at the farmer’s market
Almost by definition, your money goes directly to the locals who are gathering your food from the earth. It literally does not get more local.
Take advantage of this fundamental asymmetry: There’s a 99% chance that $1 means more to your waiter, guide, or driver than it does to you. And you are a guest in their world. They are showing you a warm welcome. So why not tip generously?
Rate and review
Leaving a 5-star review for the local business — any kind of business — costs you nothing and to them it means everything. For them it’s critical. Because at the end of the day, the one true “international language” is not love…it’s the google algorithm.