There are many ways to make a positive impact when you travel — buying local, eating local, staying in a mom-and-pop guesthouse instead of the towering big-chain hotel. Voluntourism can also be a great way to use travel for good (if done the right way), but if you’re on the road with a set agenda — for work or a sporting event, for example — this isn’t always a viable option. A number of travel brands have developed ways for the casual traveler to leave a place better than they found it by donating money or services toward community efforts. These five services allow you to give back to the places you visit, whether you’re actually in the place or have returned home.
Patagonia Action Works
Leave it to Patagonia to develop the most comprehensive way for outdoor adventurers to make a positive mark. Its recently-launched Action Works program allows you to locate volunteer opportunities and environmental nonprofits looking for donations — both financial and service-based — in a targeted location, specifically tailored for visitors who are only there for a short time. Each organization is vetted by Patagonia, with many actually being recipients of the company’s extensive foundation of environmental grants.
What makes Action Works unique is that instead of just donating $20 and calling it a day, the portal allows you to use your specific skill set to benefit the organizations needing help. Maybe you’re a copywriter who can craft a press release for an upcoming fundraiser, or a logistics expert who can offer a consultation to help the fundraiser’s launch event go smoothly. Whatever you have to offer, Action Works connects you with someone local who needs your help, and the process is incredibly streamlined. Log onto the Action Works website and view nearby organizations and events based around a specific cause like climate change or biodiversity. You, as the intrepid traveler wishing to leave a positive mark, find an organization or event that appeals to you, and Action Works lists the ways in which you can help that cause. You can also list yourself or your business as a service provider so that organizations can reach out directly to you for help.
Charity Buzz Travel
Charity Buzz is sort of like eBay, if eBay were solely based on selling awesome experiences instead of used stuff for your closet, and the auction proceeds go toward positive social change instead of the wallet of some stranger in Indiana. Its travel sections list page after page of cool trip options like a luxury stay for four at the Palms Casino in Vegas and users bid on them. Proceeds go to a charity in the area (the Palms Casino stay benefits OneDrop, an organization started by the founder of Cirque du Soleil working to provide sustainable water and sanitation services to those in need) and the winner not only gets to take an epic trip, they can sleep easy while they’re there, knowing that the money they spent went to a good place.
This one’s for the active adventurer, those dreaming of an African safari or an all-inclusive dog sledding tour in the Arctic. Epic Road takes guests on guided tours decked out in full luxury — you might find yourself pushing through the jungle in Africa in search of wildlife sightings or trekking across the ice of Svalbard to a catered dinner under the stars. The company runs luxury tours in Africa, Asia, Antarctica, and other popular destinations, and for each one, it partners with a local nonprofit to help bring the organization’s mission to life. In most cases, these organizations work toward environmental conservation and empowering residents in the area, so your African safari ticket might actually be supporting the protection of Virunga National Park or helping to fund a community-based start-up founded by a local entrepreneur.
The Footprints Network from World Nomads
World Nomads helps the masses of backpacking millennials, and those nomads can give a little back to the places they visit through the Footprints Network, a program the travel insurance provider started in 2004 following the tsunami that devastated parts of Asia that year. When you buy travel insurance through its website, the option to add a micro-donation to your total insurance cost is offered. Based on where you’re heading, you’re presented with a selection of local charities to give to and information on what your donation will be used for. Since its inception, the program has raised over $3 million for charities around the world working toward causes such as ocean conservation, fighting hunger, and even eradicating blindness in the indigenous tribes of Australia and New Zealand.
Lokal Travel takes the guesswork out of finding a mom-and-pop restaurant or guesthouse in a foreign country. The site is a search engine that connects aspiring travelers with local tours, companies, lodging, and other necessities that are small, locally owned businesses in destinations around the world. Its focus is on experiential travel, so the bulk of the listings are multi-day tours and trips where the majority of the planning is done for you. Its site is ideal if it’s your first time abroad, or you just want a straightforward itinerary without having to drown yourself in research, but still want to make sure the money you spend goes into the local community and not into a corporate office thousands of miles away.