The only thing we love more than a vacation is a vacation in a warm, beautiful place. Especially on the cusp of Spring when it’s not quite cold but not quite warm yet- a daiquiri on the beach seems just out of reach, which makes it that much more attractive. Give us palm trees, or give us…well, something other than a cubicle at least. The tropical beach destination is like The American Dream of vacations: overdone, ultra-idealized, but still something we cling to as a future goal to get us through the day-to-day. Like The American Dream, though, the tropical dream vacation does have its complications.
When we talk about standard tropical destinations, we’re usually (though not always) talking about tourism in developing countries. Jamaica, Belize, St. Lucia: all beautiful countries with complex histories and rich modern culture. Also countries that – due to circumstances historically out of their control – have struggled with poverty at decently high levels (a super insightful documentary on that here). But this disparity doesn’t have to be this pronounced. Luckily, there are very doable ways to make a positive economic impact as visitors.
It’s 2019, and what we now know is that people don’t need saving – they need business. Particularly on vacation, shopping local, eating local, and staying local are the best (and easiest) ways to leave a positive impact on your favorite destinations. It might seem small, but patronizing local business contributes to economic mobility in a big way – and keeps a community on its feet, so you can come back and enjoy the destination for years to come. Here are some of our best local picks for your next tropical adventure.
In terms of deciding where to stay, choosing a responsible option might just end up giving you a more exciting experience. Airbnb is an excellent place to start if you’re looking for a super unique place to stay, like a cottage on an iguana sanctuary or a riverside eco-retreat. Compared to resorts, Airbnb tends to make for a cheap vacation as well. The value here is that your beach house stay is directly benefiting local property owners, allowing them to set their own fair prices, and you’ll very likely get an awesome adventure out of it (beach daiquiri included). Pro tip: if you’re not yet set on a location, finding a stellar Airbnb and planning your trip around that location can be an awesome way to explore little-known neighborhoods and avoid tourist traps! Here are some killer rentals for inspiration:
Especially if your day is focused around enjoying the beautiful landscape, look to local businesses to get the full experience. Adventure sports like rafting, surfing, and hiking may be available at all the big resorts, but the difference in experience when your hike is led by someone who grew up there and knows all the best spots? Priceless. (Although, once again, small business will likely be kinder to your wallet…) Locally owned tourism agencies can seriously make the difference between a generic vacation and a really meaningful, exciting experience. Some great selections:
This one is a bit more of a no-brainer, but eating local is an easy, affordable, and authentic travel experience that puts your money to work in the most ethical way. And if you’re a die-hard for authenticity, local is the obvious way to go. Pro tip: street food/food made in a truck always tastes better. Sorry, we don’t make the rules. Here are some famous small restaurants loved by locals and vacationers alike – although we always encourage doing a little detective work to find the best hidden gems near your destination as well!
The overarching message here is pretty simple: keeping it local does the most good, for both you and your hosts. So next time you’re browsing for travel deals to your tropical paradise, do yourself (and your wallet) a favor and stay, play, and eat local to make that picture-perfect getaway even sweeter.