When you plan your next vacation, consider how you can help make the world a better place. You can still sightsee and suntan, but you can also help build a school desk, protect wildlife and even dig a well.
Voluntourism (volunteer + tourism) gives a greater purpose to your vacations. Sherwin Banda, President of African Travel, Inc., has seen this growing trend firsthand in his native Africa, where wildlife safaris entice tourists to visit.
“When they are here, something else happens: They fall in love with the people,” says Banda. “Now I have a connection to the country I’m visiting. Now I want to give back; I want to tithe my time to uplift the local community through experiences like implementing clean running water or visiting a local school. And that is what keeps people coming back.”
There are plenty of ways you can combine giving back with traveling. From the African savanna to Alaskan bays, here are 10 ways to experience the world and leave behind more than just a footprint. For each journey, AAA Travel Advisors can help you plan a vacation that gives back and gives you AAA Member benefits.
Discover why it’s so important to be a responsible traveler—and what you can do about it.Read More
1. Immerse yourself in the culture of Kenya.
Have an unforgettable experience in Maasai Mara, a national wildlife reserve in southwestern Kenya. On safari there, you can stay at a lodge and help with day-to-day tasks like planting trees, beekeeping or even assisting with conservation work. Further explore the local way of life with a visit to a Maasai village, where you can learn how huts are made and meet local children.
Tip: Bring along extra pens, pencils or other items to donate to local schools.
2. Help save sea turtles in the Yucatan.
Escape to an all-inclusive resort on the northeastern shore of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and help protect sea turtles while you’re there. Turtle conservation camps at the resort help monitor nesting sea turtles and their eggs along the crystal-clear coastlines of Riviera Maya. You can participate with sea turtle adoption programs operated in alliance with Flora, Fauna y Cultura de Mexico and the Travel Foundation.
3. Promote Weavers in Peru.
Explore the capital city of Lima, the mountains of Machu Picchu and the waters of Lake Titicaca. Fully immerse yourself in the land of the Inca, knowing that a portion of your trip’s cost goes to The TreadRight Foundation. This joint nonprofit initiative of AAA travel partner The Travel Corporation’s family of brands helps financially support a weavers group in Peru that promotes the sale of textiles and employs hundreds of people.
4. Help school children in South Africa and in countries in East Africa.
Donate your time and labor to education projects in Africa. In Tanzania, stay at Gibb’s Farm and work alongside the farm’s carpenters to build desks for local schools. Sustainability is at the forefront on the farm, where you can spend time in the terraced flower gardens and the organic vegetable gardens, where the chef harvests fresh ingredients for meals. In South Africa’s Cape Town, spend an afternoon with children at the Amy Foundation’s after-school music program.
5. Improve infrastructure in Ecuador.
Work on building projects in the jungles of Ecuador, such as digging a well or laying the foundation for a health center. Gain insight and an understanding of the Kichwa people’s culture and language—help a farmer plant seeds, harvest crops or fetch water from the river. Experience the wonders of the rainforest as you spot frogs, tree snakes, owls and more.
6. Help clean up waterways in Amsterdam.
While on a river cruise through The Netherlands, you can be part of a fun mission to help clear Amsterdam’s waterways of unwanted plastic trash. During an outing with Plastic Whale—the world’s first plastic fishing company—you’ll use a net to snag and haul plastic bottles and other debris from the water. The plastics that are collected are then recycled into furniture and boats like the one used for the excursion.
7. Nurture nature in South Africa.
Visit the Shamwari Private Game Reserve, home to lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhinos, elephants, hippos and more. You can participate in the reserve’s conservation efforts by monitoring species, removing invasive plants and working to address community needs. Plus, a portion of your trip’s cost with African Travel is donated to Shamwari to help provide a safe haven for rhinos.
8. Support future generations in Cambodia.
On a trip to Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia, you can visit the Phare Circus. Be delighted by the performances of the students from the Phare Ponleu Selpak arts school, which teaches artistic skills to orphaned and disadvantaged children. By supporting the school, you’ll help give kids the know-how they need for a successful future.
9. Contribute to whale research in Alaska.
Join a cruise excursion aboard a research boat and help study humpback whales. Volunteer as a citizen scientist for the day, exploring the food chain by drawing plankton samples and snapping GPS-pinpointed photos of whales. The information you gather will be used in research to better understand how the whales interact with their habitat.
10. Plant a garden in Jamaica.
Add a cruise excursion that lets you experience island life. Float down a river on a bamboo raft or go horseback riding on a beach, then give back by assisting with an outreach program for homeless people in Montego Bay. Plant vegetables and trees that will bear the ingredients for meals or participate in other activities, such as helping distribute new clothing and bath products.
4 Steps to Making Travel Matter
Hoping to make a difference on your next vacation? Here are four ways to become a more considerate traveler based on The TreadRight Foundation’s How Can You Make Travel Matter? checklist.
- Do your research. When planning your trip, find out about travel providers’ sustainability efforts and choose from those committed to responsible travel practices. As a member of Tourism Cares, AAA partners with tour operators that make sustainability a priority.
- Be prepared. As you prepare to leave, take steps to make sure you’re doing what you can to protect your destination’s environment and respect its local cultures. You can pack reusable water and toiletry bottles and shopping bags, for example. Plus, research and learn some local customs of the places you’re visiting.
- Be a thoughtful visitor. While there, support the community by shopping and eating locally. And be mindful of your energy and water usage by keeping the heat/air conditioning at a moderate temperature and taking shorter showers.
- Bring what you’ve learned home with you—and share it with friends and family. After your trip, you may even decide to donate to or volunteer with an organization that supports the place you visited.