My cow is named after a chicken! Well to be more accurate, after Thai chicken soup. Years ago, a friend telephoned from Thailand. I’d visited his village near Chiang Mai the year before, and in between meeting his family and neighbors, I helped with the daily chores: picking flowers for the dinner salad, and slogging through thick, deep mud to take the cows out to graze.
When one of the cows died, I got the call. “Can you buy me a cow”? I had never been asked that question before, so I agreed. My reward was a photo of the cow, with a note attached to tell me that she was named “Tom Ka Gai”, after my favorite Thai chicken soup. The next year, I added three more cows to the herd. The village gained a supply of milk, my friend gained status in the village by negotiating the deal, and I felt great that I had done something tangible to pay back the village that had been so hospitable to me. With all due respect to Bart Simpson, “Having a Cow” can be a great feeling!
Giving, in the context of travel/global citizenship, is one of the most energizing and rewarding activities in which travelers can participate. Here are 8 “giving” suggestions travel advisors can share with their clients.
1. Give yourself.
When you travel, you can either observe or participate. Observing aspects of the destination that the tour guide points out (on your left … on your right) is one way of learning about a destination. But the trend these days, for all generations of travelers, is to get involved as the saying goes, by “doing, chewing, quaffing, laughing, walking, talking, assisting and existing.” The idea is to travel with purpose. You can still sit on a beach, enjoy an all-inclusive, indulge in ultra-luxury, but at the same time you can leave a lasting impression of yourself with the people you meet and with the destination itself.
2. Give your laughter.
It was like a scene in a cowboy movie. When I entered the restaurant in Beijing, the place went quiet. I don’t speak Mandarin. No one spoke English. None of the staff wanted to take my order. Finally, a timid server approached and using "charades," I ordered chicken and rice. The other patrons were amused. I took advantage of the easing tension by holding my menu upside down, and pretending to read it. The whole restaurant broke out in laughter. One man offered to buy me a beer. The rest of the meal was relaxed, friendly and delicious!
3. Give your conversation.
Go out of your way to talk to people. It’s the best way to gain insight into the country, culture, traditions, food and attractions. And when you don’t speak the language, the conversation is often more meaningful. During a visit with a family in Mongolia, my guide told me that the father wanted me to join him for a horseback ride. Riding side by side, we used hand gestures and facial expressions to learn about our respective families and our very different lifestyles. It was a memorable "conversation" and helps explain why Mongolia is one of my favorite destinations.
4. Give your understanding.
Traveling overseas with North American expectations of service and efficiency can lead to frustration and disappointment. When our car broke down outside of Kandy in Sri Lanka, the driver started to tinker with the engine but could not fix it. There was nothing we could do except wait and hope. Eventually, a tuk-tuk appeared and our driver arranged for us to be driven back to Colombo. On arrival, the tour company offered a refund for our inconvenience but we declined as we didn’t want the driver to be penalized. We met him the next day and his eyes told us that we made the right decision.
5. Give your sense of fairness.
In many countries, bargaining for goods is fairly standard. Novice travelers often try to beat the price down as much as possible, rather than negotiate a fair price that they and the seller can live with. In Aswan, Egypt I saw a statue of the cat goddess, Bastet. I tried to get it at a very low price and then when the seller would not budge, I walked out of the store, thinking he would run after me and accept the silly price that I wanted to pay. It didn’t happen. Serves me right! To this day, I regret not having that statue.
6. Give your empathy.
On many trips — including Thailand, Kenya, Borneo and Jamaica — we made arrangements to visit local schools and give the teachers pens, pads of paper and toys. Some travelers help to build houses or dig water wells. Some give money for specific projects or causes. The proactive approach is to take steps to empower individuals and communities to better their situation through education and/or to start a small business.
7. Give your respect.
It goes without saying that when you visit a destination, you are a guest, and guests don’t litter or throw cigarette butts on the street, or deface property, or help themselves to historic objects when "no one is looking," or take photos of people without asking permission, or wear lots of bling or high fashion in areas where the locals are doing their laundry in a stream. It’s a matter of traveling with respect.
8. Give your cheer.
Positivity can be addictive. It affects your fellow travelers and the locals you meet along the way. In Kenya, no one ever said anything to the old, white-haired gardener. But when I said “Jambo, Jambo Papa” one day, his eyes lit up. So, every morning I would greet him. On the last day of my trip, the gardener and I shook hands and looked into each other’s eyes for a few seconds. That was 30 years ago, but it was like yesterday.
Remind your clients that their travel experience doesn’t end when they fly home. It becomes part of their psyche, provenance and global profile. We can all learn the lasting effects of understanding that travelers benefit by interacting with a destination, and the destination benefits by connecting with travelers. Something to think about during this "giving" time of year.