Let's face it, those of us that live as nomads lead a charmed life. I know it's not all sunshine and puppy dogs but it beats the hell out of working 9-5 in the Midwest. I have learned that no place, no way of living, and no one way is perfect but I do know that I feel grateful and quite privileged to be leading this life.
When we are on the road it is hard to see ways in which to give back but I know that many of you out there want to do just that. You could volunteer in an orphanage but then you read about how bad that really is for the children you are trying to help, or perhaps an organization to save the animals but then you learn they support captive dolphin programs. Ughh, so what kinds of things can we, as travelers, do to help out and pay it forward?
Here are 5 ways to give back while traveling:
As simple as it sounds sometimes donating money is the most we can do. Picking the right organization is key so do your due diligence in researching how the money will be spent and ensuring that those you are trying to help actually benefit the most with no strings attached.
There are orphanages, world wide funds, animal rescues, basically any type of issue you can think of or that you feel passionately about will have some way to donate to the cause. If you are looking for a global charity you can donate to worthy causes here , there are multiple destinations being helped which can be nice if you choose to focus on many rather than just 1 cause.
It may be a given but one way you can help the community is to buy locally. If there is a Walmart or other mega store skip it and visit the local merchants. You will be helping real families and getting to know how the local neighborhoods function. I did shop at some bigger stores whilst living in Costa Rica but they could never replace the community feeling of shopping in a local store. Even if you are only in town for a week it makes a difference!
Volunteering is another great way to give back while you travel and it offers benefits to the people or animals involved as well as to yourself and your family. Many organizations charge money to volunteer and it is to further help support the facility but not all of us have that kind of coin. There are also many that are free and just happy to have someone there to help out, although those are harder to discover opportunities. They do exist though so if you see something you want to help out with don't be shy. Ask around or head over to the organization of choice and offer your help!
If you look online there is no shortage of amazing opportunities. Places like Elephant Nature Park in Thailand offer amazing packages that give you something while you give back. They charge a fee but it is such a great organization that it is well worth the money. If you are really tight on money stay offline to find your spot. When a place is listed online it is usually geared towards tourists and the costs start to skyrocket.
Being mindful of the way you travel can also be a gift back to the rest of us that inhabit the planet. Green up the way you travel in simple ways like taking public transport rather than renting a car, or take the bus instead of flying (you'll have much cooler stories from a bus in Cambodia than you could ever get on a flight). I know travel in general is not very green but every little bit counts so try to do your best to lessen your footprint.
Think outside the box
I cannot believe how many creative and new ways there are to give back. Simple things like donating your miles to people in need, booking your trip through an organization that gives back, using extra luggage space to pack supplies that locals where you are going to may need (school supplies is a huge need in many countries), and keeping your eyes open for outreach programs.
All in all there are loads of ways to give back no matter what your financial bracket is. I do caution that many people in developing nations peddle children and reap the benefits and plenty of huge organizations give an abysmal amount to the actual cause they are supposed to be helping so do your research before committing to any volunteer or charitable donation organization.