Where do you book your accommodation when you travel? Where do you eat? And what activities do you do during your trip? These are all important questions to ask if you want to travel more responsibly and have an even more valuable travel experience. In this blog post I will tell you more about how I made my trip to Sri Lanka better by thinking about those questions. Apart from that it will make your travel experience more rewarding, it also makes you a more responsible traveller. How? Below I share some ideas with you on how to do so!
Stay in an Airbnb
Okay, with this I do not mean staying in a tourist apartment that just happens to be offered on Airbnb. For it to be actually responsible, I mean booking an Airbnb that is still based upon the initial idea of home sharing. So either you book someone’s apartment while they owners are away, or even better, you stay in a part of the house while the owners are also living there. To some people this sounds a bit strange or scary even. However, having a local travel experience could possibly make your stay so much more valuable. While travelling through Sri Lanka, we booked an Airbnb in Unawatuna in the house of a local Sri Lankan family. By renting out the upper floor of their house they were making money to support themselves and to eventually be able to send their kids to university, something that is still very rare in Sri Lanka. The whole family was very welcoming and enjoyed interacting with us, as we did with them.
Our host did not only do his best to make us have the most pleasant stay, he also took us on a tour through Galle and the surrounding areas explaining so much about the recent developments in the area, the local culture and his family. The final night of our stay, all of a sudden we got invited to join our host to a wine tasting in a 5 star (!) hotel where he used to work before he started his own Airbnb. We had a lovely evening and it was just so much fun for all of us to exchange stories about our countries and cultures, and of course, drink some fancy wines. This made us realize that the best travel experiences can happen when you do not plan for them. And honestly, this was actually the best stay we had during our three-week vacation in Sri Lanka, so if you happen to be there, make sure to book at the Old Chili House in Unawatuna!
Book a local travel guide
Taking tours with local residents rather than bigger touring companies has the advantage that the story you hear will be more spontaneous, unscripted and tailored to what you find interesting. I’m not saying all big tour companies are bad, but it has happened to me quite often that the story being told was just so rehearsed that it might as well have been a recording that was being played, leaving no room for genuine interaction. Booking a tour with an individual thus has great advantages in my opinion ánd benefits the local travel guide which makes it the more responsible travel option. There are many options for this nowadays, but in Sri Lanka we decided to book something with the platform The Local Package, a Dutch initiative that offers personal and small scale accommodation options, often combined with an activity such as a tour with the host. Because these places are run by local owners and located in more remote areas, you do not only have a unique experience, you also support local communities while travelling.
Our destination is Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the only piece of rainforest in Sri Lanka where we stayed two nights in a local guesthouse including a jungle trek of six hours through the forest. From the beginning, it’s clear why you need a local guide to go into the forest. The path is narrow and there are hardly any signs for directions. Moreover, our eyes are not trained to spot all the cool animals hiding in the rainforest. Only because of our super knowledgeable guide with a biology background, we got to see rare species of monkeys, birds and poisonous snakes. On top of that we were the only ones taking the tour so we could ask all the questions we had and enjoy the rainforest at our own pace.
Eat, sleep and tour with local entrepreneurs
So I guess you get the message by now, the key idea is to engage with locals as much as you can to make your experience more meaningful and be a more responsible traveller! If you book with small local entrepreneurs, they will benefit most from your visit. If you stay in a larger hotel, book a tour with a big tour operator or eat at a restaurant that is part of a commercial chain, chances are that big (international) investors are involved and the money you spend does not trickle down to the locals working there. If you start being more conscious about this, your trip will probably become a bit more uncertain, you will not always know what to expect and surprises may be waiting for you. But since these surprises can be really good it might be worth taking some chances and see how it can make your travel experience so much better.