Over the past twenty years, the world has truly become a smaller place. Once hard to reach, remote parts of the planet that used to be only for the most adventurous of tourists, have become more accessible. Places like the Himalayas of Nepal, the tiny fishing villages of Southeast Asia and the bushland of the Maasai have opened their doors for travelers, allowing us to see their beautiful unique cultures as never before.
Although it is wonderful that more of the remote corners of the world are now accessible, it comes with a price. The negative impact of tourism on the environment, culture and people of a place, threatens it’s very own authenticity and landscape. This is why choosing sustainable travel is critical if we want to preserve and protect these destinations for the future.
My father and I have been trekking in remote places for decades and every place we go we use local trekking guides and companies. I honestly admit that the initial reasons behind our choice were purely convenience and economical. However, the more we began using local guides, it became clear how incredibly rewarding and important it is to hire locally. Not only do you get a more intimate cultural experience by getting to see a country through their eyes, your investment also greatly supports the local community in which you are visiting. By hiring local, all money you spend on your trip is directly reinvested back in that very place that is so special instead of profiting an international corporation who only has financial interests to gain.
Furthermore, the cross-cultural friendships and understanding that are made and shared by hiring local are priceless. Not only does it create goodwill, it brings a new perspective and understanding on both sides of the relationship. As a client, you get to learn as much as possible about a culture, history, society, life, flora and fauna and environment. As a guide, you gain a better understanding of people who are so different from those portrayed in the media. Together, you can create life-long friendships that promote cultural understanding and peace.
Here are three examples of why supporting local guides matters.
The very first big trekking trip I took was to Nepal in 2010 with my father. We had hiked together for many years in the US and did our first small multi-day trek to follow the Inca Trail in Peru. This time we wanted something longer, and more daring and adventurous. We wanted Nepal.
A year before booking our trip, I never would have even imagined going on a trek in Nepal. It felt like a place that only existed in my imagination or across the glossy pages of National Geographic. Yet a timely article on trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal peaked my interest and made me realize that this far away dream could be possible for a stay-at-home mother of two. My dad and I were both approaching a milestone birthday so we decided to step out of our comfort zone and go for it.
Our trip to Nepal to hike the Annapurna Circuit was one of the best travel and cultural experiences of my life. By chance, we chose Nepali-based Earthbound Expeditions, an award-wining responsible travel company that we had heard about in the New York Times. The price was right, the staff was local and they had excellent reviews. Little did I know, this connection would begin a life-long commitment to hiring local and giving back.
The wonderful, charismatic owner Rajan has been running the company for years, employing a local crew of guides and porters who were delighted to share their culture with their guests. On our trip, we had a Hindu guide and a Buddhist porter with us the entire time who taught us about their unique cultures, heritage, history and geology of their land. We stayed at local tea houses that support the remote villages of Himalayan Nepal.
At the end of the trip Rajan connected me with local initiatives to help support rural Nepali communities upon my return. Inspired by such an amazing, life-changing experience I fundraised enough money to build two reading centers in rural Nepal thanks to the contacts made by Earthbound Expeditions. It opened my eyes and heart to an entirely new way to travel. One with purpose and meaning.
My next big hiking trip was to the Condoriri Valley of Bolivia, a place only known by experienced climbers. This time we did a google search of the area we wanted to visit and found a slough of trekking outfitters offering tours. The expensive US and International corporate brands popped up on the list, offering the same package for double the price. Yet once again we chose local and found Andean Summits, a small locally-run climbing and trekking outfitter based in La Paz. Founded in 1994 by two best friends, Javier Thellaeche and José Camarlinghi, Andean Summits has been bringing travelers to some of the most remote peaks of Bolivia, all by employing local staff and using sustainable, environmentally friendly practices.
During our four-day trek, we camped alone at the foot of the Condoriri Valley and had beautiful, homemade indigenous meals by our cook Eugenia. The entire staff from the driver down to the muleteers (a husband and wife team who supplies the mules to help carry our camp to the base of the mountains) were local. It was a beautiful, intimate experience.
Last July I joined the non-profit Solar Sister and climbed Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funding to bring solar electricity to Sub-Saharan Africa. As an avid hiker, I had wanted to climb Kilimanjaro for years but realized that it had become a rather popular adventure and it seemed like everyone was climbing Kilimanjaro. I needed to find a way to bring more meaning to what I was doing and to give back. Thus, I joined the Solar Sister team an international, inner-generational group of people wanting to make a difference.
As part of our climb, each member fundraised enough to provide training for 8 new women Solar Sister entrepreneurs and bring light and electricity to their community. It was a beautiful mission.
For our trip, our lead guide was American however our entire support team and staff of 30 were all local Tanzanians. Unlike Nepal where the rules are often broken, the Tanzanian government has strict policies on ethical labor. Each porter had to weigh in the bag before heading off as no bags could weigh more than 33 pounds. Porters also receive fair wages and a big part of their income is based on tips. Although porters spend a lot of time away from their families, the income earned is often much better than other opportunities and helps send their kids to school.
What I loved most about my experience was the giving back component. I strongly believe that it is a gift to travel so being able to give back to Tanzania through my fundraising was quite an amazing feeling. The thrill and honor of summiting Kilimanjaro wasn’t only for my own personal gain, it impacted women I’d never know in Tanzania. For me, perhaps it was the greatest gift of all.
As travelers, we have a choice. We can go with international brands and companies or we can purposely chose to support local. As the world continues to open up to tourism, let’s use our money wisely to promote sustainable tourism. Just think of the amazing impact and difference we can make.
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This post was written as part of Travel + Social Good, a community of change makers united by a love of exploration and doing good. Every month, a group of dedicated travel journalists and bloggers will share stories about sustainable travel. To follow along on Twitter search #travelgood.
Excellent idea and article thirdeyemom.
I love your message and am happy there are travelers like you around the world 🙂 Keep up the great work. *Thumbs up*
Thank you so much! I just joined a new sustainable travel group of bloggers who are trying to bring awareness to the importance of sustainable, ethical travel. This is my first post and I will try to write something new each month on the topic. 🙂
Very cool, thats awesome to hear! I am actually working towards a sustainable lifestyle and live in an RV…. Hoping to find land and build a tiny home. Its the new American Dream!! Haha. Nice chatting with you.
Wonderful! that sounds pretty fantastic!
Great Post! s
Thanks! 🙂 I’m in a new travel writing group that supports and brings awareness to sustainable travel. This is my first post!
I’m with you on supporting local guide and economy. great write up!
Thanks so much! 🙂 Go local!
local guides are so great! I feel like the experience is much more authentic and they’re not looking to take you to the more touristy spots or shops 🙂
Thanks so much for the comment! Yes you truly learn so much more with local guides and it makes the entire experience so much more amazing. I was surprised in Nepal to see so many people using REI as their guides. What would you learn about the country if you were with a bunch of Americans? Plus the price was triple what we paid and little money gets reinvested back.
This was something I became acutely aware of in the Galapagos Islands where I became mostly aware of the impact of tourism as well as the effect of booking & touring through international companies. I think for me it has been convenience but I will think differently in the future.
Thanks so much for sharing this piece with me!
Such a great post, Nicole. I am totally on board with using local guides for all the same reasons. I am slowly catching up with all the posts I have missed. I always enjoy seeing your posts in my inbox and savor each one. 🙂
Thanks Debbie for the comment! Hope your trip was amazing! I can’t wait to see all your posts!!!
Great inspiration and a great, practical approach for visiting these amazing places that feel a bit out of reach…
Thanks so much!
Nicole a local guide becomes an invaluable resource on such trips. Gorgeous photos as always from your amazing adventures.
Thanks Sue! I appreciate your kind words! Yes, local is so incredibly important in so many ways.
Just another side of buying local, Nicole. 🙂
Yes indeed Janet! I even buy local here in MN.
I’m so with you on going local when we travel, makes it so much more authentic and real and sustains their communities. This is an inspiring post Nicole, travel with purpose and dedication to improving the lives of others, I just love it. I deeply admire that you’re constantly giving back to the communities you visit.
Thanks so much Miriam! 🙂
I’m glad you have written this blog so that many people can understand the importance of hiring local guides wherever they travel. David and I help with a local hiking program in Oaxaca, and in the information we send to participants we always point out why using the indigenous guides in the mountain villages is so necessary -1) this is their land and we need to appreciate that they are welcoming us into their lives 2) they have lived there all their lives and know the forests, plants, and medicinal uses for many of the plants, and they willingly share their knowledge. 3) they want to stay in the villages instead of going to cities or to the US to work, and guiding provides them with income they are proud of 4) we build relationships, friendships, and understanding when we communicate 5) and certainly not the least – we don’t get lost!
We have noticed that almost all hikers, no matter how limited their Spanish, make an effort to talk to the guides.
Beautiful and well said Marilyn! Yes, all these reasons are so critical as to why using local guides matters! Thank you!!!
This is such an important topic and you have addressed it so well. Giving back by empowering locals in areas we travel to is a wonderful way to show appreciation. Congratulations on having impact. Its great to read a travel blog which incorporates impact and environmental consciousness. Thank you for this excellent and important post!
Thanks so much Peta! I’m so glad we connected! 🙂
I do agree Nicole, it’s so much better to use local guides and tour companies. We’ve always had good experiences. Now taxi drivers – that’s another issue altogether . . . . .
Thanks Alison! Yes, taxi drivers. I’ve had lots of interesting conversations with them. My 2 hour drive from Managua to Granada in Nicaragua was all in Spanish and I think I understood about half of it. But it was fascinating to see what was on his mind. “Jesus” and “rich people”. I got the impression that he was quite religious and could also get a sense for the immense class issues in the country. Lots of have nots and very few haves.
You make a great point. Local guides are almost always cheaper and allow more flexibility too. I usually decide at the last minute to do something and local guides are often more flexible.
Thanks for commenting! 🙂
This is absolutely a good point. Why wouldn’t you use local guides?! Well, I for one am used to go on hikes and trekking on my own whether in Nepal or Bolivia, but often now I find myself using local guides more in order to support the local man and woman than out of necessity. We can make a difference!
Thanks Otto! And you learn so incredibly much. Without that interaction, I wouldn’t learn half as much as I do about a place I’m visiting. Got to talk with the locals!