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Why Giving Back May Be the Best Travel Experience

Article by Nicki Allen 10.11.2016 Photographed by Trey Ratcliff

For photographer Trey Ratcliff, having a global perspective on social and environmental responsibility is an essential part of meaningful travel.  But when the New Zealand photographer met some local children during his visits in Bali and India, he had a whole new appreciation for social and environmental responsibility.  Here, Ratfcliff shares why thinking globally about service and responsibility is important and what has made his Community Footprints experiences so special.

What’s the importance of giving back in locales that may not be your own neighborhood or even country?

I speak all over the world, and one thing that ties all people together is art, creativity — and photography. It's universal, like music and dance. These are things that all humans love. Sometimes the best way to give back is not necessarily with money or goods, but inspiration. We now live in a world where anyone can be creative, make art and help shape the world. It doesn't matter where those seeds grow.

Why did you get involved with Community Footprints during your travels?
I love teaching and sharing. The energy that comes back to me is even more than I give. It's also so nice to get notes after an event — sometimes years after the event. Showing one thing or sharing another can have a huge impact on the outcome of someone's life.

When I was staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Bali, the General Manager and I were speaking about a program I could participate in.  One of the programs the hotel supports is through an on-going partnership with a nearby orphanage, where the Ladies and Gentlemen of the hotel provide unique opportunities to disadvantaged young people.  He saw an opportunity for me teach these young participants about photography, and arranged a few hour photo walk around the hotel. We started on the beach and walked around the property, then ended back inside for some snacks and a little presentation of places from around the world. We had a Q&A about art and creativity. It was so much fun!

Why has working with children been an important part of the experience?

The kids in Indonesia were amazing! When they see me, an adult, acting like a kid — creating, laughing, being silly and not taking anything too seriously — they really light up. I hope I inspire them to be creative and share and do whatever they want in life. And I learn from them. They seem so thankful for every little thing. It's a great lesson for all cultures and all ages.

Is there a specific moment or person that has stayed with you from your Community Footprints experiences?
When we were with the children in Indonesia, I pulled out my drone. We launched it together, and the kids gathered around to look at my screen to see live footage from above. They all took turns flying it and taking photos. They all screamed, "We are like flying birds! We are birds!"

Community Footprints aims to contribute through volunteering for causes important to local communities, like child well-being, hunger and poverty relief, and environmental responsibility. What was your experience like?

I've had many great experiences with The Ritz-Carlton Community Footprints programs all over the world, but one of the best was in Bangalore, India. I had my wife and three children with me. The kids lead a bit of a sheltered life here in New Zealand, so they don't really see that billions of people around the world would never complain if they didn't get their favorite thing behind the glass at Starbucks. We went in and fed and entertained a wonderful group of people there. My son even got on the guitar to play them some songs. I think it's good to instill this sense of interconnectedness as early as possible.

As a photographer, you have traveled the world, capturing some of the planet’s most special and far-off destinations. Do travelers have an environmental or social responsibility?
Several years ago I had a realization: Travel has made me more gentle. I think it makes the vast majority of people more gentle. You can always tell when you meet a well-traveled person. They're quite Zen and understand how we are all connected. The tie-in with environmental and social responsibility is a natural extension of this.

How can other travelers ensure they leave a smaller environmental footprint and more impactful contributions in communities they visit?
When traveling, block off a day or half-day to give back. Contact your hotel’s concierge beforehand and have him or her suggest some opportunities for community service. Chances are that your time out doing something different with your family or friends will create a special set of memories.

Engage. Contribute. Inspire.
These are the guiding principles of Community Footprints, the social and environmental responsibility program at The Ritz-Carlton. The hotel company has built a legacy of extraordinary service, and this tradition extends to Community Footprints, which inspires employees and guests to make a difference around the world. Each locale and experience offers a unique opportunity to contribute to the local community.

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