The concept of giving back while you travel has gone from trendy to mainstream in recent years. Which is a good thing in general: Travelers have become more inspired to make a positive difference on the people and places they visit, and as a result, they have become more conscious about how they explore the world, where they go, and why.
But giving back while you travel doesn’t mean you have to dedicate your entire trip to a nonprofit project or shell out big money as part of an overseas volunteer program. Even small efforts can have a profound impact on an individual or a community: spending an afternoon at a local school, for example, or donating a few hundred of your accumulating cache of frequent flyer miles to a worthy cause. You can also choose companies like the Conscious Adventurist, which are dedicated to protecting and supporting the planet and its diverse people through responsible tourism.
Whatever option you choose, rest assured that your trip will be memorable on a whole new level—both for you and the people and places on the receiving end. Here are five easy ways to give back on your next trip.
1. Consider a Voluntourism Vacation
With the growth of voluntourism initiatives in recent years, there’s a vast array of options for a volunteer vacation. To help narrow it down, start by considering what you’re most passionate about: environmental sustainability, education and literacy, wildlife conservation, just to name a few.
Then, think about a bucket-list destination you’d like to visit: Patagonia, perhaps, or South Africa? Being in a place you want to be, doing work that you’re passionate about, will help offset some of the challenges of many volunteer-centered programs, like dormitory-style living conditions and long work days.
In addition, it’s possible to make a big difference even when you’re not traveling. For charitable donating that’s as easy as a few touches on Venmo, check out DoTopia, a digital platform that’s connected to some 1.6 million charities and nonprofits. Another solid option is Unself, a platform that allows volunteers to connect with projects and social causes, as well as track and share their volunteer hours.
Finally, make your purchasing power go toward the good of the planet by choosing companies like [Conscious Adventurist](www.consciousadventurist.com), whose founding principle is responsible travel. Whether you want to explore mysterious monasteries in Bhutan, trek through Europe’s majestic Mont Blanc region, or see tigers and other wildlife in India, there’s a trip just right for you. And, as members of Patagonia’s 1% for the Planet and Protect Our Winters, Conscious Adventurist makes sure a portion of every purchase on their site goes toward supporting environmental causes.
2. Donate Unused Airline Miles
Do you have thousands of frequent flyer miles just sitting there gathering digital dust? Consider giving them to a worthy cause. Most major carriers, including Delta, U.S. Airways, United, and Southwest, partner with excellent charities and nonprofits that provide services like air travel for disaster relief volunteers, veterans programs, and children’s organizations. And donating your miles is a cinch: Usually, it’s just a matter of logging into your frequent flyer account, selecting a charity or nonprofit, and donating however many miles you choose (sometimes there’s a minimum) with a few clicks.
3. Pick Your Destination Carefully
One of the biggest impacts you can make as a traveler is deciding where you’ll go (which, of course, means deciding where you’ll spend your money). Indeed, it’s critical to make an informed decision about the destination you’ll be visiting—and whether it supports fundamental values like human rights and environmental protection.
Need some inspiration for your trip? Check out the annual list of the world’s best ethical destinations, compiled by the Berkeley, California-based nonprofit Ethical Traveler.
4. Shop Locally
Shopping local doesn’t just apply to selecting produce at the grocery store. Wherever you are in the world, give your purchases the most bang for their buck by shopping locally, which keeps the money where it is most impactful: supporting local communities and individuals.
Whenever possible, pick small, family-run restaurants over chains (hotels, too), seek out local artists’ co-ops and farmer’s markets, and buy handmade goods over mass-produced trinkets like magnets, T-shirts, and other souvenirs.
5. Keep Traveling
In many destinations around the world, tourism is a major economic driver of local and regional economies—if not the largest. And when natural disasters strike—consider hurricanes in the Caribbean, wildfires in California, and volcanoes in Hawaii, just to name a few—they often deliver the double whammy of a major drop in tourism numbers on top of the disaster itself.
Of course, nobody wants to travel to an unsafe disaster zone for a vacation. But often times, overhyped media reports tend to dampen tourism to an entire destination or region—even if only a small fraction of the area was affected. So before you cancel your trip, do a little digging to get a better idea of the extent of the damage and when the destination will be ready to invite visitors back. If you’re lucky, you may be able to switch your airfare and accommodations without a hefty change fee.
And don’t forget about securing trip insurance ahead of time. For a relatively small price, you’ll be covered in the case of a true crisis, including a medical emergency or natural disaster in your destination.
Written by Blane Bachelor for Matcha in partnership with Conscious Adventurist and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image provided by Perry Grone