'Impact Travel' Is the Travel Trend Going Beyond Insta Photo Ops, Bringing Meaning to Globetrotting

It’s no secret that the travel industry is starting to see an uptick. Between the revenge travel rage of last summer and the rising interest in domestic destinations, people are taking to the skies (or cars, trains and RVs) to get a break from it all and immerse themselves in a new culture, if only for one week. However, it seems like travelers want to go beyond the regular Instagram dump and TikTok posts and want their need for travel to have a positive impact on the community they’re visiting, a trend experts are calling “impact travel.”

What exactly is impact travel?

In a nutshell, impact travel is traveling with a purpose. In addition to choosing out-of-this-world hotels, partaking in once-in-a-lifetime activities as well as sampling meals unlike anything they can order at home, travelers are making an effort to ensure their voyages are doing some good in the world. According to the most recent American Express Travel global trend report, 78 percent of respondents agree that they want to have a positive impact on the community they are visiting. For 81 percent of people, that means making sure the money they spend while traveling goes back to the local community.

To that end, globetrotters also crave more authentic experiences. A whopping 81 percent of respondents would rather meet with and learn from locals than attend curated tours and activities crafted by major travel companies.

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4 Ways to Practice Impact Travel

1. Book a stay at a socially conscious hotel. More hotels are urging guests in a way that’s more philanthropic, sustainable and ultimately creates a positive change within the community, according to Kind Traveler’s 2022 Impact Tourism Report. In practice, that means these hotels are hosting charity events with proceeds going to local NGOs, giving back through fees (i.e. 50 percent of the pet fee the XV Beacon Hotel in Boston collects is donated back to reputable local animal rescue) and initiating environmental projects such as beach cleanups, composting and avoiding single use plastics, among other initiatives.

2. Support local businesses. Instead of filling your itinerary with activities curated by some massive travel agency, look for a local, reputable agency instead. Ditch the chains in favor of mom-and-pop restaurants and bars, shop the local markets and check out an alt weekly or community newspaper for events taking place while you’re there. That way, you know for sure that your dollar is going directly into the community (and you get the most elite experience because, let’s face it, locals know all the hot spots).

3. Participate in eco-activities. Stargazing, glamping, hiking are all examples of outdoorsy activities you can enjoy without doing too much damage to the environment. Not only do they give you an opportunity for you to relax and unwind, but they’re also an innovative means to tour the area you’re visiting. In Belize, for example, you can visit the Community Baboon Sanctuary, which is managed by the Women's Conservation Group, and gives you the chance to check out more than 3,500 howler monkeys and see 250-plus species of birds. Similarly, the Mekong Elephant Park in Thailand also allows tourists to interact with the majestic mammals while bringing awareness and support to the protection of Asian elephants. Proof that responsible traveling doesn’t equal dull trip.

4. Travel during off seasons. While wanderlusters have utilized this tip as a travel hack, traveling during the off season is actually a good way to practice impact traveling. As the travel industry has seen a boom, the issue of overtourism—when there are too many tourists in one destination that the quality of life significantly diminishes for locals—has also risen. Instead of booking your vacation around Christmas, Memorial Day, Valentine’s Day or other major holidays, try gunning for a few weeks before or after. Not only will that alleviate the amount of traffic going into that destination, but it also means a more fulfilling trip for you, because you won’t have to compete with hordes of fellow visitors.

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