Packing with purpose: Combining travel with philanthropy

Hoping to nurture my high school daughter’s creativity – as well as her AP art grades – I presented her with the 175-pencil Prismacolor set.

Prismacolor is to pencils what Butter is to nail polish. With colors like violets in Imperial, Blue and Lake, it’s a premier brand. Imagine my dismay when Leyna returned from her Learning Community class trip to Havana – sans Prismacolors.

“I gave them to the class we visited,” she informed me. “They needed them more.”

Before the trip, teacher Gary Bacon had exposed the kids to the documentary “Affluenza,” about contagiously conspicuous consumption, which inspired Leyna’s donation.

Since then, I’ve learned more about gifting to people I meet on my travels.

Giving back to local communities is trending big-time this year. Sustainable tour operators want to make a significant impact on the environment and people.

Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris’ support of efforts to eradicate rats on South Georgia Island (see above) with shipboard auctions is one example of such hands-on philanthropy.

Antarctica rates high for protection, with environmentalists dedicated to keeping the isolated, unspoiled lands as a research laboratory. By studying ice cores, which date back to the Ice Age, scientists can discover more about the effects of global warming. Until the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1961, trash was left out in the open and fisheries went unregulated. Certain whale and penguin species were becoming extinct, but now, with preservation in mind, wildlife is making a comeback.

Humans – whalers in the last century – probably introduced the rats to South Georgia Island. If they continue to prey on birds, some species could become extinct. That’s precisely why ecologists want to minimize human impact on the island.

On another continent, Women High on Adventure (, a boutique adventure travel company, provides opportunities to give back to the community. On the last day of their planned Mount Kilimanjaro trek, the women travelers spend time with locals and deliver goods from the U.S.

The Hotel Vera in St. Petersburg, Russia, owned by a Los Altos Hills couple, supports a Russian orphanage.

Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy ( aims to inspire those with wanderlust to make the world a better place. The company sponsors expeditions that take travelers beyond conventional adventure travel and the “clichés of voluntourism,” according to Roadmonkey’s website.

The company creates its own routes and custom-builds trips.

“Our groups are small, ambitious and bozo-free,” organizers promise. “A healthy sense of humor – and adventure – is expected. Our volunteer builds are hands-on and sustainable. ... What we do is allow you to push beyond your routine expectations, challenge yourself and accomplish the extraordinary – fo`r yourself and communities in need.”

Another organization looking to tap into the do-good spirit is Pack for a Purpose (, founded by teacher Rebecca Rothney. The site invites travelers to click on a destination – say, the rainforest or the Serengeti – to identify hotels that will pick up an extra suitcase filled with school and medical supplies. Each participating lodge provides a list of requested tax-deductible donations, even going so far as to explain how to pack paper and pens.

It’s only fitting that we include Pack for a Purpose, given the title of this column, because the group banks on travelers willingness to tote extra luggage.

If you want to help out, the answer to “What’s in Your Suitcase?” could be anything from crayons to computer tablets and sophisticated medical equipment.

Travel Editor Eren Göknar is a lifelong traveler. Email her at [email protected]

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