Lending a helping hand to those in need while on vacation — a concept broadly known as voluntourism — has developed steadily over the past decade as travelers seek ways to give back to the communities where they’re enjoying a getaway. And while some organizations focus solely on voluntourism trips, where each day is spent working with local organizations to paint schools, teach English, clear trails, or clean beaches, many mainstream travel companies and cruise lines have added give-back components to their itineraries that allow guests to volunteer for a morning, afternoon, or full day as part of their otherwise traditional vacation. Here are six companies that encourage give-back voluntourism.
As rewarding as discovering a new destination can be, donating a small amount of your time to helping that community’s residents or its environment will create feel-good memories that last long after your port call. That’s at the heart of Crystal Cruises You Care, We Care program, which provides its passengers with an opportunity to book a free voluntourism shore excursion on every cruise. In San Francisco, for example, guests dedicated a morning to joining local volunteers in packaging apples and rice for distribution by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which feeds more than 225,000 people daily. Options in other ports include planting trees in New Zealand and Iceland, engaging with children and the elderly in Colombia and Belize, and volunteering at animal rescue or rehabilitation centers in Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Universal Orlando Resort
Spreading the joy of a theme park visit to kids battling life-threatening illness has been the mission of Orlando-based Give Kids the World since 1989. And Universal Orlando Resort, which has been a partner since 1990, encourages guests to donate four hours of time during their Volunteer Vacation to the 84-acre Give Kids the World Village, where critically ill children and their families stay for a week, free of cost. Volunteers (pre-screening is required) will greet families at the airport, serve food, and work on arts and crafts projects and other interactive activities.
Every guest aboard Aqua Expeditions’ river cruises in the Peruvian Amazon are encouraged to Pack for a Purpose by bringing school supplies (pencils, crayons, paper) and basic toiletry and medical supplies (toothbrushes, bandages, antibacterial ointment) to distribute to children and families living along the rivers during organized village visits. Passengers can also purchase and donate kits (sanitation, education, and nutrition) designed purposely for the region. Aqua Expeditions has also partnered with Room to Read for its cruises in Vietnam and Cambodia, inviting guests to sponsor a young girl to learn to read and write for a year with a $50 donation.
Sandals, one of the Caribbean’s largest all-inclusive resort groups, runs the Sandals Foundation, which supports a variety of initiatives throughout the region, including Pack for a Purpose in support of local schools on the islands where it has resorts: Jamaica, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and Grenada. Guests can also trade some time in the sun for time in the classroom by participating in the Reading Road Trip (via Island Routes) and volunteering to read to local school children.
Tour company Trafalgar, which has its own TreadRight initiative to invest in local communities and protect the environment, has also partnered with ME to WE to allow guests to extend their guided journey (at additional cost) in both India by volunteering for three days in rural Rajasthan on a local community development project (building a classroom or digging irrigation ditches) and Ecuador by participating in sustainable development in the Amazon jungle.
If your time is limited — like you’re traveling for business or with small children— but you want to help in some small way, consider staying at any Omni hotel or resort in the U.S. (there are 60). The brand's Say Goodnight to Hunger program, in conjunction with Feeding America, donates one meal to a person in need for every booking made — and that adds up to nearly nine million meals a year.