Most people like the idea of giving back, but do you really want to give up your hard-earned vacation to do it? Sure, you could give up two weeks to go get your hands dirty on a bona fide research project with EarthWatch or join WWOOF to labor on an organic farm as long as you like.
But what about the spa?
Concierge service? Time by the pool? A celebrity chef?
Is your drive to do the right thing really stronger than the impulse to pamper yourself for a few weeks each year?
There’s a solution here.
A new breed of cutting edge environmental organizations understand our innate desire to have our cake and eat it too. To meet this need, they offer professionally organized, luxury adventure excursions that provide guests with a REAL vacation, while also supporting and even visiting conservation and humanitarian projects of global importance.
Many itineraries feature high end accommodations at some of the planet’s most spectacular ecotourism destinations, mixed with well-timed opportunities to learn about local conservation efforts. Some even offer optional opportunities to get involved for a day or two, just in case a few nights of restful sleep on seamless silk sheets helped you realize you wanted to do the right thing after all.
The diversity of destinations and potential charities to support through this type of “vacation with meaning” is truly staggering. So, I’ve chosen three of the best for you. While I haven’t been to each of their featured destinations, I know the people at these organizations personally, I’ve met and spoken with dozens of people who have attended the excursions, and I’m familiar with the values and effectiveness of the organizations they support inside out.
These are three charities to travel with that I strongly vouch for:
1. Oceanic Society
As their name implies, Oceanic Society is all about the ocean. But what might not be as obvious is that this small charity has one of the biggest (and most luxurious) conservation travel programs out there. In fact, taking people to see some of the most exotic oceanic places on Earth is a core part of their mission. As they see it, connecting people to oceans through travel contributes towards motivating personal actions to improve ocean health. Excursions range from whale watching day-trips out of San Francisco to 8-day luxury sailing adventures in the Galapagos Islands. The team at Oceanic Society are also top-notch professional travel planners with decades of high-end client experience. The team was formerly based at CI Sojourns, another worthwhile conservation travel program to consider.
One of Oceanic Society’s most talked about tours is their expedition to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Archipelago by liveaboard (boat). Named one of National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime in 2010, the cruise explores the rich reefs and rainforests of this remote archipelago aboard an 112-foot luxuriously appointed motored schooner. Trips average $6,800 per person and fill up fast.
Seacology protects island habitats and the people that live there, and that’s exactly where they’ll be taking you when you travel with them. Trips offer a balance between stays at luxury beachfront resorts with copious amounts of SCUBA diving and excursions to see local projects funded by the charity (and your travel dollars). Offerings are limited but are high value, high impact experiences that directly benefit local people and the environment in the destination you are headed.
Fiji – September 2019. Join Seacology on an unforgettable excursion to the Fijian island of Vanua Levu. In addition to SCUBA diving on some of the Pacific’s most beautiful reefs, participants will have the opportunity to visit two schools funded by Seacology, as well as attend a traditional ceremony held by village leaders. Accommodations will be in luxurious private bures at the Koro Sun Resort. Costs for this ‘vacation with meaning’ starts at US $1,867 for double occupancy.
SEEtheWild is more of a clearing house for responsible, charity-driven travel than an on-the-ground charity itself. The organization works with and promotes tour packages that benefit local communities and meet strict guidelines for wildlife interactions. SEEtheWild’s itinerary offerings are vast, range from budget family outings to high-end luxury safaris, and come with the extra comfort of knowing that an ethic-minded 3rd party has given the stamp of approval for responsible operations of the tours.
A related group – SeeTurtles – focuses strictly on sea turtle conservation excursions, which tend to be a little more “hands on” and less luxury-minded than the other opportunities highlighted in this post.
African Safari For A Good Cause. This 9 day Safari across Kenya’s best wildlife areas, combines traditional safari game drives with visits to animal rescue centers and a service day, in which you’ll engage with a local charity and help people in need. Prices start at 2,999 USD.
In addition to the opportunity to give back on this tour, SEEtheWILD notes on their website that responsible and sustainable safaris are difficult to find on the Internet – so thank them for their careful vetting and check out their other recommended African lion safaris.
Header Image (top of page): Garden bure at Koro Sun Resort, Fiji. Photo: Koro Sun Resort.
Featured Image (top of post): Oceanic Society travelers in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. © Wayne Sentman, Oceanic Society.