Giving back while traveling
I love travel, service, culture, and people! Service is a big part of my average adventure (aka everyday life.) I spend the majority of my time in the service of others. I mean, I’m a mom! It’s basically the entire job description. But parenting aside, I spend a lot of time each day doing service in my community for friends, family, and strangers alike. It’s what I love. It’s what makes me happiest. So, when I can combine a few of my loves together I get over-the-top ecstatic.
Here are a few ways I’ve experienced combining my passions for service and travel:
Service + Travel = Being Oprah
I love to find ways to serve or brighten someone’s day while I’m traveling. One of my favorites is giving away Fast Passes at Disneyland. I know how to get the most out of a day at Disney (check out my tips here) so by the end of the day we’ve done everything at least once and are generally spending the last couple of hours before closing starting on round two. Often times at that late hour I find myself opting to hang back from a roller coaster with a sleepy kid or a queasy husband and it’s something I look forward to all day! The rest of the crew runs off to enjoy the ride and I hang at the entrance until I see a party of two about to get into a line that’s generally an hour or more long. Then I simply approach them and say “Excuse me, would you like to skip the line? I have two Fast Passes.” Their faces generally run through a quick series of confusion, realization, surprise, joy, and then land on gratitude. Once, we had to cut our day short at California Adventure and I was able to give a family 5 passes to skip the line for a new ride that had a wait time 3 hours long! It might be the closest I’ll ever get to being Oprah. “You skip the line! You skip the line! You skip the line!” Their faces just light up and it always makes my day to add a little more magic to theirs.
My family thinks I’m weird for getting so much joy out of a Fast Pass giveaway but I’m not alone. The Gee family (aka The Bucket list Family) totally agrees with me. The Gees are a full-time traveling family who gives back in big and small ways in every new place they visit. Recently they worked for Disney World on project that had them living at resort for 30 days. I was jealous enough about that but when they shared a little peek of the way they gave back by giving out free Mickey balloons to strangers, having people skip lines with them, and doing cool giveaways and meet-ups with fans, I was just insane with love and envy. It’s literally my fantasy come true.
Check them out for more great ideas on giving back while traveling and just awesome travel in general.
Give when you can, how you can
Years ago, my husband and I took on the serious adventure of flying the Sunday following Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year. I know! Scary. We volunteered to give up our seats on overbooked flights TWICE. We even stayed overnight in a nearby hotel that the airline provided because we were feeling a sense of adventure. Of course our good deed garnered us free flight vouchers worth a pretty good chunk of change. (Just a tip for you thrifty travelers out there. Flexibility can save you money in so many ways.) With those vouchers we were able to pay for a few domestic flights and we also were able to share them with a friend who we flew home to see her family for a holiday. Sharing our good fortune made it a memorable experience all these years later.
Expect to be surprised
If you are on the look out for good, you are bound to find it. Or it might even find you. When I visited Rome I found myself sitting at a cute little restaurante on a cobble-stoned side street ordering lunch al fresco. We had just checked out of our apartment and decided to drop ourselves, and our hiking packs, down for some food. We ordered some authentic Italian pasta and I declared my least favorite part of traveling to be paying $10 or more for a bottle of water every time we ate at a restaurant.
After our dishes arrived, a couple who looked to be in their late 40’s stopped by our table. The woman leaned a little toward us and politely asked, “You guys are American?” We looked up and shook our heads in confirmation, wiping our mouths with napkins for etiquette’s sake. “Where are you from?” she continued in an accent that was obviously from the home of the red-white-and-blue.
“California!” I replied, “Where are you from?”
With a dismissive look on her face she said, “Oh, Illinois,” and then got right to her point. “My son backpacked around Europe and never had money for a decent meal. Enjoy!” and slid something under the lip of my plate before turning and walking off with her husband down the street.
It happened so quickly that I hardly had time to register what was happening and called out to the back of her head, “Thank you so much!” Brent and I looked at each other in complete surprise. I couldn’t believe what a sweet gesture it was for a stranger to leave money to pay for our lunch. I lifted the plate which revealed what I thought was likely 20 Euro to cover the cost of a couple of orders of pasta was actually 100 EURO. “Oh my goodness!” I exclaimed. “This is too generous. Catch them!”
Brent bolted from the table and into the piazza hunting for them. A couple of minutes later Brent was back and a little breathless. “I couldn’t find them. They vanished. I didn’t see them anywhere.”
My first reaction was out of guilt. They saw our packs and maybe heard my annoyed comment about the price of water and felt compelled to help us out. Though at times the state of my bank account after contributing to retirement and college funds does make me feel like it, I am not in fact a penny-less vagabond. There are much more worthwhile causes then I am. We couldn’t find our anonymous benefactor so I kept the money and plotted what we might do with it, how we might pay it forward and wondered who those sweet strangers really were. I spent my last few hours in Rome with a happy grin. The streets seemed a bit brighter, and every new face seemed to be a friend I hadn’t made yet.
(We used the money to go to a hydrothermal spa resort on Ischia. It was amazing! Thank you strangers fro Illinois!! You made these tired parents on their first holiday to Europe very happy.)
You don’t have to drop a 100 euro at someone’s feet (but I can’t wait to see some backpackers who I can pay it forward to) to give service while traveling. I’ve visited orphanages, hospitals, and children’s homes. I’ve paid for someones food order because they got caught without cash at the colonial market that so authentically doesn’t take credit. I’ve given up my seat on the bus, my seat on a plane, and the clothes in my bag because someone else needed it more. Something as simple and free as giving away a Disneyland Fast Pass can make all the difference for someone, including you.
Travel is a gift.
Finding ways to serve while traveling is a great way to give thanks to the communities that inevitably become the most colorful parts of our life story.
What ways will you give back to the places that give you so much?