When the public learns of our traveling ventures 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 household rules, budget, and ideals still apply. 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. A gift for you and you and uncle bud. If I had to pinpoint the largest difference between living versus 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.
Things That Only Happen 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 too. Vacations are, sometimes, for these types of activities. One of the most detrimental parts about vacationing for yourself and the place you are visiting is when tourist bottleneck into stalls of products and “buy all the things” instead of going further out into the community to find the made by locals products. This is the case all over the globe!
Being mindful of the economy you are fueling with your money is something that no one wants to think about on vacation! Yet, if you were living there you would be genuinely concerned. The majority of the fine families I know, shop local whenever feasible. You do this because it brings some sense of self to know that your money is feeding and clothing the kids at the store.
It is also fueling the economy that you live and work in. You are a huge part of the equation. Why would that mindset not transfer over to vacations? The answer is pretty simple; vacations are for breaks from the ugly parts of life. The ugly part about vacations is that you can be surrounded by what a destination wants you to see. Just miles away, typically in sub-par conditions, is the elderly man carving the wooden sculpture you just purchased from the “gypsy stall” in town. Vacationers are too uncomfortable and unprepared to see these things. They won’t come back if they aren’t “happy” on their vacation.
Uncomfortable Story Time
Allow me to preface this story with the fact that I was not uncomfortable, but my husband (who rarely travels with me) was beyond uncomfortable. As a college graduation present to my husband, who was then my boyfriend, I took him to Jamaica. Being on a ridiculously tight budget I paid for the flights and hotel and he covered the food. Well, I love traveling. I love people, I am as “one love” as Jamaica is going to get.
Therefore, when we decided that we wanted something small to remember our trip by we went out searching for something we could actually afford. We set out on foot, away from what we were supposed to see. Eventually, we 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 attentively while the locals made beautiful products. The process of which we were never supposed to witness. Eventually, 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. It is more normal than not and not rude at all. He ran up to me later so excited that he got it for $15! He had done the first bartering of his life and I had done the same bartering on another item and gotten for $8 ahahahaha. There is an art form there.
The point of this story is that by going to the source everyone benefited. The old man made a killing off of my husband, but even the man I haggled with made the same amount he would have going through a middleman to market to the high tourist areas. If living on location and getting to know the locals is not an option for you; then being a responsible tourist has to 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. They are almost always worth it. Be leery of buying all the things, that is where the peri dime shifts. Because I am living not vacationing I plan out our week like I would if I were stateside. In each week, I try to do an outing (museum, excursion, tour, etc).
Also, each week I try to have a “no spend” day. The no spend days help make the other things possible. There is almost always a stay home day. Not necessarily for spending purposes, but because my small children need a chill day. Especially when sightseeing regularly and navigating busy cities. This schedule is similar to anything you might do in the U.S. So many families that I know have regular weekly appointments with friends and libraries, or never leave the house on Mondays just because everyone benefits.
In my personal opinion, the best place to funnel your tourist money into an economy is via 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 become not a tourist to that person and build a report with your surroundings. These good intentions are especially magnified when buying local produce and eating street vendor food. The same emotional and consumer benefits that you get from shopping at your local farmers market in the U.S. is available everywhere in the world. One of my favorite things to do is return to the same person time and time again. You are let into their lives and a relationship grows.
The Happy Medium
The best place to start changing your travel habits is with your food. Like I mentioned before, eat locally. Go to the questionable tables. Smile and shake hands with people. Compliment the cook. These are simple tools for improving your travel experiences for the rest of your life. If the sight of some food on the street makes you queasy you should probably buy some. If you see an elderly woman manipulating a vegetable or harvesting something on a sidewalk (cactus fruit in Mexico for example) you should stop and watch. Show your children what is happening. Ask questions. You will make their day! When you walk past tomorrow they will wave. You have just invested in the lives of everyone around you with almost no effort.
“But that scarf! Everyone needs one!” I completely understand this. They probably do “need one.” What I am asking of you is that you step off a few streets. Find the less trafficked areas and buy those scarves. 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. We do not go without souvenirs, but we do control it. My children get keychains from most destinations because it attaches to their packs and is easy to move around.
Changing the Mindset of Travel
All the things I have mentioned in this article are tangible, real results from traveling. You can affect the lives of your family and globally in a positive manner while still “relaxing” on vacation. The treat yourself mentality that seems to be prominent these days is poisoning not only us but everyone everywhere. The change that the world needs can be done on your vacations as well. If we all made a few comfort adjustments when planning vacations we would all be able to afford to take more of them. Living versus vacationing can be done anywhere and the long term effects of building relationships that bring you back time and time again are invaluable. It is possible to enjoy yourself and do good as you go. Get out there.