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Taking action on the road

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For a socially switched-on generation in 2020, it’s all about ‘travel that matters’. By giving something back, we take a small but important step towards making the world an all-round better place, and a giant leap towards deeper cultural immersion and environmental awareness.

Join the social enterprise revolution

‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’, said Gandhi. And if you’ve ever felt helpless when handing spare change to people sleeping rough on the streets, or worried over the plight of refugees, the good news is that you can play a part in changing the future of those who are disempowered or marginalised in society. In tune with the give-something-back zeitgeist, social enterprises are popping up at a rate of knots all over the world to give less privileged people a more defined role in society and a brighter future. With a little pre-planning, you can easily track them down on your travels.

Many of these ethically minded projects are simple yet ingenious: guided tours run by the homeless lending a new perspective on a city, for instance, or coffee vans training them up as baristas. You can stay in boutique hotels staffed by refugees or disadvantaged women. Or choose to get your morning espresso in a cafe or lunch in a restaurant that employs asylum seekers. It’s rewarding to know that whatever you spend is going some way to help someone get a new start in life.

Less selfie, more selfless

Some people shy away from the idea of volunteering, thinking they simply don’t have time during their few precious weeks of holiday. Of course, if time isn’t an issue, there are myriad ways in which you can help out, from wildlife conservation at a game reserve in Africa to construction volunteering in the wake of a natural disaster. But the truth is that there are thousands of bite-sized ways in which you can contribute when travelling, too: whether you have a few hours or days.

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Image courtesy: ©Shutterstock/NeagoneFo

If you care about the coast, there are marine conservation beach clean-ups across the globe, where you can do your bit to tackle critically high plastic pollution levels simply by rolling up your sleeves for a morning.

Day volunteering schemes worldwide allow you to engage with local communities on a profound level, be it empowering women in Laos, helping out at a soup kitchen in Costa Rica, building homes in Bolivia, or upcycling furniture in Mexico. Alternatively, there are schemes with a more environmental slant, ranging from sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica to caring for elephants in Thailand. So in just a day, it’s possible to make a tangible difference, and it will most likely be the talking point of your entire trip.

Become a citizen scientist

Scientific and environmental research needs enthusiastic volunteers now more than ever. Cue citizen science, a free and meaningful means of monitoring, measuring and recording everything from a rare species of wildlife to the night skies to assist scientists in gathering evidence-based data about the world in which we live, so as to better understand and protect it.

People-powered research is big and it’s everywhere. If you’re passionate about wildlife conservation, a quick search reveals scores of rewarding BioBlitz events, where you can join scientists and naturalists to find and identify as many species as possible in a designated area over a short period (usually 24 hours). This can be as intrepid as a rainforest expedition in the Amazon, or as easy as sharing and mapping bird sightings on your travels. Or if you fancy a little armchair travel, what could be more inspiring than helping to tag penguins and chicks in the Southern Ocean online?

Beyond this, there are small but significant initiatives, from stargazing to measure the brightness in the night sky to document light pollution to monitoring rainfall measurements in Nepal with a smartphone.