[Idea File] Traveling? Add purposeful pounds to your backpack

Today’s idea

Photo by Flickr user andymangold (Creative Commons)

How many times while traveling have you come across an organization that had a practical need you could have easily fulfilled had you just known about it beforehand? The folks behind Stuff Your Rucksack think they can eliminate missed connections like this. Rather than packing an extra T-shirt or towel, the UK-based nonprofit asks idealistic travelers to instead bring items that can help local charities in places from Colombia to Egypt to Vanutau. A quick browse of current needs show books, pens and pencils, Legos, board games, Frisbees, mosquito nets – even fairy wings.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

Stuffing your backpack or suitcase with extra items is a quick, easy and concrete way to fill a need. And it can be beneficial for both parties:

  • Direct fulfillment of a need. Orgs receive what they are lacking, often at a low cost to the traveler – and without a middleman. And in cases where gently used goods are accepted, the person giving can avoid creating waste in a landfill.
  • Increased awareness and helping good ideas travel. Many times, nonprofits are doing great things but the communication about their work is not far-reaching. In this scenario, travelers learn about a new org and can share its work back home or in other places.
  • Feel good factor. Locals appreciate that their visitors thought of them, while travelers get immediate satisfaction.

How you can replicate it

Since a service already exists, see how you can contribute to helping it grow. Add orgs to Stuff Your Rucksack, or share your success story.

But you don’t need a third party website to connect with locals. Before you hop on a plane, reach out to your trusted networks to see if anyone knows a nonprofit you can help. Get in contact with them, and check sites such as Charity Navigator or Guidestar to vouch for its validity. Also try searching Idealist to find people who have either volunteered or worked for the org using our new personal profile system. When in doubt, you can always reach out to the folks at Stuff Your Rucksack for advice.

Caveats and considerations

  • Logistics: There might not be an org listed in your destination, or the one listed might have out of date information. It’s best to contact them beforehand to let them know you’re coming. It also requires a leap of faith to trust that the orgs really do need what you’re bringing, and aren’t going to sell or misuse it in some way.
  • Cultural impact: People who have the luxury of being able to travel are often perceived as wealthy (especially Westerners), and this could perpetuate the stereotype. Also, dropping off foreign goods and then leaving might actually hurt the local economy.

What do you think? Would you add some weight to your backpack the next time you go abroad? Or does this idea seem too…stuffy?

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Travel Discounts for Volunteers and Educators

By Flickr user faungg (Creative Commons)

Have you volunteered for eight hours with a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization? You can get a free or half-off night’s stay at one of 53 hotels, which are scattered across 23 U.S. states. In other words: Give a day, get a night.

This promotion, which we just found out about on the Jauntsetter blog, is being offered by Sage Hospitality as a way to support volunteerism. They’re only giving out a limited number of completely free hotel stays, but the 50% discounts will run through March 2010, so you have plenty of time to plan your getaway.

Sage also offers a deal for active and retired teachers and school administrators! Educators can get a 50% discount on rooms at all the company’s hotels, up until December 30, 2009.

I love the idea behind these promotions. There are already plenty of rewards out there for those who travel frequently or have certain corporate affiliations. Now, people are getting rewarded for choosing to volunteer (anywhere!) or work in schools.

Disneyland and Disney World are planning to get in on the action too, starting in January 2010, when they’ll offer free days at its theme parks after completing certain volunteer projects.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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