If you’re full of wanderlust, but want to give back while traveling, these 50+ ideas will get you started!
How to Give Back While Traveling – 50 Ideas to Get You Started
Whenever I see something sad on the news or read stories of people whose lives are so much more difficult than my own, I’m overcome with a huge sense of guilt. Guilt for my privilege, my wealth, and for all the opportunities that I’ve had in my life. I may be a middle-class budget traveler, but I know that I am rich in money and experiences compared to most of the world.
When you read statistics like “22,000 children die each day due to poverty”, it can give you a real reality check about your own life. I was distraught last week because my dishwasher broke! The term “first world problems” is a big joke, but it’s true! Sometimes we don’t know how good we really have it until we think about the people who hardly have anything.
I’ve really been struggling with this guilt lately and trying to reconcile my guilt as well as satisfy my wanderlust. The two don’t seem to go hand in hand sometimes. But we are starting to see, more and more, families and individuals traveling with a purpose! Not only traveling to see the world and enrich their own lives but also to enrich the lives of others. I wanted to find some ways that other people give back while traveling. So I asked fellow travelers what they have been doing to give back. The results were amazing!
I hope these ideas about volunteerism, sustainable travel, and ways to give back while traveling will be a good resource during your travels and help give you some ideas of your own. If you’ve volunteered while traveling or if you’ve done something to give back in some way, please comment with your story and I will be happy to add it!
1. Donate Supplies
There are so many goods that are easily accessible in the USA and other wealthier countries that we take for granted! Being able to buy a box of 100 pencils, for example, would be pretty easy for anyone who is willing to spend thousands of dollars on an overseas trip. But inexpensive items like this may be unavailable to too expensive for some people in other countries. Consider bringing goods with you or purchasing them at your destination to donate to organizations. Here are some ways to do that:
Pack for a Purpose
One easy way to give back to communities that you’re traveling to is to bring things to them that might not be readily available in their country or that many may not be able to afford. Pack for a Purpose is a great program that allows you to select a destination and view what they are in need of.
For example, if you are traveling to Morocco, you can check their map and see that the Hajrat Nhal Primary School is in need of general school supplies like glue sticks, markers, and calculators.
You can even fill out a form that will curate specific packing lists for your trips. There will also be a map and directions that will help you find the drop off location for your supplies.
They also have a list of businesses who are supporting organizations. Many hotels and tours participate in this program. For example, if you stay at Madikwe Safari Lodge in South Africa, you can bring your supplies directly to them who support Obakeng Creche (school) and The Motshabaesi Primary School, and the lodge will bring your donations to the schools.
As you can see, it’s a really simple way to give back to the local communities you will be visiting in your travels. And now you’ll have more room for souvenirs purchased from those local communities in your luggage!
Donating school supplies to local school children
On a recent trip to Costa Rica, my two young sons accompanied me to Target and we filled two new backpacks with school supplies. While in Costa Rica, we coordinated with a local NGO
to visit a local school and donate the filled backpacks to children attending the school. My kids loved playing soccer with the local children and I hope that little act inspires them to give back on their own whenever possible.
Give clothes at a children’s’ home
When I travel on larger trips I usually collect clothes and especially children’s clothes before I leave. I make sure to do good research to find a serious organization that works in a sustainable and ethical way
. Usually, a children’s home but it could also be any non-profit organization working with people in poor areas that will distribute the clothes fairly where they are needed.
2. Help to Build Communities
If you’re interested in a pretty dedicated trip of volunteerism, consider applying for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program, which organizes trips to over 30 countries around the world to build houses, schools, or support local communities, including orphans, women, children, and refugees.
There are different types of trips in many different locations. You can see a list of available Global Village trips here.
Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity gives you the opportunity to work beside, live beside, and learn from local communities. You will be able to experience each country like a local, and be able to give back in a big way. The cost of these trips is usually around $1900 per person and covers all your expenses besides the flight to your destination. This expense is considered a donation and is tax deductible. You can learn more about where your donations go here.
The trips are generally between seven and twelve days. If you have time, it would be great to volunteer, then spend a few more days in or around the destination.
3. Donate Your Time
Give Just One Day of Your Trip
If you are short on time, you can connect with Give a Day Global, a startup nonprofit that connects travelers with one-day volunteer opportunities all around the world. They have opportunities in South America, Central America, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, and Africa. You can connect with Give a Day Global here.
Volunteering: Just A Few Hours To Make a Huge Difference
“When we travel as a family, we typically stay in the nice resorts, participate in the fun activities but we also try to find a local organization where we can spend some time trying to make that part of the world better than when we arrived. A few hours volunteering at an organization that somehow is connected with kids make an impact not only on the community but also on our children. The first time we did this was in San Pancho, Mexico at EntreAmigos
where we sorted books at its community center library and marked prices for the gift shop that supports it. My boys met some kids that live in the village and connected after their duties over a game of soccer. This is what they talk about years later.”
From L.A. Family Travelers
Work in schools in Kenya’s biggest slums
“Whenever I travel to Kenya, Nairobi is my first destination. I have made become good friends with a local organization
. They have schools in Kibera and Dandora, right next to a huge dumping site where kids live in the trash. By teaching in their class for free, some of them are able to escape the gangs and go to school. It is also possible to stay in a local family to experience real Kenyan life.”
From Trip Crafting
Volunteering While Abroad
“When I travel I love to give back to the community I am touring. The easiest way for me to do this is to volunteer. A couple of years ago I spent 6 months in Chennai, India. I was working on a documentary film and had some free time in the afternoons to do whatever I wanted. I got involved with a local NGO called OneAll
. OneAll is a nonprofit that teaches local children about emotions, conflict resolution, and communication through ultimate frisbee. I volunteered for a couple of hours twice a week and because of this gained a whole community of locals and friends.”
From Bold Destinations
4. Give a Microloan
If you can’t donate any of your time and are limited on funds, but want to help out a local person in an easy way, consider Microloans. There are many organizations that organize these, but we like to use Kiva, who offer microloans in over 80 countries. Microloans are not a donation, they are a loan, so you will actually get your money back. It’s just about the easiest way to help someone out.
These microloans go toward helping women start businesses, children and young adults gain an education, agriculture, livestock, and more! There are so many great ways that you can help!
5. Help Locals and Communities
There are so many ways to help local communities in the locations that you travel to. Whether it’s donating to local charities or buying homemade goods or food from the residents, your dollars are going directly into their economy. Here are some ways that you can help:
Purchase local art instead of cheap souvenirs
“Skipping the gift shop and purchasing local art on your travels gives you a much nicer memento of your holiday, while providing the artist with a way to support their family and community. This is particularly important in developing countries or regional and remote communities. My husband and I love to bring home paintings whenever we travel to new destinations and some of our favourite artwork comes from the Northern Territory of Australia and Papua New Guinea. If buying from a gallery it’s important to do your research and find a reputable art dealer, or to buy directly from the artist to ensure they are receiving a fair commission for their work.”
Giving An Act of Kindness
“Our trips are normally short, so we can’t really “serve” like we wish. However, we’ve been known to leave a hefty tip to “give back”. Last week we had a waitress at the Dollywood Resort, and she was telling us how she homeschooled her five boys, loves to travel, but can only take one trip a year. They’re about to go on a huge road trip out west, so we left $100 tip and told her to have a blast showing her boys our amazing country. Anyway, If you don’t have the time to serve, but have a few extra bucks (it doesn’t have to be $100), that act of kindness goes a long way.”
From Time Zone Travelers
Engage with Local Communities
“When I was just 6 I was researching a family holiday to Cambodia. I read that some kids cannot afford to go to school and I wanted to help. I got people to sponsor me to walk 1km in my walker which I had never done. I walked the 1km and I raised $ 15,000. New Hope then built a Kindergarten with that money and I have been to visit it twice. We help with giving rice to families when we visit and eat at the training restaurant.”
You can learn more about New Hope, Cambodia here.
From Cooper (age 14) at Smiths Holiday Road
Connect with a local and help them succeed
“As we travel around the world, we love to talk with locals. Through their stories, I’m able to better understand their world and their situation. I found a great way to help locals is by connecting with them, adding my perspective or mentoring. It helps broaden our horizon and theirs too. For example, I’ve written posts about different people A budding entrepreneur in Zambia is growing his business against all odds. I featured his story on my website and now we keep in touch through his up and downs. I’m happy to give advice and my suggestions which broadens his horizons. I met a school teacher in Zimbabwe and an amazing human being. She still loves to chat with me. She was able to share her story of struggles through the political crisis in Zimbabwe, since our visit. She urges me to return and she’ll take me all around Zimbabwe. I look for to that day. A small temple’s manager in India and how they are managing so well. An artist and his art gallery in South Africa. A cooking class and its entrepreneur in Lisbon, Portugal. I’m working on a post on a budding young tile artist in Porto.”
From Story at Every Corner
Shop At Neighborhood Mom And Pops To Experience The Local Community
“We’re slow travelers, so we often stay in apartments or house sits and cook many of our own meals — we make an effort to shop at the small mom and pop shops and markets in the neighborhood we’re staying. More often than not, we have found the local produce to be fresher and cheaper, then the big-box stores. It’s also a great way to feel included in the community and have a more “local” experience!”
From Blissy Life
Spread the Wealth When Shopping
I like to ensure that I buy items from different shop and stalls. If I’m at a busy market or market street like Chiang Mai Night Market for example with a few items to buy, I’ll buy one from each stall that has what I need rather than buying 3-4 things from one stall as I think this helps spread the wealth around the stalls. The same with smaller shop items like water or snacks, if there’s a few local shops near me I’ll go to a different one each time and I try to buy from the local mini mart stores over chains like 7/11 to give back to the locals direct rather than a big company.
From The Wandering Quinn
Supporting only genuine local communities
“We try to support local communities wherever we travel, whenever we can. While we try to buy local, we are very conscious of doing things that could be inadvertently damaging to local society. It’s really simple things but, for example, buying souvenirs from kids when you think you’re helping them can actually be keeping them out of school. You may well have been manipulated by an organised crime ring that is using these kids because they bring in more money than adults. Or visiting orphanages to donate clothes and money which seems like a nice gesture but is actually encouraging human trafficking because the organisations take the kids away from their families with promises of food, shelter and a good education only to use them to con well-intentioned tourists into donating to them.
“Another example is the elephant orphanages that are in the press so much. Just because they are called an orphanage or a sanctuary, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are treating the animals well.”
“On an environmental level, keeping Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi was kept open to keep tourists coming in and so local businesses didn’t lose money. It backfired completely and now the whole beach is closed. We were horrified with how many people were there when we went. That’s not to say that everyone is out to con you but if you’re really passionate about giving back to the local community then a little research goes a long way.”
From Wanderlust and Wet Wipes
6. Use Local Guides and Tours
There are so many big tour companies making money off tourists, but if you want a true local experience that will also give back to the community, consider using local guides and tour companies at your destination. Here are some ideas:
Travel with a responsible company
“There are a million little things that you can do while travelling that can make an impact on the people you meet and the countries you visit. It is important to remember that one person doing one thing only lasts as long as that person is doing it. If there is a system in place where the environment and the local economy can be sustained before and after you visit, then we, as travellers can affect real change. This is especially important if you’re going trekking in popular tourist destinations. You know the bucket-list destinations, places like Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, and Machu Picchu. You’re simply not allowed to solo climb many of these locations, so you need a tour company to organise food, local staff, waste disposal, and a host of other things. This is where you can make a difference. Don’t just pick the cheapest company, they are cutting corners somewhere. Look at a company’s “about” section, and see what they do. If they don’t have one, email them and ask. Once they realise that these things are important to people, they will begin to change how they run trips, and thus how people travel. One such company is Earth’s Edge. They are an Irish company, who I climbed Kilimanjaro with recently. They plant 3 trees for every client that goes on a trip, they pay a fair wage to local staff, they give extensive training to all of their staff and clients on “Leave no Trace”, and are extremely transparent in paying tips to local guides and porters. Every year, they have drives to collect hiking gear to give to their porters and local guides. On my trip, they announced that they were paying for 2 of their long-serving porters to study to become guides, so they can pay them more! They do all this not to be seen to do it, but because everyone in their small company (5 full-time employees) genuinely love the outdoors. The owner James built this company not to get rich, but to explore and trek in this amazing world. He leads 2-3 expeditions a year, and on our Kilimanjaro trip, we saw first hand the respect and love he had for the environment we were in, and most importantly for the local guides and porters. If we demand that all companies act like this, the world would truly be a better place.”
Learning from indigenous people and respecting local culture
“When my family and I travel, we try to ensure that we leave a positive trail rather than a negative one. A main way we achieve that is learning from indigenous people, respecting local customs, and using the traditional names for people and places rather than anglicized ones. We always dress appropriately and respect the cultural laws of each place we stay, and enjoy homestays and connective activities that benefit local people. Recently we visited Uluru in Australia, and sought to find out more about our own ancient culture. We all learnt a lot from exploring, a park ranger tour and some workshops we took, and I love to hear my kids referring to Uluru and Kata Tjuta rather than Ayer’s Rock and The Olgas now. I think this respectful way of learning has great benefit for us, and especially for helping to keep cultural traditions alive.”
From Small Footprints, Big Adventures
Choose Ethical Tour Operators
“One of the most powerful ways we travel responsibly
is by being very selective with the tour operators we choose; especially if the activity involves wildlife, the environment or local communities. As travelers, we are essentially “voting” with our money, and when we support companies that are operating ethically, the competition will begin to improve their practices as well. For example, when we traveled to the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia, we made sure to choose a jungle lodge that employed indigenous people from the area and contributed to the conservation of the ecosystem. And when we trekked to Machu Picchu, we paid a bit more to go with an operator that paid its porters fairly. If you spend a bit of time doing research and reading reviews, you can make much wiser decisions with what your money is supporting.”
From Two Wandering Soles
Taking classes with local artisans, home cooks, and teachers
“One of the best ways to give back when travelling is to take workshops and classes
that are done by local people where the money goes directly to them. This is very much a two-way exchange. It is possible to learn local handicrafts, which also gives you a deeper insight the hard work and expertise that goes into the creation of local handicrafts, but also gives them artisans more money that is an incentive for younger people to continue the traditions. Other options include cooking classes done by women in their home who may not otherwise have an opportunity to earn money, and language and culture classes that give you a deeper insight into the culture of the place you are visiting while giving work to teachers.”
From Travel Collecting
Using Local Guides
When we travel we always try to use smaller local guides rather than big companies. Not only do you get so much more real information about a destination, you find out lots of local quirks and advice on great places to see and eat, but you know you are also giving directly back to the local community. We recently did this with the amazing Spellbound at Waitomo Glowworm Caves
in New Zealand. Our guide had grown up in the area so told us stories of his childhood, how the area has changed and lots more that we would never have got from a large tour company.
Learn more from Travel With Meraki
Choosing community-led tourism projects run by and directly benefitting local people
“Giving back when travelling is as easy as making sure that your choice of tour directly benefits the local people in the destination that you visit. When I was in Guatemala, I visited the workshops of the Consejo de Tejedoras de Santo Domingo Xenacoj (The Weaving Council of Santo Domingo Xenacoj), where I learned about their battle to revive ancient Maya textile patterns from extinction, before taking a tour of these symbols now painted onto the colourful walls of the houses in Santa Catarina Palopó on Lake Atitlán.”
“That night, I stayed with a local Guatemalan family in a homestay in San Juan La Laguna, where I learned about the positive impact of tourists on the lives of my hosts. During all of these experiences of sustainable, responsible tourism
, I not only had the opportunity to learn far more deeply about the people and cultures of Guatemala but was reassured that each experience was run by and for these local people. I left safe in the knowledge that all money paid by tourists goes directly to these communities, helping ensure that they can protect and nurture the very culture that we as visitors find so fascinating in the first place.” From Worldly Adventurer
7. Protect Animals
Just as there are millions of humans in need of our help, there are also helpless animals who have next to no rights, especially in many third world countries. There is so much good that we can do to help our animal friends! Here are some ideas from my friends:
“Koh Lanta Animal Welfare
in Thailand is an amazing nonprofit organisation that aims to protect vulnerable animals on Koh Lanta through sterilisation programs, adoption, education and veterinary care. Opening their doors in 2005 by Junie Kovacs, so far this incredible centre has sterilised and treated over 15,000 animals and this number is rapidly growing year by year. Koh Lanta Animal Welfare offers the only veterinary services on the whole island so you can imagine how busy they are providing vital first aid as well as preventative healthcare through vaccinations. They also help to reduce the number of animals on the island through sterilisation programs which have been incredibly successful over the years.
Our experience of Koh Lanta Animal Welfare
After googling best things to do on Koh Lanta, it was clear to see everyone was talking about the Animal welfare centre and we weren’t disappointed. The team are fantastic and will answer any questions you have about the animals and even offer free daily tours! My favourite part of the day was being able to take some rescue puppies out for a walk, they were super cute and so well behaved (well most of the time). There’s also a cat cafe to relax in and grab a brew whilst cuddling some fury friends. What you can do to help? Koh Lanta animal welfare gives individuals the opportunity to volunteer to help look after these amazing animals. You’ll need to be hardworking but you’ll get to meet friends for life along the way and maybe even find your doggy companion. Koh Lanta Animal Welfare encourages animal adoption for both cats and dogs and don’t worry there’s plenty of furry friends to choose from. If you’re not quite that committed you can sponsor an animal starting from $27 US a month which will contribute towards food, care, and treatment. As a sponsor, you’ll revive regular updates of your chosen animal and feel good about it! Koh Lanta Animal Welfare also offer flight volunteering, whereby you reunite adopted animals with their forever families just by flying with one of their furry friends. It’s super easy as all the paperwork is arranged and will cost you nothing.”
From The Northern Boy
Fostering a little elephant in Africa
While we were excited for the safari and wildlife experiences in Africa, one thing we were most looking forward to, was seeing our foster elephant baby SATTAO, who was a poaching victim. When we learnt about the plight of these gentle giants, we had to do something to give back and do our little part in helping Protect Elephants. Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
located in Nairobi, Kenya
runs the world’s most successful orphan-elephant rescue and the rehabilitation program. We were so lucky to have gotten to spent time with little elephants in the orphanage and also see the amazing work the organization does.
From Outside Suburbia
Volunteering with animal rescue
8. Protect the Environment
Just as humans and animals are of top concern, without our environment neither will have a place to live in a few hundred years. It may be the most important thing we can ever do! Here are some ideas for how you can give back to the environment while traveling:
“At the turtle conservation sanctuary in Junquillal
you can join the nightly beach patrols looking for egg laying turtles. Once the eggs have been laid they are moved to a protected egg nursery on the beach. The eggs are monitored and hatched eggs are collected. At sunset, we turned up to volunteer to release the turtle into the sea and protect them from predators. Some days there were no baby turtles. Volunteers travelled to a different part of the beach each day and released the turtles onto the sand so they could imprint on the beach. We stayed until each turtle had successfully made into the sea.”
Learn more about this program here.
Picking Up Litter While Hiking
“A small but effective way of giving back whilst traveling is making sure we pick up any rubbish we see left on the trails. It is amazing that people think it is ok to drop rubbish whilst out hiking in the beautiful fresh air. It can clutter paths and signs, look unsightly and the one issue the kids mention the most is that the native animals can mistake rubbish for food. Therefore, we always pick up any rubbish we see whilst out hiking.”
From Hill Tribe Travels
Leave the flowers and stay on the trail
“When visiting our beloved national parks
or public lands, our family always aims to leave hiking trails and campsites better than we found them. This means we discourage our kids from picking wildflowers so others can enjoy them the next day. We strive to stay on the trails at all times, even when we’re tempted to shortcut switchbacks. And, we pick up any trash we see, whether it’s ours or not. This helps make our park rangers’ jobs easier and shows our appreciation for the time we spend in our gorgeous national parks.”
From Rad Family Travel
Cutting Down on Single-use Plastics
“I’ve been getting increasingly disillusioned when we travel with the amount of single use items that we consume – from water bottles to plastic straws. Kids, in general, are so caring and our kids are no exception. They have learnt about how plastics in our oceans are dangerous for marine life and they don’t want to be a part of that! We now travel with as many reusable items as we can. These include our own water bottles (I even have a collapsible one!) and I also have a collapsible coffee cup. We have our own metal straws and bring a few Tupperware boxes for picnics etc. I also take along a few grocery bags with us so we don’t use plastic bags in the supermarkets. It’s a work in progress – when I see a new product or have a new idea it gets added into our packing list. You can see how much we love them from how well used they are!”
From Wanderlust and Wet Wipes
Pick up litter in National Parks
“A way that our family tries to give back to our community and environment is to pick up litter when we go hiking. We often find trash at beaches, on trails, or in National Parks.
One of the best things to do in Glacier National Park,
our favorite National Park so far, is go hiking.
When we visited in 2017, our kids would search for anything that didn’t belong on the trail. Now, in all honesty, the trails were fairly clean, but we still managed to find some discarded camping items and even our youngest child found it to be a fun game to search for things that don’t belong in nature. As parents, we want to instill a sense of responsibility for our environment and what better way to teach them when they’re young?”
From Let’s Travel Family
Bring Your Own Reusable Water Bottle
“Whenever we travel, we bring our own reusable water bottles. By refilling them, we’re avoiding having yet one more plastic water bottle bring thrown in the trash or recycling. The water tastes better and stays cooler longer in our own bottles too. We saw so much plastic waste washing up onshore during our recent trip to Belize
that it reinforced the need to avoid plastics whenever possible.”
9. Stay with Locals
It can be tempting to come to a new destination and stay at a huge resort, but by staying with a local in their home or with a local bed and breakfast or hotel you will be able to learn the culture and interact with the locals. Here are some ideas:
Stay in a Homestay
“Giving back can be as simple as an intentional choice of where to stay. By choosing accommodations owned and operated by a local family, you can be sure that your travel dollars will have a direct benefit in their lives. Staying in a homestay
is the ultimate win-win because it promotes cultural exchange, which is a gift to both parties, in addition to providing income directly to local families.”
From Intentional Travelers
10. Just Keep Traveling
Despite your travel guilt, just keep traveling. Tourism drives the economy of many destinations around the world and they need our tourism dollars. Many people may put off travel in fear of terrorism or natural disasters, but it’s important to know exactly what is going on at your destination before considering canceling a trip. We shouldn’t let fear of the unknown stop us from traveling.
If you have more ideas on how to give back while traveling, I’d love to hear from you and I’d love to add your experiences to this list! Comment below.