10 Vacations That Help You Give Back

Each travel experience is as unique as the community you’re supporting.

Sherwin Banda voluntourism African Travel, Inc.

When you plan your next vacation, consider how you can help make the world a better place. You can still sightsee and suntan, but you can also build a school desk, help protect wildlife and even dig a well while on vacation.

Voluntourism (volunteer + tourism) gives a greater purpose to your vacations. Sherwin Banda has seen this growing trend firsthand in his native Africa, where wildlife safaris entice tourists to visit.

“When they are here, something else happens: They fall in love with the people,” says Banda, President of African Travel. “Now I have a connection to the country I’m visiting. Now I want to give back, I want to tithe my time to uplift the local community through experiences like implementing clean running water or visiting a local school. And that is what keeps people coming back.”

There are plenty of ways you can combine giving back with traveling. From the African savanna to the Alaskan bays, here are 10 ways to experience the world and leave more than just a footprint behind. For each journey, AAA Travel Agents can help you plan a vacation that gives back and gives you AAA Member benefits.

1. Build for the future in Kenya

Have an unforgettable experience in Maasai Mara, a national reserve in southwestern Kenya. Through the Me to We program, immerse yourself in the community and help to build a new school, participate in bringing water to the village—a daily activity for mamas in the community—and learn the art of traditional Maasai beading, which is an important source of income for families. Further explore the Maasai way of life through a guided hike, a market visit and a school tour.

2. Save sea turtles in the Yucatan

Escape to an all-inclusive resort on the northeastern shore of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and help protect the sea turtles while you’re there. Turtle Conservation Camps at the resort help monitor nesting sea turtles and their eggs along the crystal clear coastlines of Riviera Maya. You can participate with sea turtle adoption programs operated in alliance with Flora, Fauna & Culture of Mexico and the Travel Foundation.

3. Tread thoughtfully in Peru

Explore the capital city of Lima, the mountains of Machu Picchu and the waters of Lake Titicaca in Peru. Fully immerse yourself in the land of the Inca, knowing that a portion of your trip cost goes to the TreadRight Foundation. This nonprofit initiative of AAA travel partner The Travel Corporation helps financially support a weavers group in Peru that promotes the sale of textiles and employs hundreds of people.

4. Help school children in Africa

voluntourism-travel-tanzania African Travel, Inc.

Donate your time and labor to education projects in East and South Africa. In East Africa, stay at Gibb’s Farm in Tanzania and work alongside the farm’s carpenters to build school furniture such as desks—they’re sent to local schools. Sustainability is at the forefront on the farm, where you can spend time in the terraced flower and organic vegetable gardens where the chef harvests fresh ingredients for meals. In South Africa’s Cape Town, spend an afternoon with children at the Amy Foundation’s after-school music program.

5. Improve infrastructure in Ecuador

Work on building projects in the jungles of Ecuador, such as digging a well or laying the foundation for a health center. Gain insight and an understanding of the Kichwa people’s culture and language—help a farmer plant seeds, harvest crops or fetch water from the river. Experience the wonders of the rainforest as you spot frogs, tree snakes, owls and more.

6. Make a lasting impression in India

voluntourism-travel-india Me to We

In Rajasthan, immerse yourself in the community and learn about life for local families. Spend time in Udaipur helping with a development project, such as building a classroom. Here you’ll also learn about India’s vibrant culture, experience life of community members and their age-old traditions, and find yourself in awe as you explore the Aravalli mountain range.

Take a river cruise as part of the trip and know as you travel through India that you’re helping communities all over the world. For every guest, Uniworld donates $1 to Whole World Water, a U.K. charity that brings safe water to needy communities.

7. Nurture nature in South Africa

Visit the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa, home to healthy populations of lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhinos, elephants, hippos and other species. You can participate in the reserve’s conservation efforts by monitoring species, removing invasive plants and working to address needs of the community. Plus, a portion of your trip cost with African Travel is donated to Shamwari to help provide a safe haven for rhinos.

8. Support future generations in Cambodia

On a trip to Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia, you can visit the Phare Circus. Be delighted by the performances of the students at this school, which teaches orphaned and disadvantaged children visual arts skills. By supporting the school, you’ll be helping give kids the know-how they need for a successful future.

9. Contribute to whale research in Alaska

Join an Alaskan cruise excursion aboard a research boat and help study humpback whales. Volunteer as a citizen scientist for the day, exploring the food chain by drawing plankton samples and snapping GPS-pinpointed photos of whales. The information you gather will be used in research to better understand how the whales interact with their habitat.

10. Plant a garden in Jamaica

Add a cruise excursion that lets you experience island life in Jamaica. Float down a river on a bamboo gondola or go horseback riding on a beach, then give back by assisting with a homeless outreach program in Montego Bay. Plant vegetables and trees that will be used to prepare meals, or participate in other activities such as helping to distribute new clothing and bathing supplies.

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