How to Travel While Giving Back

Walking through a jungle in Thailand with elephants, taking in Angkor Wat at sunrise, going to sleep on a pitch-dark Caribbean beach in Panama. Traveling is a privilege. It’s also fun, exciting and a needed brief time to refresh. But it is a privilege and while you don’t need to spend a week volunteering unless that’s your thing, you should leave a place at least a little better than you started, certainly no worse. With traveling season moving into full swing, start thinking about those New Year’s resolutions to visit far flung countries and keep in mind these effortless ways to make the most of your next adventure.

Related: Walking With Elephants

travel volunteer

“I’ve seen the potential of travel as a force for good,” Hajar Ali founder of Urbane Nomads said. image: urbane nomads


The first thing with any type of vacation is the planning. Figure out your budget and schedule. You don’t have to spend three months as a volunteer to make a difference; you don’t even have to spend an entire trip. Decide whether you are really up for a voluntour, as it requires commitment. There are some organizations which will give you the opportunity to volunteer for a day, and project visits still bring much-needed funds to worthy organizations.

“I’ve seen the potential of travel as a force for good,” Hajar Ali founder of Urbane Nomads said. “Done right, it allows traditional lifestyles threatened by modernity and socio-economic forces to continue. Conscious luxury travel has always focused on a high value-low impact model, be it in the form of animal conservation in safari lodges or through the conservancy fees paid to local communities in Kenya, considered at the leading edge of responsible safari models.”

Keep It Local

Projects that employ local labor and benefit communities should be first on your list. Connect with a hotel or tour operator on a project they support in the region you will visit. You should be able to set up a visit to see the impact or potential impact of your giving, but be skeptical especially of large hotel chains where giving back may be more of a PR stunt.

“There are often many dubious operators that travelers will encounter asking for support for a seemingly worthy cause,” Andrea Ross of Journeys Within said. “If the group hasn’t registered as a nonprofit, chances are their claims are exaggerated or outright lies.”

travel volunteer

How much of your money is going back into the project? image: bridget shirvell

Provide the Right Input

Ask yourself: Is doing this something I would do in my own country? And if the answer is no, reevaluate why you would want to elsewhere. Consider what your weaknesses and strengths are and choose a voluntour where you can step it up in terms of your interests and skill set.

Do Your Research

Ask questions, a lot of questions before committing to any type of volunteer project or giving your money. Here are a few things you should know: how much of you money is going back into the project, have you been invited, do the volunteer activities take away jobs from local workers, will your efforts address a real need or primarily fulfill your desire to “do good?”

travel volunteer

Created by Urbane Nomads, Travel Like A Humanitarian is one of a number of organizations that will help you give back while you travel. image: urbane nomads

5 Organizations That Will Help You Give Back

Richard’s Camps, Kenya

The Owners of Richard’s Camps in Kenya founded the Mara Elephant Project in 2011. Guests staying at Richard’s Camps offers the opportunity to learn more about the operation that includes a rapid response unit, a research hub looking at traditional migration routes and even an undercover operation that works to stop the illegal trade of ivory.

Go Philanthropic Travel Company

Rochester-based Go Philanthropic believes the best way to explore is to change the world without leaving a mark. Trips to Indochina, India, Central or South America include the usual site seeing and five-star pampering and offer plenty of opportunity to give back to the people in the local communities. Ten percent of every trip goes to schools and organizations that need water wells, supplies, furniture, computers and more. And visits to these recipients are built into the itineraries so you know (or more like go) exactly where your money ends up.

Travel Like A Humanitarian

Created by the founder for Urbane Nomads, a travel company specializing in luxury travel to remote places, Travel Like A Humanitarian connects NGOs with travelers. Spend a few hours, an entire day or your trip working with an NGO while learning about the local community and giving back. A recent offering included a day of snorkeling and beach hopping in Lombok, Thailand that provided an alternative livelihood to shark fishermen.

Trash Tracker

A co-operative effort between the National Park Service (NPS) and Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas to clean up the 1,960 miles of Lake Powell’s shoreline, participants in the program spend five or seven days aboard a houseboat cleaning up trash all along the shoreline in various locations.

Crux Professional Travel Tours

The University Of Hong Kong-affiliated travel company specializes in adventures that broaden horizons, push limits and teach skills that can be applied to daily life–you can bet you’d learn a thing or two on a 12-day climb of the Himalayas. From skill building trips to full expeditions, every adventure is designed to benefit local communities, the environment and, most importantly, you.

Tell Us: Describe your last travel experience that included a giving back project.