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Alison Bing has filled 45 Lonely Planet travel guidebooks with solid recommendations, leaving out many options she road-tested that aren’t strictly advisable – including accepting dinner invitations from cults and trusting the camel to know the way. Travel has informed her work with pioneering nonprofits worldwide, including American Documentary Inc., Ethiopian Midwives Association, Fair Trade USA, Frontline/WORLD, National Education Association, and National Public Radio. When not consulting at Google Brand Studio, she writes stories on travel, art and food for the BBC, NBC, Lonely Planet, Telegraph, Guardian, New York Times, Cooking Light and sundry other global outlets.
Suitcase space. Make room to accommodate specific requests from destination nonprofits, and colleagues or friends who want to share a memento with friends or family there. Carrying a little extra weight is a small but tangible act of kindness that creates powerful bonds.
Research skills. You know this from professional experience: to maximize positive impact, you must do advance research. So before you even buy a ticket, research where you might want to go, stay, eat and do – and use impact as a filter. Don’t count on locals to educate you once you’re there – they might not have the time, and they might not know.
Willingness to go the extra mile … or 30. Every dollar you spend in rural areas is circulated through the community 4-10 times more than in cities. But looking at travel industry data, most people don’t venture more than 2 hours beyond city limits. That’s a lost opportunity for rural areas, but it’s our loss as travelers, too. We’re missing out on enriching experiences in absolutely beautiful places. Sometimes these places are not set up for tourists, so you have to do extra research to find out how your visit can be mutually rewarding.
A passion or belief that transcends borders. This could be a big idea like net neutrality, or refugee support – a Google Brand Studio colleague of mine, Ryan, just came back from a 20% project setting up wifi at Syrian refugee camps in Greece. He’s also a doodler, because: Google. People in the camp wanted him to draw them, so he did – and they offered him tea in return. Now the refugees he bonded with over tea have wifi to connect with family in other places, and they have world-class avatars, too. He’s allowed me to bring some with me today. But there are other ways to follow your passions to a positive impact besides doodling – like eating. I’ll explain how.
Information. Open source your discoveries. Join forces and networks with the people you meet. Widen the circle for people to be heard, and get to know each other. And one day, you may be invited to hang out with people whose work you sincerely admire – and you won’t have to show up empty-handed, or wonder what you have to offer. You’ll have some information they might be able to use to make their next trip more meaningful. This just happened to me, right now. Next time it’s your turn. Let’s make this exponential.