When John and Betty Price thought about taking a vacation with a tour company, they decided to do some good while they enjoyed themselves. They searched the internet for firms that offer inviting excursions, value, and an opportunity to give back in various ways to the destinations they visited.
Overseas Adventure Travel, part of the Grand Circle Corp., fit well into their preferences. Grand Circle offers small group tours around the world and is recognized as a leader in philanthropic tourism. It is one of a number of tour companies that place an emphasis upon improving lives, protecting the environment, and providing other benefits to people and places where they travel.
Those who go around the United States or the world with these organizations return home with more than fond memories. They also have the pleasure of knowing that they played a part in improving the lives of people, and helped to make the earth a better place.
Among many projects that OAT and Grand Circle Travel have supported at destinations around the world are providing clean water and lavatories in communities and schools visited on their itineraries; furnishing computers, desks, books and other supplies to students; and funding relief efforts following natural disasters in Haiti, Japan, Nepal, and other countries.
These efforts are funded by the Grand Circle Foundation and a partner organization that focuses upon improving the well-being of people in the areas that OAT visits. They have donated $225 million throughout the world to fund these projects.
Another leader in philanthropy is UnTours, which combines benefits of individual travel with helpful support to allow participants to “Live like the locals.” Pleasant non-hotel accommodations, transportation, and onsite assistance enable travelers to experience a destination much like its residents.
The company’s profits go to the UnTours Foundation, which funds activities that help solve global challenges. Examples include creating jobs for people in Africa who transform ocean trash into works of art and supporting locally owned, environmentally friendly businesses in Ecuador.
Among other projects are enabling Himalayan tea-growers, 90 percent of whom are women, to establish a farm-to-processing-to-marketing operation; helping to finance the purchase of climate-friendly hybrid sightseeing vehicles for a locally owned tour operator in Kenya; and assisting cocoa growers in Ghana, who earn about $1 a day selling their products to the Divine Chocolate Corp. by gaining them representation on the company’s board of directors and providing a safety net for the unpredictability of farming.
READ Global (Rural Education and Development) was founded as the non-profit arm of the Myths & Mountains adventure travel company. It partners with rural villages in India, Nepal, and Bhutan to build community library and resource centers that offer a variety of literacy, women’s empowerment, and other knowledge and skills.
One READ center in Nepal alone has gone on to establish 170 school libraries and support a cooperative that provides hundreds of women access to credit, which enables them to establish micro-businesses. Like all of the centers, it is self-supporting through storefront rentals, community radio stations, and other enterprises. READ’s stated goal is “Inspiring Rural Prosperity.” Its achievements toward that end have earned the organization grants and awards from the Gates Foundation and other groups.
Trips offered by aptly named Road Scholar, the self-proclaimed “Leader in Educational Travel for Adults,” are focused upon learning, an exchange of ideas with people around the world, and financial support for local communities and individuals. Among service-related experiences they offer are volunteering at Navajo Nation schools and working to preserve offshore barrier islands.
Cuba has also been a beneficiary of Road Scholar projects that provide tuition to participate in its programs, support local organizations, and assist trip participants to bring gifts of hard-to-obtain items such as computers and printers to people of that country. Road Scholar offers financial assistance to help educators, caregivers, and others to participate in its programs.
“Vacations With Purpose” are promised by Discover Corps, which is not surprising because it was founded by a former Peace Corps volunteer. The company espouses the idea that “you can travel on a meaningful vacation and still have fun.”
Trip itineraries are designed to connect travelers with local communities in a meaningful way. For example, the company partners with organizations that advance women’s rights, support community development, and contribute to environmental protection and wildlife conservation.
That translates to activities such as generating income for women in Kenya through making beads, helping to care for Thailand’s dwindling elephant population, hosting educational projects in Peru, and providing food security and learning opportunities for young people in South Africa.
Looking out for elephants, assisting African farmers, or giving a computer you no longer use to a student in Cuba may not be high on your wish list when planning a vacation. But those who take part in these kinds of activities or travel with a tour company that does return home with the pleasure of knowing that they played a part in improving the lives of people, protecting endangered wildlife, or in some other way helping to make things a bit better for the planet we share and for those of us who live on it.