Share a meal in a local household
Eatwith.com and Mealsharing.com connect travelers with people in host countries who love to entertain. Prices vary. Eight other guests and I recently paid $49 each, staying past midnight sharing food, wine, and conversation in the home of a French journalist covering the yellow vest protests in Paris. Saigon Hotpot sets up meals in university students’ homes as well as city and street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City.
Trade off hosting
More than 2,000 households in 48 states and 50 countries participate in the Affordable Travel Club, a Washington state-based hospitality exchange group for people over 40. Hosts offer an extra bedroom, breakfast, and an hour of their time to acquaint travelers with the area. Members pay a gratuity of $15 (single) or $20 (double) per night to defray costs, but most hosts open their homes for the experience of meeting new people rather than the income.
Walk and talk
Spend time with a Global Greeter volunteer who likes sharing what they love most about their hometown. Greeters act not as guides, but as new friends in destinations all over the world. I recently hung out with Valerie, 42, a volunteer in Lyon, France, wandering through the city’s network of underground passages and visiting her favorite places, such as sampling oysters and white wine at a Sunday market. The service is free, although visitors are welcome to make an online donation to the Greeters network.
Sleep where your dollars make a difference by staying in independently owned hotels, small inns, and homestays rather than internationally owned chain hotels. Look for hotels that partner with nonprofit organizations to train and employ disadvantaged youth. The Responsible Travel Guide Cambodia led me to Robam Inn in Siem Reap, whose owners returned to start the business after taking refuge in Canada during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Eat and shop at places dedicated to fair trade. Consult listings on the World Fair Trade Organization’s website. Explore beyond tourist areas where small entrepreneurs can’t always afford the high rents. This is how I found Belil, an art gallery and cafe in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, selling textiles made by a women’s weaving cooperative.
Use local, independent guides. University students working for tips often guide tours listed on freetour.com, a website that offers group walks in dozens of cities worldwide. Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, sponsors “Reality Tours” focused on relationship-building and promoting local economies. An upcoming trip to Palestine will include homestays with farmers during the fall olive harvest and visits with fair trade cooperatives on the West Bank.