Impact Travel: How Travelers Can Give Back

Travelers can give back by donating money, supplies, time, and/or effort to help improve the lives of other people. Some specific ways travelers can give back include:

  • Teaching abroad, although it is a job, is a way to immerse into another culture while helping other people.
  • Working with humanitarian agencies, people can be travel volunteers and assist in disaster-struck areas or improve the quality of life in impoverished places.
  • Through Kiva, I have made loans to people in 70 countries—more than I have traveled to.
  • Many hotels—entire brands and individual properties—partner with local charities.

While most of my trips are for the purpose of reporting on a destination or specific property, one trip I made this year specifically focused on travel philanthropy. Fathom Cruise sails between Miami and Dominican Republic every other week (they sail to Cuba the other weeks). Their mission for Dominican Republic sailings is to provide Impact Travel services to the local residents. Fathom Cruise passengers can volunteer to teach English, reforest, build cement floors, and other impact activities.

I met many impressive people on my Fathom Cruise—including Amelia Old of Passports From the Heart, where her stated mission is “Travel and Philanthropy. It’s my desire to encourage individuals to not only travel but to also immerse themselves within the culture of the places they are visiting.”

I asked Amelia to contribute to this article.

There’s an incredible website that I support called—a company that works to enhance the mission of social organizations by facilitating in-person interactions between travelers and communities around the world. During my recent visit to Athens, Greece I decided to meet with one of the many organizations that works with. Shedia is a street paper that works to provide employment for the homeless of Athens who have been affected by the economic crisis. works with organizations all over the world that not only give back but help you understand the community you are visiting.

Amelia Old : Passports From the Heart

Shedia: How Travelers Can Give Back. Photo credit: Amelia Old
Shedia: How Travelers Can Give Back. Photo credit: Amelia Old

Recently I saw that Amelia Old traveled to Africa with another amazing woman I met on a different trip. I asked Paula Schuck to tell me more about that mission.

Every child should have a Shot at Life. All children have a right to health. But, in many developing countries around the world families face overwhelming obstacles to accessing life-saving vaccines.

Shot@Life is an organization that helps and advocates for funding to deliver lifesaving vaccines to those in need. Recently I traveled with Shot@Life and The UN Foundation to Zambia to see the work being done there to help build a healthier future for children.

Over the week we spent in Zambia we had a chance to visit many health clinics and hospitals and we interviewed moms about the lengths they go to in order to get health care for their children.

Zambia is one of the most stable environmentally intact environments in Africa. It is a country working hard to build a better future and that is evident in government policy and also the fact that the government works well with many NGOs, accepting help where needed.

Right now the current administration in Zambia is investing in travel and tourism and health care. That means that when you travel to Zambia, you can take heart in knowing that the money you spend in country is being used to build a sustainable future for all who live there.

When you travel you make a choice to spend your money in the destination country. Your tourist dollars can help build better futures when you know where they are going. Do the research before you book your trip and commit to impact travel.

Paula SchuckThrifty Mommas Tips

Shot@Life: How Travelers Can Give Back. Photo credit: Paula Shuck
Shot@Life: How Travelers Can Give Back. Photo credit: Paula Shuck

Thank you Amelia and Paula. You inspire me (and I hope countless others) to think of travel as more than just exploring places.

The following volunteer programs, impact travel activities, and other initiatives were recommended by various destinations, brands, and PR firms.

Global Destinations Where Travelers Can Give Back

Kind Traveler, the first Give + Get hotel booking platform, transforms travelers into a force that benefits communities, the environment, and animals. Giving back has been linked to better health and happiness while leaving a positive impact on the world.

Travelers donate to a local or global charity of choice on the platform and are entitled to exclusive hotel rates with our curated properties. 100% of donations are given to charities. The hotels are featured by their Kind Metrics like green practices, offerings for vegetarians/vegans, and volunteer opportunities.

The hotels include brands like Virgin Hotels, 1 Hotels, The James, and more. Travelers can book hotels in the US, Mexico, and Caribbean.

KindTraveler: How Travelers Can Give Back
KindTraveler: How Travelers Can Give Back

The Travel Corporation (TTC) recently partnered with ME to WE to provide ‘travel with purpose,’ immersive travel, and volunteer trips in 2017 with the focus on sustainable and long-term international community development. Offerings from some of their brands.

Contiki offers 5 day post trip extensions in the Amazon.

Insight Vacations offers 4 day post trip extensions in India.

Lion World Travel offers 4 day post trip extensions in Kenya to the Maasai Mara.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offers 4 day post trip extensions in India.

REI Adventures has an amazing line-up of trips to scenic destinations. All the trips do a beautiful job of marrying volunteer heavy schedules with elevated leisure/explore time.

REI Adventures: How Travelers Can Give Back
REI Adventures: How Travelers Can Give Back

Specific Destinations Where Travelers Can Give Back

St. John, USVI

Guests can stay at the Concordia Eco-resort in St. John, USVI for free for one month between June 1 and November 15 in exchange for working on the property.

Central America

For an unexpected glimpse of one of Latin America’s most thriving destinations, The Westin Playa Bonita takes travelers into the heart of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Casco Viejo, for a behind-the-scenes tour led by reformed ex-gang members from the local community, many of whom have been involved in gangs since grade school. As part of Panama City’s gentrification efforts, Fortaleza Tours empower young locals by providing them with a forum to share their personal stories, earn money to support their families, and ensure that the once-dangerous area remains a zona de paz (peaceful place). After travelers are led through the cobblestone streets while learning about the history of one of Panama’s oldest cities, they’re treated to traditional mojitos handmade by the guides at a pop-up bar cart on a colorful side street.

Fortaleza Tours: How Travelers Can Give Back
Fortaleza Tours: How Travelers Can Give Back

Lake Atitlàn is a hidden gem in Guatemala, with its three iconic volcanoes and the 12 charming Mayan villages that line the shore, each known for a specific offering. A boutique hotel perched on the outskirts of the lake, Casa Palopo is a gateway to exploring and giving back to the indigenous villages, by organizing boat tours to towns such as San Juan La Laguna. A municipality known for its weaving cooperatives and art galleries, San Juan La Laguna is one of the most progressive communities around the lake, empowering women to take control of their lives by running their own businesses and avoiding early pregnancy through sexual education programs. Casa Palopo’s tours to San Juan La Laguna give travelers the opportunity to shop local goods, which in turn boosts its economy and helps propel programs that keep the community on a path to social development.

Spread across 900 acres of lush natural reserve near the base of Costa Rica’s Arenal volcano, Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa is an eco-friendly escape where guests are immersed in nature from the moment they arrive, with thermal springs and cascading waterfalls naturally heated by the volcano’s magma and spa treatments performed al fresco to the sounds of local wildlife (there are 500+ species right on property). The carbon neutral resort works with the local community to conserve natural resources with initiatives such as environmental species tagging, plant-a-tree-programs, integral waste management, and water conservation.

Staying true to their inspired-by-nature approach, The Palms Hotel & Spa offers a “Do Good, Feel Good” Package for eco-warriors and nature-minded travelers looking to impact the world at large during their vacation, which includes participation in one of their quarterly beach clean-ups. Ocean trash is a serious pollution problem that affects the health of people and wildlife, and through the beach clean-ups at The Palms, guests can make a difference by keeping Miami Beach beautiful along the sand and sea that stretches between 30th and 39th streets. The clean-ups are led in partnership with International Coastal Clean-Up, an organization that collected more than 18 million pounds of trash by nearly 800,000 volunteers in 2015.

At sister properties the CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort and the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa, together known as The Marriott Cancun Collection and situated along an exclusive strip of beach in the heart of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, the hotels’ executive team is closely involved with a local Salvation Army foundation called Escuela de Ninos Ejercito de Salvacion, an orphanage that leads programs to assess, nurture, and develop children. During a stay at either resort, the properties can arrange for families or even corporate groups to visit the orphanage to lead games, hand out snacks, and spend quality time with the children.


Working with the Environment:

  • TreeUtah: In 2015, 4,528 volunteers helped TreeUtah plant more than 11,200 trees across the state. Not only can tree-loving participants plant saplings, but they can also BE a tree. Carrie Cottonwood, TreeUtah’s mascot, visits schools around Salt Lake County to teach an award-winning assembly program about the benefits of these tall, leafy plants.

  • Mountain Trails Foundation: Park City’s 400-mile trail system is protected and maintained with the help of the Mountain Trails Foundation and its volunteers. During the summer event season, volunteers are needed to make sure events run smoothly, from course setup to the awards ceremony. Have some more time to commit? Become an Ambassador, acting as a spokesperson for Mountain Trails at community events.

Working with Animals:

  • HawkWatch Raptor Volunteer Programs: HawkWatch International, an organization dedicated to conserving raptors and their environment, offers multiple different volunteer opportunities throughout the year. From taking raptors out to community programs to assisting with migration mapping, HWI provides unique experiences to learn about these birds of prey.

  • Best Friends Animal Sanctuary: The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, located in Angel Canyon, is the ultimate volunteer spot for all kinds of animal lovers. Home to around 1,700 homeless animals including horses, dogs, pigs and goats, the animal refuge hosts thousands of volunteers a year to help with various projects.

Working with People:

  • SLC GREENbike’s Make A Wish Bike: Ride around Salt Lake City on an eco-friendly bicycle while supporting Utah’s Make-A-Wish Foundation. GREENbike, the city’s urban bike-sharing program, along with SelectHealth, donate $1 to the charity every time a blue “Make A Wish Bike” is ridden.

  • Dinosaur National Monument: Couples or individuals looking to give back to the National Park Service can apply to be a Volunteer Visitor Center Host at Dinosaur National Monument. Working 32 hours a week, hosts provide information to park visitors and assist with bookstore sales, as well as various projects in the visitor center.
Dinosaur National Park: How Travelers Can Give Back
Dinosaur National Park: How Travelers Can Give Back


The Away Inward Foundation is the US based nonprofit arm of Away Inward Retreats. They rebuild schools in Nepal damaged and destroyed by recent earthquakes.

Pasadena, California

The Langham Huntington, Pasadena works closely with a charity partner, Five Acres, who promotes safe, loving, and permanent family solutions for children in foster care. Throughout the year, The Langham donates portions of proceeds from various initiatives, like Imagine Tea and November’s Adoption Awareness travel packages, to Five Acres.

Providenciales, Turks & Caicos

Ocean Club Resorts—consisting of two properties, Ocean Club and Ocean Club West—is located on Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales. The hotel partners with Potcake Place, a dog rescue charity shelter that is located within walking distance from Ocean Club West. Guests can donate toys, towels, newspaper, food, money, etc., as well as their time to adopt a dog for the day and take them for walks to the beach. Potcake Place runs completely on donations and volunteer time, so they depend on visitors and locals donating their resources and time to help with the precious puppies.

Do you know other ways how travelers can give back?

What is your favorite way to give back when you travel? What companies or brands do you think work well with local charities and do you like to support?

Featured / header photo credit: Christina Riley : website (thank you!)

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Impact Travel: How Travelers Can Give Back. Travelers can give back—donate money, supplies, time, and/or effort to help make someone's life a little better.

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30 thoughts on “Impact Travel: How Travelers Can Give Back”

  1. I volunteer on ocean expeditions to assist scientists in collecting data for our endangered species! I love Citizen Science! Travels with Tam has a cool trip right now!

  2. Love learning about all these great opportunities to combine travel with helping others. Kiva is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways I’ve found to help from home, but I’d love to do some volunteering when abroad.

  3. A lot of these look like great opportunities. It seems to me that you can also help without taking time from your sightseeing by just being conscious of where you spend your money. If you book a complete package at home, for example, a lot of the cash stays at home. If you book with locally-run hotels, on the other hand, you’re feeding money into the local economy directly. If you must stay in an international chain hotel, that’s fine, but look for local restaurants for your meals. And so on.

  4. What an incredible list of organizations! We are so fortunate to travel and lucky to be able to give bak.

  5. Interesting list of chances to give back. I was unaware of most of these and am glad to learn about them. Thanks.

  6. I didn’t realise there were so many fabulous opportunities to help different communities around the world. A few years ago I went on a photography tour to Jordan with The Giving Lens, a company run by photographer Colby Brown whose tours benefit the local communities they visit. It really was a fabulous experience working with a local woman’s coop just out side Amman for a couple of the tour days.

  7. What a great selection of opportunities. And yes, I do think it’s good to give back in some way when we travel to developing countries especially. Isn’t Kiva a great way of giving 🙂

  8. These are great ideas. I am always thinking about ways to give back and volunteer through travel. I am hoping to add a bi-yearly medical volunteer trip to my travel plans. Thanks for sharing. This is so important.

  9. It’s nice to know that the Langham Huntington is a great resort hotel but also has a community spirit. I’m inclined to support them more than ever after learning this!

  10. I loved reading this. Travel can be an amazing opportunity to help and give back, but it is often difficult to figure out exactly how to do it or what organisation to trust. I am bookmarking this and will use it for our next trips

  11. These are some great work being carried out silently. Kudos to them. I like how well you made a collaborative post on this topic.
    I am now inspired to think of ways to make contributions to places I travel.

  12. This is awesome. There are some really cool opportunities here, and so many of them are actually doable vs being long shots. I also love seeing how many brands are on board with value-added traveling.

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