“Voluntourism” has gotten kind of a bad rap.
The idea of going on vacation and doing something for the community you visit is full of good intentions. But in some places, it’s turned into a rather problematic industry. At its most innocuous, it’s little more than a pop-in pencils dropoff to a local school or an hour-long litter patrol. At its most harmful, it can be an exploitative parading out of “in-need” children for an Instagram post. In any case, these don’t do much to help the area once you leave. But for those who want to guarantee that their trip is leaving a legacy of service behind, several ethical travel companies exist to help you fulfill that intention. Here are five companies that will help you travel with a purpose.
1. Andeana Hats
Any old milliner can sell you a hat made by indigenous women in Peru online. Okay, maybe not anybody, but Andeana Hats, which sells such hats in the Nat Geo catalog and other places, goes a step further, taking a group of women deep into the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley this fall.
“We want people to respect the origin of their product,” said Andeana co-founder Laura Grier. “It’s a lot of education and hands-on activities that show you where your products come from.”
Those activities include visits to the women of the Quechua community, whose crafts have become so lucrative the men in the village have quit their jobs to become homemakers. The tours give the women an additional source of income beyond weaving, as they make money from weaving classes, homestays, and other cultural experiences, furthering their self-sufficiency.
Other highlights include dinner on a floating restaurant in the Amazon and education in the indigenous plants that go into Glossy Paradise, Andeana’s sister company of skincare products. And yes, your trip includes a bag of those, as well as a nifty hat.
2. Kin Travel
Kin founder Brian Jones discovered how going on a safari could be a mold for natural conservation and community improvement. So he developed Kin Travel to curate “journeys” which aim to do both in fascinating destinations. The company’s profits are reinvested in social enterprise organizations in each destination, meaning the money you spend continues to help long after you’ve left.
Experiences include a beach safari to Haiti, where you’ll stay on a 150-acre tent camp on a private beach cove near Labadie. The trip includes visits to mountain villages only reachable by foot, and the proceeds go to help local artisans and sanitation solutions. You can also join a winter safari to Jackson Hole, where you’ll track wolves, bison, bighorn sheep, and elk through Grand Teton National Park. All while staying in a funky seven-room lodge and focusing on ways to close the income gap in one of America’s most economically disproportionate communities. And of course, there’s a safari in Kenya with Cottar’s 1920s Camp, where proceeds benefit beekeeping and schools for girls, among other conservation efforts.
Journey does not stop believin’ in your ability to do good while you travel. Eschewing the traditional model of group trips, Journey crafts six-to-nine day individual itineraries based on your schedule, incorporating a couple of days of what it calls “sustainable impact” work, following it with a few days of cultural immersion.
Your sustainable impact experience will have you sweating and getting dirty to help improve local conditions, doing everything from building skate parks to helping improve local schools. Journey works with a couple of other nonprofits to achieve these goals: Glasswing to help create infrastructure like parks and public spaces, and Techo to build housing for people living in unsafe conditions.
During the cultural immersion section, you’ll travel to a seldom-seen part of your destination, whether it’s up in the mountains or deep in the jungle to visit remote communities. You’ll do yoga, take workshops from locals in everything from cooking to art, and participate in conversations about how to maximize your impact after the trip is over.
Scouring the Internet looking for sustainable vacations can be exhausting. It’s likely how you came upon this article, actually. Lokal takes the work out of it for you, providing a sort of catalog of do-good travel experiences, curated through local guides, their network of travelers, and the staff’s personal experiences.
Lokal has trips literally all over the world, like a weaving excursion through the Andes, where the local tour operator works to empower local women through their craft and connect them to an international audience. Or traveling through Rwanda with a local NGO that works to address gender violence. And a Costa Rican coffee adventure where you’ll tour and patronize sustainable, organic coffee growers while glamping in the Santos Forest Reserve. Wherever you want to go, Lokal’s main page has a handy world map that’ll help you find a trip where you can help make your destination a better place.
5. Ker & Downey Africa
The stereotype of the jet-setting billionaire flying private to Africa, sleeping in Egyptian cotton sheets after eating gourmet meals in the savannah, and leaving nothing but a nice tip for the guide is highly inaccurate. Or so says Ker & Downey Africa, an ultra-luxury travel company that specializes in trips through Africa that allow its elite clientele to make a difference.
“When you take the time to understand why it is that people seek out the corners of the earth that they do, you find that travel isn’t just about comfortable pillows and fine silverware,” said CEO Lee Kelsall. “People travel to find themselves, to push their boundaries and to create memories that last.”
For most people, a 10-day private jet safari would probably qualify as a “memory that lasts.” But just in case it might get lost in the recesses of wealthy people’s brains, Ker & Downey Africa’s latest offering — which flies its guests in private jets, dipping in on game reserves in South Africa then out to the Seychelles — also gives back. A substantial part of each trip is a donation to the Singita Community Culinary School, where in addition to learning how to cook delicious local meals, you’ll help people forge a career in the culinary arts.
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