Consider mixing your time off and travel plans with your politics by doing something really different and embarking on your very own socially conscious, environmentally aware, service-based vacation. If your idea of a good time is helping out someone in need, meeting other like-minded people, and making a positive difference in an exotic locale you’ve chosen to visit, then perhaps you should consider one of the six pre-packaged, ethically responsible, cross-cultural give-back vacations described here.
Founded in 1992, Airline Ambassadors adheres to the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals, one of which is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women across the globe. In pursuit of their feminist agenda, the organization promotes financial independence for women in developing nations through various educational and vocational programs and also aids the situation of women worldwide
by supporting safe houses for female survivors of human trafficking in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Airline Ambassadors offers trips to many parts of the world both near to and far from North America.The organization has programs in areas as diverse as Vietnam, South Africa, Central America, Iraq, Kenya, and New Orleans. The Airline Ambassadors service-based trips to Haiti are a good option for socially conscious U.S. travelers who are looking for a good works vacation close to home, especially since that nation is still in the early stages of recovering from the catastrophic earthquake that struck it in January, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing millions of others, many of whom are orphaned and homeless children. In Haiti, travelers with Airline Ambassadors work alongside other volunteers performing such crucial duties as helping to supply food and clean water, rebuilding destroyed homes, and distributing medical and hygiene supplies throughout the country. The average price of an Airline Ambassadors volunteer trip to Haiti is roughly $1,000 per person not inclusive of airfare, and because of the dire housing situation in Haiti, volunteers should expect at best to share indoor accommodations with others and at worst to camp outside, as a large portion of the Haitian infrastructure and landscape was destroyed during the quake.
One must join Airline Ambassadors to enroll in any of their trips. The organization has approximately 6,000 members. Membership to Airline Ambassadors is open to the public and not exclusive to commercial airline employees. Standard membership fee ranges start at $50. To find out more, visit the organization’s website at airlineamb.org.
If you’ve been keeping up with your GO Magazine reading, you’ll know all about Sweet! A lesbian owned-cruise and adventure company which offers “voluntourist” vacations. Sweet kicked off with a Central American cruise which offered travelers the chance to disembark at various ports to spend time on local volunteer activities. Sweet also currently has volunteer opportunities in Maui and Kauai as part of their Hawaiian Islands cruise. If you’re more interested in contributing on local soil, the “Vegas, Sweet Vegas” tour allows Sweeties to have their fill of temptations in the sin city while also lending their support to causes such as The Shade Tree, a shelter for abused women, their children, and pets. Two nights in Vegas will cost you $459 for the room per night.
Sweet is a concerned company which effectively offsets any carbon produced by its travel operations, including vehicles used in all air, sea, and car travel, through its support of carbonfund.org, a reforestation program that re-plants enough trees to offset any air pollution created by their transportation. Sweet is also a proud contributer to organizations that specialize in lesbian rights, such as the National Coalition for Lesbian rights and various LGBT centers, AIDS outreach groups, and women’s health initiatives throughout the country.
Call 877.SWEET.30 for more information about pricing and schedules for upcoming cruises and excursions.
Volunteer travel company Amizade has a 15 year record of helping to develop international communities, and it places emphasis on educational and cultural contexts, ensuring that participants are well aware of local cultures, local concerns, and local assets before embarking on volunteer missions. This organization’s key tenet is to foster equality between participants and those in need across the bounds of ethnicity, class, nation, or gender.
Volunteer opportunities with Amizade exist domestically in Montana, Arizona, and Washington D.C., and abroad in Latin America, Ghana, Tanzania, Northern Ireland and other countries and regions. One unique program sponsored by Amizade offers volunteers the opportunity to help with historic preservation of Auschwitz as an anti-genocide memorial and educational site. Another of Amizade’s programs focuses on increasing the economic and human rights held by women in Karagwe, Tanzania, by providing free legal and educational services for them and their children and helping to strengthen rain water harvesting systems for local families. It costs approximately $797 to vacation with Amizade in Tanzania for seven days, which also includes food and lodging. For more information, visit amizade.org.
Woman-run Green Roots Travel is an eco-friendly travel company committed to authentic, sustainable tours throughout Brazil. This is a country with a great environmental legacy, but also tangible risks to some of its most endangered regions, such as the rainforests, and to the creatures that live there. Green Roots supports environmental programs such as the Tamar Project, the Hyacinth Macaw Project, and the Blue-fronted Parrot Project, all programs dedicated to cultivating and protecting delicate animals native to Brazil. Green Roots Travel is also involved with offsetting the carbon footprint of all guests by donating to programs reforesting the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil, truly living up to its name.
Green Roots provides its own “Cultural Ambassadors” on trips who help educate would-be travelers on the biodiversity, history, and cultural heritage(s) of the regions that they will be visiting. These Green Roots Cultural Ambassadors are friendly bilingual guides who are passionate and knowledgeable about Brazil and help to ensure that travelers are prepared for their trips and experience them as an interactive adventure. Green Roots offers quite a few Brazilian travel packages: one takes the traveler to Brazilian national parks and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites, while another specifically LGBT-themed Brazilian vacation package visits Rio de Janiero during the annual Gay Pride Parade.
Other packages include adventure themed vacations, complete with scuba diving and hang gliding, and luxury vacations, which boast lush, posh five star hotels. A seven-day tour of Rio costs $2,500 per person, including lodging and one meal per day. Visit greenrootstravel.com for more information and details.
Amigos de las Americas
Amigos de las Américas is an international non-profit that educates young adults and teenagers and promotes leadership skills and multi-cultural awareness throughout Latin America. During six to eight week long summer programs, Amigos volunteers immerse themselves in the languages, lives, and cultures of their host communities, acting as collaborative participants in sustainable community development work. Local youth participate in training workshops and actively work alongside the volunteers, forming bonds that encourage mutual understanding and cultural exchange.
Over the past four decades, Amigos de las Américas has sent more than 20,000 volunteers to thousands of communities all over Latin America. This has led to long-standing partnerships with Latin American agencies and host communities that ensure the sustainability of the organization’s projects. The programs they sponsor, which range from health to environmental education and protection, to youth leadership, are created in response to needs that are identified by community members and partner agencies.
This summer, Amigos is planning twelve projects in eight Latin American countries, focusing on environmental health, clean water, and educating local youth on the cultural impact of art and media. Volunteers must have up to date immunization records and have completed at least two years of Spanish language class. The program fee is $4600, which includes a round-trip ticket, food, lodging, and a supplemental health insurance policy for the duration of the program. For a list of projects and information visit amigoslink.org.
Gay owned and operated Sublime Journeys is a ten year old travel company specializing in authentic travel experiences to South and Central America for the LGBT community.
Sublime uses local and indigenous guides wherever possible to ensure sustainable support for local communities, ensuring that they maintain their cultural heritage at the same time that they attract tourist income and educate visitors about their cultural history. In addition, a percentage of Sublime’s profits are donated to local organizations in each country to further their sustained development.
One upcoming Sublime trip to consider is the “Peru Be Seduced” package, which begins in Lima, dubbed the “City of the Kings.” Local guides will take you to such historical places as the Huaca Pucllana archaeological center, active during the 5th and 8th centuries A.D. From there, the tour goes on to Cuzco, the magic capital of the ancient Incas, which boasts the Koricancha, one of the most important temples dedicated to the worship of the sun. Near Cuzco, you’ll also find the ruins of the ancient temple and amphitheatre of Kenko and the colonial church of San Pedro de Andahuaylillas, built at the beginning of the 17th century, a spectacular dwelling which boasts polychrome ceilings, a majestic organ, numerous paintings, intricate silverwork and baroque altars. You’ll also have the opportunity to bargain with vendors at Cuzco’s local handicrafts market, to bring handmade gifts made with pride by local artisans to your loved ones back home — all the while knowing you’ve contributed to an organization dedicated to leaving the space you’ve just visited exactly as it was originally. Prices for the “Peru be Seduced” package begin at $699 for 6 days and 5 nights in Peru.
Global Citizens Network
Global Citizens Network is a non-profit organization that has offered cross-cultural travel opportunities since 1992. No specialization, profession, or talent is required—just a desire to help those in need. Trips with the Global Citizens Network can last between one week and three weeks, depending on the volunteer site. Possible travel sites include Canada, Asia, Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.
Amongst the volunteer opportunities sponsored by The Global Citizens Network is a visit to Pamashto, Peru, which is perhaps best known for its historic links to the largest empire in the world, the Inca. Volunteers with Global Citizens Network typically work to strengthen local infrastructures and buildings, such as schools.
Visitors to Pamashto with Global Citizens Network can sample seafood along its over two thousand kilometers of seashore, swim in the Amazon River, or hike the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu when they are not engaged in social and local improvement activities. A fifteen day stay in Peru runs $1950 for food and lodging. More information is available at globalcitizens.org.
Wherever you choose to go, have a safe and productive travel experience. And get some r&r in with your good works!