Traveling can get a bit of a bad rap at times. It’s over-indulgent, it’s wasteful, it’s disrespectful to local communities and cultures, it’s harmful to the planet, and, especially in today’s day of getting the perfect Instagram, it’s destructive. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you do it right, you can really make an impact with every trip you take. And, since two of my greatest passions are traveling and giving back, I’m 1000% here for any opportunity that helps me to combine the two. Below, I’ve got a list of ways we can all do just that. I hope next time you take a trip you’ll consider adding one (or more) into your travel plans. I guarantee you it will make your vacation that much more rewarding (and I promise you’ll never even miss the tacky souvenirs).
Volunteer Vacations //
There are so many trips you can take specifically to volunteer or make a social impact in an area. A few examples are Unbound’s awareness trips, Kin Travel and UBELONG, but also many churches and community groups organize their own volunteer trips (our church has trips to both Mexico and Africa).
Take a Tour //
Like I mentioned up above, research who you are touring with beforehand so that you can be sure you are supporting a local/local business and/or a company that gives back to their community. For example, Reality Tours & Travel in India supports education programs, uses tour guides who are actually based in the areas of the tours and donates 80% of their profits back to the community. Epic Road works to create experiences that are both epic and transformative. Greenloons offers ecotourism experiences that make both a social and environmental impact by respecting local cultures, traditions and environments, minimizing tourist waste and maximizing opportunities to promote prosperity in the local community.
Hotels that Help //
Be sure to research your hotel options and find one that makes an impact. The Ritz-Carlton offers local impact experiences for guests to get involved in, you can contribute rewards points to the charity of your choice, you can purchase one of their Community Footprints products which then gives $5 to the Community Footprints Fund, if you book one of their meeting rooms a portion of the proceeds goes back to the charity of your choice and their Community Footprints Fund and they support environmental sustainability through a variety of practices. Fairmont is also involved in several social impact initiatives. Sandals works with several organizations, including Pack For A Purpose (which I mentioned above) and runs several initiatives to give back to their local communities. Crystalbrook Collection in Australia (I stayed at one of their properties in Sydney.) has tons of initiatives which support the local communities, sustainability and giving back. Nihi Resort not only employs many local Sumbanese people, but they also support the Sumba Foundation which works to alleviate poverty on the island through various initiatives. RockResorts is an eco-conscious resort specializing in sustainability through various programs, one of which includes ways for guests to offset their carbon impact.
Bring Your Own //
Toiletries, reusable bags, reusable straws and silverware, reusable toiletry bottles…there are so many reusable things that you can bring to offset waste while traveling.
Permission to Overpack //
I’m a serial over-packer. I admit it. But I know I’m not the only one. And I definitely know I’m not the only that spends far too long trying to make it seem totally reasonable. Here’s the thing, though, Pack For A Purpose is all you need to never have to justify over-packing ever again. Here’s how it works- select a location (aka wherever you are traveling to), then select an organization in that area, view what supplies they’re in need of, make some extra room in your suitcase, pack up the requested supplies and then drop them off once you arrive. It’s literally that easy!
All the Amenities //
You know how hotels have little bottles of shampoo, condition and body wash, and soap bars, and packets of q-tips and body lotion and so many other things, but you never use them because you just bring your own? While here’s how you can put them to use. You know all that empty room you now have after dropping off everything you packed for a purpose? Use that space to pack up all your hotel amenities, bring them home and then drop them off at your local homeless/women’s shelters. My friend MK talks more about this in her own post on easy ways to give back while traveling and she also shares some other great tips, so definitely go read her post!
Not AN AVERAGE Souvenir //
Skip the standard souvenirs for yourself or friends and family, take the money you would have spent on items and gift someone a small business loan instead. On Kiva.org you can sort by category or region, making it really easy to be find someone wherever it is that you're staying.
Local Love //
You know I’m all about showing as much local love as possible when we travel. Whether it’s staying at someone’s Airbnb or locally run hotel, eating at small restaurants, buying produce from the local farmer’s market, booking experiences or tours with local guides or shopping for items off the beaten path to support a local artisan’s craft, it’s so important to integrate the local community into your travel plans as a way to give back and support the area, to promote small businesses and it’s also more environmentally friendly. For example, this spot may just seem like a local coffee shop, but they’e actually a business that is supporting the underprivileged in the community by teaching them job skills and providing them with opportunities they might not otherwise have. I’d also recommend checking out Planeterra, an organization that supports the development of social enterprises and responsible travel, to research local places to stay and eat as well as things to do.
Go Green //
However you’re going, look at ways to make your travel more green. Walk or bike when you can (bonus- it’s a great way to burn off any vacation indulgences), take public transportation, rent an electric or fuel efficient car, book a more eco-friendly airline and get involved with programs like Cathay Pacific’s Fly Greener.