When the public learns of our traveling adventures with our children I typically get a response of “How nice! What a wonderful experience! I bet that was amazing!” It is all of those things, but it is also really challenging and significantly more difficult than people realize. The main reason for the difficulty is that I am not on vacation, I am living there. The difference between living and vacationing is sometimes so slight that we don’t realize our how our actions are affecting things like the household rules or family budget. When you are on vacation, more times than not, everything goes. Suddenly, “YOLO” is thrown around everywhere! We all gain ten pounds and drink too much. When you are living at a destination you have to keep yourself in check. Your household depends on it.
How many times have you gone on vacation and not left the resort? Better yet, how many times have you gone on vacation and bought “Christmas gifts for everyone!” Suddenly, you turn into Oprah. If I had to pinpoint the largest difference between living and vacationing, this would be it. I don’t buy souvenirs in my daily life. I think we can all agree that although Target is a difficult place to be budget conscious, we also don’t go there to get souvenirs. Your time abroad should be similar if you want to get the most out of your experience.
When On Vacation
How many of us have been on a cruise and eaten chicken nuggets at 2 am because we can? I am super guilty of this, too. Vacations are, sometimes, for these types of activities. One thing I notice is how most people purchase souvenirs from tourist traps and not the locals. When you’re on vacation, you don’t think about the local economy like you do when you are living there, even if temporarily.
Learning to Barter
As a college graduation present to my now-husband, then-boyfriend, I took him to Jamaica. Being on a ridiculously tight budget I paid for the flights and hotel and he covered the food. When we decided we wanted something small to remember our trip, we went out searching for something we could afford. We went exploring and stumbled upon what the government of Jamaica calls “squatter shacks.” All of the residents were making goods that they then sold to the bigger tourist vendors in town.
We watched while the locals made beautiful products. My husband found a lion head carving that he really enjoyed. They wanted $18 for it, which is probably the price it was going for in town. I told my husband to barter, as that is the norm and not considered rude. Bartering is an art form, one I’ve gotten really good at.
By going outside of the resort area, we were able to stimulate the economy. The artisan made more money than going through a middleman, even selling at a lower price. If living on location and getting to know the locals is not an option for you; then being a responsible tourist should be.
Living on Location
The desire to do every possible activity and buy all the pretty things is strong. Therefore, when I am living on location I try very hard, to find a happy balance. Usually, that balance comes in the form of experiences and food. You should try to do all the things on your list, you should not buy all the things. Because I am living, and not vacationing, I plan out our week like I would if I were stateside. Each week, I try to do one outing.
Also, each week I try to have a day where we don’t spend any money. And a day where we stay home. We don’t need to go nonstop. We do need to have family time and time to recharge our batteries.
I think the best way to funnel your tourist money into an economy is through food. This will also prove to be one of the greatest ways to make memories. When you eat abroad most of the time you can shake the hand of your cook, you can build a relationship with your local surroundings. Just like the familiarity you have with those at your local farmers market, the vendors and local restaurant owners will get to know you if you let them.
Finding the Balance
The best place to start changing your travel habits is with your food. Eat locally, smile and shake hands with people, and compliment the cook. These are simple tools for improving your travel experiences. Try something new, watch how street food is being prepared. Show your children what is happening, encourage them to ask questions.
I completely understand the desire to buy something. You may actually need what they are selling. But consider where and who you are buying it from. The best way to stay in control of your spending is to decide ahead of time what it is you would be most willing to buy. I say this because, when you are surrounded by beautiful, unique-to-that-country products you will want it all. Set your boundaries before you arrive.
Even now, we feel the same pull. We do not go without souvenirs, but we do control it. My children get keychains from most destinations because they attach to their packs and are easy to move around.
Changing Your Mindset About Travel
All the things I have mentioned are tangible, real results from traveling. You can affect the lives of your family- and the world – in a positive manner while still “relaxing” on vacation. The “treat yourself” mentality that seems to be prominent these days is poisoning everyone, everywhere.
The change that the world needs can be done through our living and vacationing. If we all made a few adjustments when planning vacations, we would all be able to take more of them. Living and vacationing can both be done anywhere, and the long term effects of building relationships are invaluable. It is possible to enjoy yourself and do good as you go. Get out there.