Empowerment: the feeling of self-worth, self-determination, and self-progress.
Traveling has the opportunity to empower the traveller: taking new risks, being independent, and garnering new skills are all ways in which those who travel return home feeling enhanced in their senses of self-worth, self-determination, and self-progress.
But traveling can empower more than just the person taking the journey; it can likewise empower those who live in the lands where we sojourn. It is how you travel that determines whether or not this takes place.
Every community you ever visit will be impacted by your travel. Every. Single. One. In western society especially, we often assume this “impact” will automatically be positive – but there is no guarantee. In order to ensure that your impact is positive – that you empower while traveling – you ought to be mindful throughout the entire process of the journey.
This may seem like an unrealistic task but, in fact, it’s quite simple. Em + power = power. The ’em’ is a prefix used in English to transform a noun or adjective into a verb. To empower is literally to give/espouse power to an individual.
Empowering people simply takes viewing people as having power. And consciously making travel choices that give those people power.
“What power do I have as a tourist?” Your money. Your travel choices. Your interactions.
- How you spend your money can empower. So think about who you wish to empower with that money. When I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I did a lot of homework to ensure that I was supporting a local Tanzanian business. When I visit any country I do must best to frequent local restaurants – not just to get to know the culture, but because I want to support the local economy of the community I am visiting. Try small arts and crafts shops, local community farmer’s markets, and smaller tourism companies as ways to use money to empower.
- Your travel choices. Some of the most horrific practices in our world – human trafficking, child labour, enslavement – exist because there is demand. Make sure that your travel choices are ones that avoid these horrific actions. This may mean avoiding certain locations, establishments, or purchases. It might also mean giving to a reputable charity rather than the child begging on the street. Do a bit of research before you go if you intend to donate, make a large purchase, or visit an area that is known for risky behaviour.
- Your interactions. You have the ability to positively impact every person that you meet. Whether it’s your taxi driver, your restaurant server, your hotel receptionist, or the person parking your rental car at valet, you have the ability to make that person feel empowered, even a little bit, in the way in which you share an interaction. So be courteous. Be kind. Be respectful. My work in the developing world has brought me into contact with too many travellers who treat individuals as ignorant simply because they are uneducated or do not share the same language. Every individual has worth. Look into their eyes. Get to know them. And in that small moment of that small interaction you, too, will be empowered.
In international development scholarship, ’empowerment’ has been criticized as being another buzzword rather than a practical tool for positive impacting individuals. In my view, we always impact people in whatever we do, especially when travelling where we enter communities with so many economic, geographic, and social choices. Use your choices effectively. When travelling, choose to empower.