5 Philanthropic Holidays: Have Fun, Make a Difference

By Chris Hill

I never thought I’d live to say this, but it seems for many, the typical beach holiday is becoming a bit of a bore.

According to the latest research by Virtuoso – arguably the leading network of luxury travel advisers – the more adventurous side of travel was one of the biggest motivators for booking a holiday. Skift, the United States-based travel-research company confirmed these findings, calling “transformative travel” a trend to watch, and in their 2018 Megatrends Report concluded that “personal fulfilment is the new ultimate luxury.”

Whilst there is still a place for the classic “flip and flop” luxury beach holiday, more people are demanding vacations that will change their lives in some way; they’re looking for unique memories they will treasure and share all their lives. This could be anything from an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru to a full on detoxing meditation retreat in California. Or better yet – you can look beyond your ‘self’ and consider philanthropic holidays, like helping to save endangered species or assisting kids in need.

Here, I’ve discovered five kinds of philanthropic holidays that will not only make you feel great about yourself, but will also make a difference to people, animals or the planet.

5 Philanthropic Holidays To Have Fun & Make a Difference

philanthropic holidays

1. Conserve Marine Life in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is famous for its multitude of sustainable eco-luxury properties and its spectacular nature. So why not give the latter a hand by supporting marine biologists in their efforts to conserve, protect and extend a massive biological corridor for the migration of hammerhead sharks? 

Not only will you will be helping these ecologically essential animals, but you’ll also be doing your bit to protect the Golfo Dulce as the first sanctuary for hammerhead sharks in the world.

It would also be useful if you could help the biologists search for a spinner dolphin superpod – you can do so whilst swimming with thousands of dolphins and other marine animals, enjoying one of the most cetacean-rich areas of the world as you do so. If you’re not a fan of the shark, there are plenty of other options, such as tracking jaguars in the wild with expert conservationists.

No matter what activity you choose, you’ll sink into luxury at the end of your day. My favourite eco-luxury camp, for example, is the newly opened Kasiiya, built from sustainable materials in a secluded, stunning location overlooking the Papagayo Peninsula. If you’re trying to boost your health on your holiday, head to Pacuare Lodge, which serves up delicious organic dishes on both its rafting trips and at the lodge itself.

2. Give Penguins a Boost in New Zealand

Who doesn’t love these adorable, bowling-pin shaped birds? Spending your holiday in New Zealand, you can squeal with delight as you hand-feed tiny, chirping penguin chicks who have been orphaned. This needs to be done on alternate days until they fledge after about three weeks, and are finally set out to sea to start their adventurous life out in the wild. How great would it be returning from your holiday with that experience?

You can also spend your days building a few predator-proof boxes for penguins to protect these delightful creatures from cats, dogs, stoats and ferrets – yep, it’s true: domestic pets are a huge threat to the safety of these (and many other) birds!

After spending your days volunteering with the baby penguins, you’ll surely have whipped up an appetite, so indulge in some organic and farm to table restaurants like Wharekauhau where you can sample creamy veggie soups, rich wines and unique, healthy desserts, all made from local ingredients. 

Once you’re ready to hit the sack, relax in lovely eco-luxury lodges such as Fiordland Lodge, which offers not only the penguin experiences mentioned above, but guided nature tours, lake cruises, wildlife photography courses and much more.

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3. Aid Aboriginal Artists in Australia

You have probably seen Aboriginal art – you may already own a piece or two in your collection – it has certainly made its mark on the world stage. Hailed as ‘arguably the last great art movement’, works produced emanate from a 40,000 year old culture. Whilst steeped in what was originally viewed as ethnographic historics, the works produced are very often amazingly modern in design.

However, the Aboriginal people of Australia still face marginalisation, and increasingly youth seek to push past their cultural heritage, leave their community and enter an urban world that does not embrace them. The good news is, philanthropic holidays can help not only the planet and its animals, but people, too!

If you believe that the arts are a pathway to a future that embraces a unique cultural heritage and provides young Aboriginals with a source of pride, why not consider funding a scholarship for a promising Aboriginal arts student? In return, you can meet the artist on your holiday and commission your own bespoke work of art. 

After your encounter in Australia, one of the best eco-luxury lodges to stay at is South Australia’s Arkaba Conservancy, with a fantastic commitment to both species conservation and sustainability. Here, you can learn even more about Aboriginal culture with a walk with Pauline McKenzie. She’s an expert who will connect you with stories of Australia’s first people, the Adnamatna, who have long looked after the landscape and wildlife of South Australia’s Ikara-Flinders Ranges. 

Australians take dining very seriously, and as you would expect from this pristine destination, there are some excellent farm to table options, such as Three Blue Ducks, where incredible Aboriginal chefs are ready to delight your taste buds with locally sourced fare.

philanthropic holidays

4. Relocate Rhinos in South Africa

It’s a sad fact that ALL rhinos are on the very brink of extinction, due to many in Asia believing that rhino horn someone has medicinal qualities (it doesn’t – it’s made of exactly the same material as your fingernails!). Fortunately, there are dedicated animal conservationists working hard to ensure the rhino doesn’t go the way of the dinosaur.

You can make a difference philanthropically to this strange animal by funding – and thus getting to witness – the relocation of a rhino from a heavily poached reserve to a safe, undisclosed location in Botswana. You’ll experience the thrill of sitting in the helicopter with the vet, witnessing him darting the rhino. You’ll then land with him and and spend some time with the sedated rhino, before seeing it airlifted off to safety.

South Africa has established a reputation as a leading destination in Africa for responsible tourism, in large part thanks to its increasingly wide array of spectacular eco-friendly lodges. My favourite is Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, which has been described as Africa’s most environmentally sensitive lodge, which makes a truly ‘minimal impact on the environment’. Taking its cue from the surroundings, the location of the lodge was selected through careful consideration of its inhabitants and the natural choice was an area of bushveld with unpalatable grass, which would not take food away from animal grazers.

Of course, when in South Africa, some wine tasting is a must. The finest farm to table and organic dining options, such as Babylonstoren are in Franschhoek, in the heart of South Africa’s wine region.  

philanthropic holidays

5. Helped The Disabled In Indonesia

You can make a huge difference on your luxury holiday by helping install a disabled accessible bathroom for a paraplegic in Bali, imbuing him/her with hitherto unknown dignity and independence. This project is focused on single individuals, but the change in their lives can be profound.

This is especially true because in the Hindu culture of Bali, it is considered ‘bad karma’ if you’re born disabled, and consequently, paraplegics can be shunned from society, living a miserable life of seclusion in a back room. But by providing them with a bathroom that they can use unaided, this seemingly small act is life-changing and dignity-restoring. Of all the philanthropic holidays, this may not be the most glam, but it could well be the most satisfying, as you will be in direct contact with the person whose life you’re enhancing.

Whilst there are plenty of eco-lodges to stay at in Bali, I’d recommend heading over to the less touristy Sumba Island for the best eco-luxury option at Nihi. Here, the organic garden is enhanced by a water recycling system and state of the art composting. Moreover, Nihi’s Sumba Foundation is deeply committed to lessening the consequences of poverty on the island. They also focus on preserving and respecting the fragile culture and traditions of the Sumbanese people.   

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You can discover more about these experiences at Hands Up Holidays (luxury trips with hands-on volunteering) and Impact Destinations (sustainable ultra-luxe trips where your philanthropic donation “unlocks” a unique encounter).

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