Photo by Scotty James Kunkel

The old adage that travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer is very true. I firmly believe that travel, especially solo travel, is one of the greatest self-growth experiences a human can have.

It’s a great investment that builds self-confidence, opens your mind and gives you a taste for the world. If everyone on the planet invested time and energy into learning about the wider world and it’s different people and cultures, I believe we’d have fewer barriers between humans due to a greater understanding and appreciation for humanity.

While travel is a great opportunity for self-growth and personal development, it also presents a greater opportunity to give something back to the world.

I was fortunate to travel a lot in my 20s, and in March, I’m boarding a one-way flight to Bangkok to travel around the world while running my business from my laptop.

So, for those who have resolved to make exploration a priority in 2017, here are my top four tips that I’ve learned along the way that can help you travel consciously, ethically and most importantly – to leave a positive impression on the world wherever you go.

01 | Use Local Vendors
When faced with an unfamiliar environment for the first time, it can be comforting to shop and eat in familiar, big-name chain restaurants and shops.

Instead of grabbing a slice at Pizza Hut, visit some of the local eateries and support the small independent restaurants. Your custom will usually go towards helping small family-run businesses, and you’ll discover lots of delicious new cuisine that you may never have even heard of before.

One of the things I love about Bangkok is the huge variety of incredible smells and tastes that assault your senses when walking down the street. There’s an endless stream of food carts serving up dishes that I never even knew existed. The added bonus is these places are always much cheaper than the big chains!

If you’re planning on cooking your own meals, then be sure to visit the local markets. Some of my favorite places to explore in Thailand are the local fresh food markets. You can buy exotic fruits that were literally just picked off the tree a few hours before and the selection is mind-blowing. There’s so many delicious fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs available at incredibly low-cost prices.

If you’d like to learn more about cooking local food, take a cooking class – many smaller, independent restaurants offer them. I took a fruit carving class in Chiang Mai and it was an incredible experience to learn how much attention to detail the locals invest into their food presentation.

If you do eat and shop at local businesses, write a review on TripAdvisor or their Facebook page – this is a very powerful way to help them generate new customers.

02 | Volunteer Abroad
Travelling shouldn’t always be about what you can gain from the experience. Give something back to the local community by volunteering.

There are so many ways to do this; why not volunteer to help out with an English lesson at a local school? Or spend the day at an orphanage or animal sanctuary and lend a helping hand.

Something I’m planning to try when I next travel is to teach my coding and entrepreneurial skills to children in less developed countries. Showing kids how to code and make money online has the potential to make a huge impact on their lives, and it will also be really fun!

03 | Learn the Local Language and Customs
Before you travel anywhere, you should at the very least be able to communicate using basic phrases in the local language.

Even if you only master “Hello” and “Thank You,” it’s considered polite and shows that you respect the local community.

Many travelers don’t bother, so make yourself stand out, it will only take a few minutes of your time to learn the basics.

Even if you find yourself struggling and you mess up, people will appreciate your effort and asking locals for help in speaking their language is a great way to get a conversation started. You may be pleasantly surprised at how often people will be willing to offer you a quick, friendly language lesson.

It’s also an opportunity for you to give something back too – I’ve made friends on my travels who don’t speak English as their first language, and they appreciate it when I help them with words or phrases they struggle with.

It’s easy to take your understanding of your native language for granted, but when you’re traveling you can be a great asset to someone else, and it costs you nothing to share some pointers.

04 | Respect Local Laws & Customs
It’s equally important that you also understand the local laws and customs, which may differ greatly from your home country.

One area to pay particular attention to is the dress code. If the locals find it inappropriate for men to walk around topless, or for women to show their shoulders, then it’s probably a good idea to keep your shirt on.

While this is certainly disrespectful, in certain countries you may even find yourself in serious trouble if you’re unaware of the laws, but it’s nothing a quick Google search can’t help you with before your trip.

05 | Go Green
Conscious travel isn’t just about leaving a positive footprint behind, it’s also about reducing your negative impact on the planet by adopting an eco-friendly mindset while you travel.

Use public transport when possible, rent a bicycle or simply walk. Walking is a great way to stay present, immerse yourself in a foreign environment and enjoy it slowly at your pace.

When planning your trip, find accommodation that is as close to the action as possible so you can reduce your travel times and also make your trip more convenient.

Stay in green hotels and hostels or use AirBnB if you can, if not – don’t worry – even small actions can make a difference. Re-use towels and sheets and switch off the air-conditioning while you’re out for the day. All these little things add up over time.

Why not make a New Year’s resolution to travel more? You can apply these tips, and you’ll have a much tastier, fun and social travel experience while knowing you’re leaving positive footprints everywhere you go!

At Conscious, we are inspired by stories that cause us to think differently and think big-picture, and so we set out to tell stories with the help of leaders and influencers within the social good community. You can read more stories like this when you join as a member.