35° Good Morning
35° Good Morning

How to become a charitable traveler

REI Adventures offers trips that try to make

REI Adventures offers trips that try to make a lasting impact such as this trip here, to Machu Picchu, Peru, where participants work with park rangers to restore and maintain the archaeological structures. Credit: REI Adventures

After hundreds of business trips and a vacation or two, Clement Quintyne's Briggs & Riley Rollaboard was ready for the recycler. The wheels were worn and the outside was frayed.

His wife, Debra, figured it was time for new luggage. But what to do with the old bag? Then she heard about the company's new trade-in program called "A Case for Giving." Quintyne, a manager from Raleigh, North Carolina, could return his luggage and receive a $100 credit on a new Briggs & Riley bag. The aging spinner would be donated to charity.

It was a deal she couldn't pass up, she said, because there's a deficit of compassion among travelers.

"I don't think travelers are charitable to one another," she said. "People are more concerned with getting on airplanes first so they can stow their luggage before there is no more overhead space. Hopefully, this luggage exchange will spread and will make people stop and think about the many blessings that they have."

Charity starts in the planning

Charity can start before your trip begins. For example, Vacation 4 A Cause, a travel agency based in Flower Mound, Texas, donates a portion of the money you spend on your vacation to a nonprofit partner. A typical resort vacation for a family of four could generate a donation of about $300, said Jennifer Gross, the agency's owner.

Organizations such as Tourism Cares help the travel industry be more philanthropic, giving professionals like Gross an outlet for giving and volunteering. Tourism Cares is known for its industry volunteer projects at destinations in need. Most recently, it coordinated an effort by 325 volunteers from 29 states to help restore Miami's landmark Marine Stadium.

But lately, it has added philanthropy and corporate social responsibility programs, said Mike Rea, the organization's chief executive. Among them are philanthropic awards and strategy consulting.

"Travelers are using their pocketbooks in new ways to benefit communities," Rea said. "Often, before they leave, they'll scout out options for giving back and getting involved. Sometimes they plan their whole trip around community involvement." Voluntourism, as the concept is known, remains one of the most popular ways for travelers to get involved in a charitable cause.

Making a real impact

Because many tours are just resort vacations interrupted by an afternoon of feel-good activities, like picking up trash on the beach, tour operators such as REI Adventures are trying to set themselves apart by offering trips that make a "real and significant impact," said general manager Cynthia Dunbar.

Its Virgin Islands Volunteer Vacation, for instance, focuses on trail work in Virgin Islands National Park that is done alongside National Park Service rangers. You'll clean up debris, fix trails and remove vegetation in the park. But it's not all work: you'll have two free days out of the week to hike, snorkel, swim and relax.

Hotels are getting in on the act, too. The Sheraton Kauai Resort offers a program called Table 53 at its signature oceanfront restaurant, RumFire Poipu Beach. A portion of your check goes to charity. So far, the program has raised $90,000.

"It's an easy way for travelers to give back to our small island community," said hotel spokeswoman June Cappiello.

Offsetting irresponsible tourism

The luxury cruise line Seabourn has a new partnership with UNESCO that allows passengers to help save destinations that may have been damaged by years of irresponsible tourism. It now offers World Heritage Discovery Tours with itineraries developed in cooperation with the agency, site managers and tour experts. Prices for the tours include a donation to benefit UNESCO's World Heritage sites -- designated places of special cultural or physical significance. Seabourn will also make a small donation to UNESCO when customers book its shore excursions online.

The two-week luggage exchange by Briggs & Riley resulted in hundreds of bags being donated through participating retailers. The luggage was refurbished and sent to people in immediate need in local communities, including the Ronald McDonald House charities in New York, Atlanta and Denver. All told, more than 100 charity partners participated in the promotion.

It came about when Briggs & Riley chief executive Richard Krulik, who is active in charities, realized that his products had the potential to meet a very real need, "whether it's helping a child leaving foster care or a family traveling to care for the health of a loved one."

Bottom line: No matter where you're going or what stage of the journey you're at, there are more opportunities than ever to do good.

Travel Extras