One thing we likely all can agree on when we travel is that we want the money we spend in the beautiful destinations we choose to be used to better the local area and the world. Nobody wants their favorite travel spot to be spoiled by tourism. Here we’ll highlight a number of ways at home and abroad that can make your journey one of betterment for both yourself and those living at your destination.

Make your money count for good

Eat local

Who needs Starbucks anyway? Often if you get just a few streets off of the main tourist spots, you will find the ratio of tourists to locals changes dramatically, the food prices drop, and often the quality rises quickly as well. As the old adage goes, “Location, location, location!” Large corporate entities pay the big bucks for that central property and the locals often can’t afford to rent space nearby. Getting off the main path for food and drinks is a simple step that works in your favor and theirs. A more charming, unique, and authentic experience that helps keep locals in business. 

local produce

Gear up for the planet

Still at home looking for your perfect travel clothes and gear? Start with 1% for the planet. The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, started a non-profit with a simple goal that has been shared by many companies. The goal is simple, give a percent of their profits back to environmental organizations for the betterment of the world. If you can get great stuff and know that you are helping out a bit too, why not? Some favorite members of our are of course Patagonia for their great clothes and gear in general. Miir for their perfect water bottles, cups, tumblers, and drinkware, perfect to reduce the number of single-use products you need to buy on your adventures.

Fair Trade

We all hope to be making a wage that we can live on. Hopefully this means we want the people who live in our favorite destinations and the world in general are able to do the same. Fair Trade is a certification system to ensure that is happening. When at home and abroad, look out for this distinction to ensure the people who made the things you want are getting their fair share of the profits. This ensures that people from farmers to craftspeople and everyone in between are able to make a living and continue to pursue their chosen careers.

Volunteer + Tourism

What if your next trip could not only change you, but change the world for the better? As our world shrinks thanks to connectivity and easy access to information from all over the globe, we’re becoming increasingly aware of life outside of our small, comparatively privileged life. More and more people are asking how they can make a difference.

surf boards

Also known as “voluntourism,” service-based trips offer the opportunity to spend your vacation time, skills, and dollars with those who need them most. They’re also great opportunities for kids (and adults!) to learn empathy and gain a perspective on today’s most pressing issues. Poverty, the environmental impact of climate change, the well-being of children, and conservation of animals and the natural world are all great issues to be involved in.

Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of a volunteer vacation.

Go with heart, but plan with your head

Like any kind of travel, voluntourism is sadly vulnerable to scams and fraud. We at Awaken Travels can provide you with names of reputable and responsible companies. Make sure you know what to pack, which vaccinations are required, which fees might apply, and what challenges (if any) might be present in the area or the work you’re about to engage in.

One of the programs we love to work with is Pack with a Purpose. Run by Sandals Resort (they have some of our very favorite overwater bungalows, if you’re looking for an unforgettable experience) this program is incredibly simple to get involved in. Choose your location, check out which local organizations Pack for a Purpose works with, and pack what those organizations need! It’s a simple way to make a huge difference.

Check out our full article of how to take part in Pack for a Purpose.

Look for opportunities that encourage relationships

It can be easy and somewhat tempting to pop in someplace, make an appearance, and then leave. Your feel-good emotions are triggered, and you don’t have to commit much of yourself to a place or a project. But that shortchanges both you and the recipients of your good intentions.

Indonesia bicycle

Our favorite forms of voluntourism make connections with people, which usually means volunteering for a few days or longer. This builds relationships, communities, and connections. It brings meaning to the experience for both you and the community you’re helping.

Know yourself

If you’ve never been exposed to extreme poverty or the pressing plight of some of the globe’s endangered species, be aware that trips like these can be emotionally demanding. Talk to people, research, ask questions, and be prepared for what you might see and experience.

It’s totally acceptable to not take part in volunteer positions that don’t appeal to you. We work with many organizations and can help connect you to the perfect fit for you and your travel companions.

Opt for good training and a true time commitment, especially for family volunteer trips

Many people have a deep heart for the suffering of children worldwide. And they want to do something to lift spirits and support good work. Look for reputable companies that understand the complex issues associated with working with children and other vulnerable populations. For example, breezing into town and spending an afternoon at an orphanage and then leaving the next day can be distressing for kids who are already dealing with the pain of leaving and loss. A good volunteer organization will tell you exactly what is required of you to have the greatest positive impact on others’ lives. Then you can decide if it’s a commitment you want to make.


Take time to rest and process

When your volunteer commitment is over, take at least few days before leaving to get to know the community you’re visiting. Many organizations will build this into your trip. It’s a time to rest, and to write or talk about your experience with others. Many people are surprised by how life-changing these trips can be — in the best possible ways! — and it can take a while to integrate that new perspective into your everyday life.

Stay in touch

If you volunteer with an organization, take some time to keep in touch once you get back home. It can bring your experience full-circle if you stay connected to the organization you volunteered with. Sign up for newsletter updates; share photos you took; write a note or email a few times a year. 

Looking to make a difference on your next trip?

We’re thrilled to be in a business that helps connect people with the best places and the best parts of themselves. If you’re ready to plan your next adventure that is both a vacation and helping the destination you’re heading to, get in touch with us.


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