On our travels through foreign countries, we often get so focused on our own experience we forget about the lives around us.
As fortunate as we may be, others are often in a different circumstance.
Here are a few ways we could all look to make a local’s day.
1. Candy or Sweets for children in remote villages
As I rode through the villages, the children stopped their games to run out to the street and wave as I passed by.
They rarely see tourists in these remote areas.
I was regularly greeted by the smiling faces of children.
The mountain villagers are incredibly friendly.
I’d see them only for a brief moment, but they acted as if my passing through was the most exciting part of their day.
I always wanted to return the favor but never really did.
It wasn’t until after my trip that I thought to bring a big bag of sweets with me.
I could have stopped along the way to pass them out to the kids and say hello.
Some sort of innocent gift just to say hi.
I wrote the idea down in my journal to remember for a future trip.
2. Sitting down and having a casual conversation with someone
One thing, in South East Asia, that caught me off guard was the intense curiosity locals had about life in America.
It’s a great privilege to travel and learn about other cultures.
I often take for granted what I can offer those who don’t have the same opportunity.
I made an extra effort whenever someone asked about life in America to be really open with them.
America is the greatest producer of media, but the media rarely reflects what life is actually like.
So many locals were curious to hear the truth about the place they see on TV every day.
I made an effort to converse with people who didn’t speak English too.
It’s incredible how far we got with Google translate.
I once talked for hours with an older Vietnamese cafe owner and his wife.
They didn’t speak any English, but we found ourselves comparing stories of how their children grew up vs how my sisters and I did.
So many tourists lose sight of the commonalities we have with everyone around the world.
It says a lot about ourselves when we sit down and talk with locals and acknowledge them as equals.
It opens us up to new ways of looking at their culture.
3. Buying from or Trading a hot meal with people selling rice on the highways
I regularly saw these rickety wooden stands along the highway.
They stood empty most of the time but occasionally, I’d see young girls selling rice or similar commodities out of them.
I had no idea under what pretenses they were doing this.
I passed by every single one without a second thought.
My eyes were opened after reading this article.
I now understand what it would have meant to these girls to have purchased bought something from them.
Malnutrition among women is a serious issue in these countries.
What little nutritional sustenance they have goes to the men first, the children next, and if there is anything leftover the women third.
On the rare occasion they have a surplus of rice or vegetables, the women try to sell it in makeshift stands along the highways.
The little money they get goes towards other food or clothing for the family.
There’s a real opportunity here to make their day when you see them.
Buying rice or other things from them could mean the first real meal they’ve eaten all week.
I thought about that article some more and had another idea.
What if you took it a step further and traded them a real meal for what they had to offer?
Imagine trading a whole roast for some rice?
I bet they’d be pretty excited.
4. Tipping even when it’s not expected
I recently watched a travel vlog video by John Cena.
Yeah, that John Cena!
Apparently he makes travel vlogs now.
In the episode I watched, he showed off some of his favorite street foods in China.
While at his favorite stand, he tipped the lady serving him.
She tried to refuse as it is not custom to receive tips there.
John refused to take the money back and insisted she keep it.
There was some back and forth, but John didn’t budge.
The smile on her face when she realized there was no way he was taking the money back was priceless.
Tipping is not common in most countries, and is often refused at first.
People will eventually give in if you genuinely insist.
I consider it a great compliment for a job well done.
Often it doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day.
A dollar or two here and there is pocket change for many while it mean’s the world to others.
You wan’t to really surprise someone?
Tip in american currency.
5. Helping with a community project.
While travelling through remote areas, it’s not uncommon to see an entire village roll up their sleeves to help a neighbor.
It’s rare for villagers in the places I visited to have enough money to hire professionals.
Instead they rely on their community to pitch in.
As the saying goes, many hands make light work.
While you might not be accustomed to the construction methods of the region, they would likely love some help.
It’s a great opportunity to bond with locals.
Learn three words in the local language, “May I Help?”
They might be a bit confused at first, but if you insist you genuinely want to participate with no alternative motive, they’ll likely be happy to share the load.
6. Buying a round of beers for a group
After a long ride through Laos, I decided to give my arse a rest at an open air cafe.
Besides my lonesome, the only other people around was a group of local businessmen enjoying a care free afternoon.
They were drinking and chatting up a storm.
The beer at this cafe was extremely cheap.
I thought, “what the hell.”
I bought a few big beers for the group.
It probably cost me five dollars total.
While I didn’t speak a word of their language and they didn’t speak a word of mine, they found their own way to say thank you.
Alcohol is often the international language of friendship.
Most people in the world speak beer.
The best news is beer is cheap.
Even in countries where alcohol is heavily taxed, a round of beer still won’t blow a travel budget.
I like to offer to buy the first round for the group I’m hanging out with, or my personal favorite it to buy a round for a group of complete strangers.
It’s the easiest way to make friends.
7. Leaving a gift for a host
While scrolling through Facebook at a coffee shop in Hue, Vietnam, I couldn’t believe what I came across.
The guy I bought my motorcycle from months before, posted a picture of himself in a bar I visited the night before.
We met 2000 miles away and ended up in the same town again.
I hit him up and asked what he was up to.
He told me he was helping a local start a new hostel in town.
Immediately, I checked out of my current hostel and moved over to their’s.
My friend introduced me to the owner and I ended up spending a week with them.
I had a great time.
My experience was so good that I wanted to give back in some way.
I offered to make a little walk through video of their hostel as a gift.
I didn’t expect anything for it, but the owner was extremely grateful.
He comped my entire stay.
It was unexpected, but awesome none the less.
Gifts can come in many forms, but they are a common way to brighten someone’s day.
Had a particularly memorable stay with a local homeowner?
A small gift can help to show just how much you appreciated their company.
8. Donating to a cause
The UXO museum in Laos, paints a hard to swallow picture of the nation’s state.
I was shocked to see just how terrible the living conditions are.
In the rural areas of the country, most people can’t risk farming around their village because the land is full of explosives!
While nearing the Laos border, I witnessed with my own eyes the devastation these explosives cause.
I came across several villages with people disfigured from the explosives. Those sights have sat with me long after my visit.
Each year I donate some money to cope Laos.
They provide prosthetics to the Laotion people.
I’ve never met anyone who has directly benefited from my donations, but I know someone’s life was likely changed for the better.
That’s enough for me.
There’s an endless list of ways to donate to a local cause.
You could donate directly or through an organization, but that money is likely going to change someone’s life in a big way.
9. Bring Supplies
A friend I met while travelling through southern Vietnam organized camping trips for friends.
I joined him on one of his trips and he told me about his hopes to host camping adventures as a business one day.
After going on that trip with him I could see there was a real opportunity for this.
Spending a night out in the Vietnamese country side is an experience most tourists never get to try.
He told me one of the big challenges to start his business was getting quality camping gear.
The camping gear he rents from another business is poorly built.
I told him when he gets more serious about camping I would help him source quality camping gear.
I have a few connections in the states with a company that sells great quality gear at wholesale prices.
It’s not uncommon for people in remote areas to not have access to quality supplies.
Even when the average cost of goods is cheaper like in Vietnam, the cost for quality goods can be even higher than in the United States.
Those name brand products have to be imported and shipped.
Helping local’s access valuable supplies is a great way to help them out.
I have another friend in the states who ships trucks over to African countries.
She’s made a business out of it.
10. Gift of Teaching
In Hanoi, while heading back to my hotel, I was stopped in the streets by a young boy.
He told me he was learning English and asked if he could practice on me for a few minutes.
I was a little skeptical at first.
A lot of people who approached me in the streets were running a number of scams.
Organizers even get the kids involved.
I approached the situation cautiously, but it turned out this kid really did just want to practice his English.
He asked me a few questions and I’d answer them.
Then I challenged him with a few questions of my own.
English is a coveted skill around the world.
Some kids in foreign countries are lucky to have parents who send them to school.
Not all kids are that lucky.
Many foreigners teach English in foreign countries to cover travel expenses.
It’s a great profession, but there are a lot of kids who rely on learning outside the classroom.
An open minded conversation with a local in English is a great way to help them practice their English.