Expand Your Horizons & Make A Difference
For a certain stripe of world travelers (us), the daydreams wander automatically to sitting under the inky skies of constellations over Patagonia, watching the spinning loom of a local artisan bringing life to a piece of wool, and simply arriving at that lightbulb moment where we feel inexplicably connected to the people or place we’ve traveled to. That’s the way that impact-minded travel, at its humblest, becomes so much more than “for the Insta,” but a real way to broaden cultural perspectives, find a new normal in a foreign land, and realize we’re all just a small part of a big world.
Unlike voluntourism, which can sap the resources of a local community, social impact travel (you coin it: sustainable tourism, conscious travel, responsible travel) invites visitors to check the purity of their intentions at the door, cultivate a conscious approach in being part of a sustainable work in the community, and do good instead of just feeling good.
The United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, and we imagine that the next few years will be no different. Thanks to the many social impact travel platforms available, altruistic travelers can easily choose their own adventure, from ventures of just a few hours to a few days. For starters, here are six of our favorite companies changing the world through travel.
Journey’s six to nine day impact trips are perfect for mindful travelers without an itinerary (or even a destination). Join upcoming trips to renovate a local school in Nicaragua, working alongside seasoned nonprofit Glasswing International to paint murals, garden and clean, as well as de-briefing on the experience through the “integration” portion of each Journey trip. In this case, coastline hiking on a volcano, chatting about the experience with your peers in the equatorial sunshine along the shade of the mangrove forests...you get the picture (Hint: many Journey experiences also double as wellness retreats, meaning yoga workshops are a staple here).
If the Latin heat isn’t your preferred kind of wave, travel to where the sky meets the sea and say "aloha" to restoring coral reefs in Hawaii alongside Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea. With such curated experiences, it’s hard to believe Journey is only just turning two in 2018, though it’s helmed by individuals who have over a decade of experience working in the nonprofit space.
Visit.org, a certified B Corp, is one of the largest platforms for travelers looking to incorporate meaningful experiences into their travels. From sea to shining sea or across the pond, travelers can explore all six continents and even sort by cause, including education, women's empowerment, agriculture, animals, environment, human rights.
Don your chillba hat and tour Vietnam's lush rice paddies to help educate non-Vietnamese speaking students from ethnic minorities, support conservation efforts of the world’s largest brown bear sanctuary in Romania, or pick up a paintbrush to try your hand at pre-Incan artisanal crafts in Peru. The certified B Corp carefully vets the nonprofits they work with and believes that by 2020, every trip itinerary will include at least one half-day activity with a cause.
El Camino Travel
For the wanderlusting Millennial looking for a one-stop shop, El Camino takes an intimate group of travelers starting from zero to places that embolden local creatives. Each trip is custom-made, guided by locals, and unlike past excursions (meaning pricing varies from trip to trip).
Current destinations include the kaleidoscope-colored country of Colombia (imagine: tasting exotic fruits to soaking in a volcano mud bath...), to beachy Nicaragua’s countless emerald beaches and sun-flicked mai tai's. The cherry on top? Each trip includes a group photographer who will deliver 20+ shots per day, so you won’t have to worry about pulling out your phone to document the experience.
Airbnb Social Impact Experiences
Elevated couch surfers, design culture aficionados, and curious travelers looking to couple their bookings alongside local impact can now book unique travel experiences with Airbnb. Leveraging the worldwide platform to walk in the well-worn shoes of their hosts from local nonprofits, guests (and hosts, for that matter) are able to contribute in a greater way to the communities they travel to/live in—a win-win.
Airbnb even waives the service fee so that 100% of what you pay is reinvested into the local nonprofits, one of the most surefire ways to account for positive social change while traveling. So what are you waiting for? Keep an eye out for the loop-the-loop social impact ribbon while browsing experiences, like cuddling rescued shelter kitties at a Japanese cat cafe or leave half your heart in Havana with the skater boys of Cuba Skate (your ticket will go to support youth development programs across the island).
Drop your next pin in Southeast Asia or Latin America while going “Lokal,” a platform that’s directly committed to supporting local cultural livelihoods and protecting natural wonders, whether that’s through reverse engineering the chain of your single-origin bean at this Costa Rican coffee farm or practicing your rolled R’s while floating on Amazonian ecolodges.
Lokal is a B Corps in-the-making, but you can trust the founders, who include an ex-Kiva portfolio manager, as well as two award-winning international documentary filmmakers. The co-founders even lead a few custom, small group adventures each year so you can get the inside scoop, off the beaten path: "no bus tours, chain hotels, karaoke nights or fusion cuisine” included, Lokal’s words verbatim.
For the Love of Travel
Perfect for solo jetsetters (80% of travelers go alone, 70% of which are women), For the Love of Travel is all about slowing down and embracing “slow travel” for hustling Millennials, especially creatives and entrepreneurs. For every person that joins a trip, FTLO partners with Plant With Purpose to plant 10 trees to offset travel’s carbon footprint.
Weekenders around the continental US include a LA wine country rendezvous to Paso Robles, learning how to throw a tomahawk and horseback ride in Denver, while international backdrops include the “bush camps” of South Africa or the candy-colored houses of Scandinavia. Hang on tight to the handrails: travel around town usually takes place vis-a-vis public transportation, a more conscious option that puts urban sustainability first.
If you’re interested in collecting a few more passport stamps through altruistic travel on a professional level, flock together with other birds of a feather through the Impact Travel Alliance (previously Travel+SocialGood); this nonprofit coalition was born out of the UN’s +SocialGood initiative to transform the travel industry to solve pressing issues like poverty and inequality.
Don’t forget to also pack responsibly, consider eco-friendly housing options (or donating to a local charity while you book a hotel with Wander or KindTraveler), and even string along thoughtfully-designed luggage like Away’s blush suitcases (the company actively partners alongside nonprofit Peace Direct to improve humanitarian efforts in conflict zones).
Feeling the travel bug? Let us know in the comments if you’ve had any memorable impact-minded travel experiences, or what’s next on your bucket list!
About The Author
Alice is a California-based writer thinking on the things shaping urban living, the modern woman’s experience, and living a conscious life of impact in light of a bigger world. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she recently spent a year abroad in Peru working with a microfinance project. You can follow her latest creative endeavors and musings at Mine Felicity or on Instagram at @alice.zhng.