Why You Should Travel With Small Locally Owned Businesses After Covid-19

May 29, 2021
Sofia Schmidt

The moments that leave a lasting impression on me as I am traveling are the ones of quiet serenity, where the sensation of being home is mixed with the wonder and curiosity one feels as an outsider. This morning in Antigua it is the view of smoke escaping the top of Volcano Fuego visible in the bright, clear sky, and the smell of tamales wafting into my room, that acclimatizes me to this home.

Our host, Juana, brings each of us travelers staying in her quaint three-bedroom guesthouse a cup of hot coffee. Juana is a small and strong woman. Her smile is warm, her arms strong from decades of kneading masa every morning, and her eyes show wisdom and sorrow, a consequence of living through Central America’s longest civil war.

We sit together, spending these first few moments of the day discussing our plans, regional politics, and quietly listening to the clatter on the cobblestone streets as the town awakens. In lieu of an alarm clock, the church bells ring signaling it’s time to depart. We are already looking forward to returning to our host for the evening to pick up our conversation where it left off.

Tamales cooking

I spent four weeks staying with Juana in Antigua. Antigua is a stunningly beautiful city and it still would have been had I not spent that time in Juana’s charming guesthouse. What Juana’s guesthouse offered me was a chance to learn. To learn the customs, the recipes, history, and the wisdom of someone who has lived an entirely different life than I. It’s indispensable knowledge and human connection that isn’t available in the typical hostel experience. I initially decided to stay local for the benevolent idea that it would be better for my money to be given directly to local people. That idea is still true and was the starting motivation behind No Fixed Addresses, but upon reflection a large driver for me was also to create a place where people can easily meet and learn from the community members living in the places they have been desperate to explore. When we travel small and through local businesses, we have an opportunity to break through the facade that the corporate hospitality industry markets to us. My most cherished memories from my travels aren't the days spent next to a beautiful ocean, exploring ruins, or hiking a volcano, they’re with the people I’ve met along the way.

It’s surreal to remember my own naivete about how Covid-19 was going to impact my life. I was mentally prepared for an interruption of a month or two. I was not prepared for the upending of every routine, the way my daily life became defined by a pandemic of historic proportions, and my worries shrunk to just wanting everyone I love to be healthy and safe. In the tsunami of Covid-19 though, I’m one of the privileged few of this world to be given a life jacket. I have healthcare, I can work from home, and my job security is not tied to the habits of other people. The hospitality industry has not been so privileged. Hotel bookings have stagnated at less than ten percent capacity, and while this might spark disappointment from the wealthy owners of these hotels, it has wreaked destruction for the workers fired and the restaurants dependent on tourism to fill their seats and pay their bills. Tourism, that is, that has decreased seventy percent in 2020. However, as in every society with vast inequities, it is the small business owners and workers suffering the biggest blow. People like Juana, whose locally owned hotel already generates lower profit margins, are clinging to survival in a situation that no one was prepared for. As restrictions are lifted and we feel that travel itch, let’s remember those who suffered most are the ones who have given us the most on our journeys.

Antigua Guatemala, 2018

I ache for the moment that I have plane tickets in hand, waiting in the terminal for the time to board, watching out of the window of the plane unsure yet brimming with excitement and looking forward to what the next trip will hold. There is no doubt that the future of travel will look different as we emerge from the pandemic. How? Whose to say, it is pointless to play the guessing game during Covid-19. One thing that is not a guess though is that those with amassed capital will weather the storm. The ones who see travelers as little more than a business opportunity will continue as if the entirety of Covid-19 was merely an unfortunate blip. The Juana’s of the world, those who make us coffee and share their stories, they will need the investment to recover. Deciding to stay local will not only enrich your experience, but invest your needed capital into the community.  In doing so, we can uplift the people and places that have given us a wealth of cultural knowledge, valuable wisdom, and life-long memories.

Sofia Schmidt

I'm Sofia, avid traveler, backpacking pro, and founder of No Fixed Addresses. I envision a world where travelers seek to give more to their destination than they take, and ethical tourism becomes the way we travel. I hope that my guides help you to plan your next trip, and become a more conscious traveler.




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