For a holiday or vacation that keeps giving back, be sure to discover these recommendations for eco-friendly and volunteer holidays that are a great way to travel, have fun, experience culture and give back to local communities and the environment while you’re at it.
“Along the way, you’ll be supporting local economies, learning about day-to-day lives in far-flung villages and following that old campfire rule: leave a place better off than you found it,” says Aaronson.
5 Vacations that Keep Giving Back
Travel & leisure curator Suzanne Aaronson (www.suzannesfiles.com) recommends the following five forward-thinking vacations for travelers looking to plan an unforgettable journey that cannot be found in guidebooks.
1) Elevate Destinations
You don’t need to lace up Timberlands and don a hard hat to make a difference in a developing world. Thinking about suiting up for an African safari, tackling the wilds of South America, or feeding your soul in the Himalayas?
Your first call should be to Elevate Destinations in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a boutique travel service dedicated to customizing adventurous, high-end trips that give back to the local communities in each country visited.
Founder Dominique Callimanopulos is nothing short of a trailblazer in the realm of responsible travel. After traveling the world for years as a consultant and fundraiser for international organizations, she launched the agency to merge her love of globetrotting with her philanthropic concerns. “It occurred to me that many of the groups I was encountering could be well served by a company dedicated to philanthropic travel and international giving,” she says.
For every traveler, 5% of the trip’s costs are donated to a non-governmental organization in the particular country visited. Agencies that work on environmental conservation efforts, children’s education, help for HIV and AIDS victims and poverty relief are among the many that will benefit from your journey. But you’ll make more immediate differences and personal connections as well; during your travels, local guides show you around and educate you about the local customs and the lay of the land, and you’ll stay in locally operated lodgings that follow sustainable philosophies. To raise the philanthropy bar even higher, Elevate Destinations recently launched a division that arranges travel for Corporate Responsibility programs.
Prices vary; inquire directly with Elevate Destinations about specific trips or
destinations. Visit www.elevatedestinations.com for more. Elevate Destinations is based in Cambridge, MA in the United States.
2) Cross-Cultural Solutions
Traveling to another continent with Cross-Cultural Solutions takes the “tourist” out of voluntourism. In fact, we think that CCS should coin a new term for its international volunteer travel business: impactism.
The organization has staff members in 12 countries who orchestrate about 3,000 volunteers a year working on more than 250 sustainable community projects. Sure, the numbers speak volumes, but how does it all translate into action?
CCS was founded by Steve Rosenthal, an AT&T engineer who spent a year traveling in the Far East and Africa. During a stop in Kenya, he helped build a clinic and befriended some of the children who would use its services. It was only about a week of his year-long travels, but it was so life-altering that he later launched CCS in 1995 to help others enjoy similar experiences.
Today, traveling volunteers can visit villages and cities in regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Russia and work side by side with locals in thoroughly vetted partner programs. Most are community initiatives that range from working with children to assisting health professionals to caring for the elderly, but some involve opportunities to share your own professional skills.
There’s CCS staff working in all the countries volunteers visit, and their in-depth knowledge ensures that travelers will be connected with people who’ll graciously introduce you to local customs and traditions so you can make the most of your work time and free time.
One week program from $1,695. Visit www.crossculturalsolutions.org for more. Cross-Cultural Solutions is based in New Rochelle, NY in the United States.
Environmentally minded globetrotters can take a far-flung holiday and also aid in the efforts of Seacology, an organization with the motto “Saving the world…one island village at a time.” How do they realize such a lofty ambition?
The Berkeley-based nonprofit arranges and oversees the development of land and sea reserves that protect at-risk island ecosystems and their biodiversity. They’ve worked on 100 islands in 44 countries around the globe. Their modus operandi is to collaborate with local ecosystem management projects.
Seacology works to secure conservation commitments from the local residents. Island inhabitants and their communities benefit: Schools are constructed, municipal offices are repaired, other projects that boost economic development in the long run are put into effect. In other words, island inhabitants and their communities benefit.
In Indonesia’s Iboih Village, Seacology established a permanent mangrove forest reserve. In exchange, locals helped with a coral reef clean-up and mangrove restoration. Several times a year, Seacology runs expeditions to the far corners of the globe to raise funds and connect their supporters with the people and places their work affects. Travelers get a rare chance to learn about remote village life and lend a hand in the community development project, and they have an opportunity to try out local adventures-from scuba diving to an African safari. Past destinations have included Fiji, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Belize, to name a few. Groups are kept small, so booking in advance is a must.
Inquire directly for prices. Visit www.seacology.com for more information. Seacology is based in Berkeley, CA in the United States.
4) Blue Ventures
Think of Blue Ventures as Earth’s agent-speaking up on its behalf and showcasing its lesser known (and sometimes concealed) assets. The London-based agency, which has been in operation since 2001 (long before “eco-tourism” became part of the travel industry’s lingua franca) arranges journeys to conservation and field research sites they’ve established in remote corners of the globe.
Join their field scientists on a visit to the Andavadoaka reefs, a colossal continuous reef system surrounding a fishing village in Madagascar, where scientists are continuously discovering new aquatic species. All aspects of your visit are low-impact-from the use of locally sourced food to boosting the local economy in many other ways. In addition to helping with research (no, you don’t have to be a trained scientist), which could involve a few diving excursions, you’ll meet members of the community and work with them to develop conservation and management programs, get specific economic development projects off the ground and train them to guide future eco-tourists.
Three-week expeditions from £700 per person. Go to www.blueventures.org for more information. Blue Ventures is based in London, United Kingdom.
5) Responsible Travel
You’ve perfected the art of packing light, but when it comes to actual travel, it sometimes feels like you leave the carbon footprint the size of a heavy-footed woolly mammoth. You can research eco-friendly travel on your own, but there’s a lot of green noise on the Web to sift through. Enter: Responsible Travel.
They’re like a good old-fashioned matchmaker, pairing you with a travel operators and accredited green lodgings through their extensive Website. Whether you’re looking to plan a family vacation, explore aquatic wildlife on a scuba trip, kick back on an isolated beach or visit a wellness center to get your mind and body in balance, Responsible Travel’s web site connects you to agencies that have been vetted and approved based on the premium they put on upholding green standards and supporting local
Looking for an ocean escape far from the crowds? Consider a journey to Zanzibar, Sri Lanka or Goa and immerse yourself in the local life when you’re not immersed in the water. We love the “special interest” section, where you can browse for specialists who can help you plan an intensely focused trip on anything from cooking to photography to dancing.
Prices vary; check site for travel option details. Visit www.responsibletravel.com for more information. Responsible Travel is based in Brighton, United Kingdom.