What I love about having this blog is connecting with other travelers who want to help the world they travel in. It’s been so amazing to hear stories from others on how they have made the planet better through their travels and connections they have made on the road. This blog is a bit of a celebration of how many people truly care about making the world a better place.
For those who might be looking on how to volunteer abroad or make a difference, it can be a little confusing about how to get started. I wrote a post about a year ago on how voluntourism can sometimes end up hurting a location and the people who live there more than helping it. As conscious travelers, we want to avoid that as much as possible on our journeys and make sure that our efforts are helping rather than harming.
So how do you know which ways you can end up contributing to the world positively? It’s taken me some time and research to find which ways I can personally help others. Every traveler has various interests and certain ways that he or she wants to contribute, so finding out what you are passionate about and what you feel you can lend can add a lot to your volunteer efforts.
Also, checking out long-established organizations that have partnered with reputable non-profits is a great way to narrow down which programs are only in it for the money. The voluntourism industry often tends to skim some of the profits off the top for their own gain rather than giving it to the people or animals who really need it. This isn’t always the case, but it’s always a good idea to do some research before you sign up for a program.
Many tour companies and programs now strongly oppose to volunteering in orphanages. While children are often the people you want to help the most, a whole industry has been created around having tourists visit for a few days, only to leave the kids behind. It’s been shown to encourage the sex trade and children make connections with volunteers—only to have them leave a few days later. Instead, donations through organizations like Children International can encourage children to stay in school. 90% of your contribution goes to helping kids, which the price of flights, room and board, and much else does not when volunteering at orphanages.
Some of the best ways to help the world while traveling is by making conscious decisions when you do so. Take buses and trains if you can instead of flying. Use reusable containers for shampoo and body wash when you can. Pack light and donate old clothes after you’re finished with a journey. One of the best things I ever did was buy a refillable water bottle. Even if I had to purchase a plastic one in countries where water isn’t always clean from the tap, I could make sure the plastic bottle was recycled properly.
Most of all, being respectful of the place you are traveling to is the best way to show that you care. Be open to seeing things from other perspectives, buy gifts from local artisans and be a patron at local businesses. Ask the locals if they would recommend a good place for you to help out if you are unsure about which places are positively impacting the area.
I’ve also learned that volunteering at home helps, as well. Plant a tree, pick up trash, participate in a local food drive. You don’t have to travel around the world to do some good!
How have you chosen ways to give back while traveling (or at home)?