Voluntourism trips can be very rewarding, but let’s be honest: they aren’t for everyone. Introverted personalities can find the interaction exhausting. Parents with young kids may worry about keeping them occupied. Or, maybe you just don’t want to spend your vacation working. Legit responses, all. The good news is, you don’t have to build a schoolhouse to pay it forward. Here are some easy alternatives.
1. DONATE MEDICAL AID
Community health clinics in the developing world are often under-equipped with even the most basic of medical supplies like sterile needles, bandages and gauze. Do your research online; email a community health organization and ask if they’d like you to bring anything, and if so, what. Some supplies may be cheaper locally, while others are virtually inaccessible and best packed from Canada.
Visit PackForAPurpose.org for one-stop donation coordination. Check the site for destinations, local NGO wish lists and resorts where you can drop off goods for delivery.
2. SIGN UP FOR A RACE!
Whether you plan ahead or come across an event through serendipity, consider registering for an organized fundraising run or walk. “You’ll meet lots of locals, and you may see a different part of the city or region than you would otherwise,” says Ottawa-based travel writer and blogger Laura Byrne Paquet. Even if you’ve never done one before, you can probably do a 5K race at a leisurely pace.
3. HIRE A LOCAL TOUR GUIDE
Many all-inclusive resorts are foreign-owned, providing few benefits to the local economy, says Tim Chan, a public relations manager with G Adventures, a sustainable tourism provider. That’s why it’s crucial to leave the resort “compound”and explore with a local tour guide. While it may seem easier to join a tour led by an expat English speaker, it’s more rewarding to explore with someone intimately familiar with a region’s cultural traditions – and invested in the community. Lynda Felton, a Toronto-based stylist, currently on an extended trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, signed up for a tour operated by a women’s micro-finance operation, which provides interest-free loans to indigenous women seeking to expand their own businesses. “I got to visit women in their homes and learn about their craft, the history behind it, and how they want to improve their lives,” she says.
Locally owned tour initiatives keep money flowing through the local economy,
empowering individuals, particularly women, who make up the majority of the global tourism workforce. Some of these initiatives help travellers as much as locals: The New Delhi-based Women on Wheels project, for instance, trains marginalized local women to become certified commercial chauffeurs – an option welcomed by many female solo travellers.
4. SHOP FROM THE SOURCE
“Buying directly from local artisans, women’s groups and farmers is always a big help,” says Kristy Woudstra, a Toronto web editor with a background working with development NGOs. “It’s also a great way to get to know people and the issues they face.” When you buy direct from the maker or through an artist-run collective, they earn a better wage than when selling through a souvenir shop.
5. DONATE SCHOOL SUPPLIES
“Many hotels and tour groups in developing nations are actively involved in charitable
efforts, so they may be able to help you target your giving if you email beforehand,” says Los Angeles- and Toronto-based travel blogger Natalie DiScala. That initial research can let you know if a school needs notebooks and pencils from Canada, versus, say, soccer balls or books purchased locally.
6. CLEAN THE BEACH
If your trip doesn’t coincide with an organized beach cleanup, just grab a few trash bags and DIY. Ask a local business where to drop off the waste (don’t leave trash bags on the beach). If you’re scuba diving or taking surfing lessons, ask your shop if they’d like to “host” the cleanup and turn it into a social event with other clients joining in.
7. TIP GENEROUSLY
“I try to take very good care of the people who are taking care of me,” says Toronto-based travel writer Tim Johnson. From your local guide to your dive master, the hotel maid to bellhops and wait staff, it’s always appropriate to tip. Ask the concierge what’s appropriate and err on the generous side.
8. LOOK FOR SUPER-SHORT VOLUNTEER GIGS
On a recent trip to Utila, Honduras, my family ventured to the volunteer-run Iguana Station to learn about the island’s endangered spiny-tailed iguanas. We weren’t interested in ongoing volunteering, but said we had a few hours to help out. As it turned out, the volunteers were having difficulty catching live food for the juvenile iguanas they were raising for release into the wild. They asked if we could drive our ATV to the remote part of the island to catch land crabs and harvest termite nests for the iguanas. Done and done. (And fun!)
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