You don’t have to sign up for a volunteer vacation to do good while you travel. We asked social activist Michael Norton, author of 365 Ways to Change the World, for five simple steps to give back to the communities you visit.
Engage in Social Tourism In addition to visiting cathedrals and museums, drop by a rural development project, an artists’ cooperative, or a school. Sit in a classroom with children; you’ll remember that for the rest of your life. Forging this connection may also inspire you to send a check once you’re back home.
Pack school supplies and small gifts "Education is key to development," Norton says. "If you’re going to Kenya, take along a box of paper, pens, and pencils." Give to local institutions or village leaders rather than directly to individuals, since gifts can create jealousy in impoverished communities.
Buy local crafts Tourist shops often mark up prices without passing on the profits to the artists, so Norton recommends seeking out artisan villages or cooperatives. "The best thing you can do is buy a bunch of saris or ceramic pots directly from the people who produce them. You’ll be investing in the local economy as you pick a souvenir."
Adopt a library, school, or village Though this may sound extreme, you don’t have to be Jeffrey Sachs to take on such a challenge. While financing a school for 130 students could cost as much as $50,000 annually, establishing a 1,000-volume library in an existing building is as little as $3,000 (constructing a stand-alone library is closer to $10,000). To find a local organization that you can get passionate about, look online before you travel. (RoomtoRead.org lists library projects in seven developing countries.)
Throw a fund-raising dinner Maybe you visited a hospital in Laos or a cooperative of women weavers in Guatemala. Impart your enthusiasm to others by organizing a slide show for friends and family when you get home. (You can also take over your book group, soccer team, or church.) Once they see images of the people you met—and hear your stories—they are more likely to write a check.