For many people, including myself, while travelling the world is a passion, it is important to simultaneously make a positive change in communities and the environment in which we are exploring. This is known as social impact travel.

There are many ways to make a difference in the communities you travel to. One of the most common ways is to pair up with an organization that coordinates the trip for you and includes planning your accommodations, meals and the actual volunteering itself for one bulk price. While the concept is appealing to many, the downside to this type of trip can be the extensive costs associated.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to tell you to avoid these packages; however, if you are a budget-minded traveller on a mission to make a difference, these trips may be hugely out of your reach. But fret not, fellow good-doing nomads! There are plenty of ways to connect with local host communities and make a difference without investing large chunks of your precious travel cash flow. Let’s start with some background info first.

Volunterring in India teaching children
Volunterring in India teaching children

When it comes to volunteer opportunities, there are extensive options available with very few requirements in terms of specific experience, which can be so appealing. I know I have definitely been tempted a time or two. When searching opportunities, many of the ones that will come up in initial searches can range in time commitment from 2-6 weeks, and sometimes even longer depending on the nature of the work. There are opportunities in wildlife conservation, community rebuilding projects, teaching children, and much much more depending on your interest. What stopped me from participating in these? You guessed it: the cost! As a thrifty traveller focused on stretching my dollar, these trips can run upwards of $8,000 CAD for an average 2-week trip, and this doesn’t include your flights, additional meals/snacks or extra activities. Not particularly accessible for the price-conscious traveller.  


But there are other options available. Do you want to help with the conservation of butterflies in Costa Rica? Help children learn English in Kenya? Build an off-grid sustainable community in Portugal? Check out Workaway for endless opportunities! With Workaway’s concept, users pay an annual fee ($44 US for an individual, or $56 US for a couple/$28 US per person) and gain access to connect with hosts all around the world. Once you build up your profile (it is important to do this to ensure your hosts know who you are), you can reach out to hosts and explore their opportunities. You will generally be provided with free accommodation in exchange for your volunteer work. Commitments vary depending on the project, but expectations are usually listed in the opportunity information so you know the basics before connecting with the host.

You may even be able to find paid opportunities that suit your needs as well. What’s awesome is the platform allows you to browse around at opportunities without a paid membership so you can explore what’s available before committing, but opportunities are expansive and there’s something for everyone!

Photo credit_
Photo credit:

Similar to Workaway but less official, many hostels will accept volunteers to work onsite completing various tasks such as guest check-in and check-out, administration (e-mail responses, social media, bookings), cleaning and cooking. Additionally, you can volunteer any particular skills you have as a value-add for the hostel, such as teaching yoga or cooking classes, and this could result in complimentary accommodations. By volunteering with a local hostel, not only do you get the chance to connect with fellow budget travellers, but it will also open up your wallet to participate in any local social impact activities since you won’t be paying for your accommodations! How can you make this happen? Simply reach out to hostels directly! 

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Photo credit:

As a budget traveller, chances are you have found, or will find, yourself in an area that may not have the best waste management structures in place and as a result, there is excess debris whether in the community or on beaches. Get involved by doing a beach cleanup or a “plogging” (collecting trash while running/jogging/walking)! I’ve even had others join me when doing this.

The unfortunate part is that much of the waste in tourist towns is a direct result of the tourism industry. In the picture below, I was cleaning a popular beach on a resort in Croatia littered with plastic drink bottles, single-use cups, straws and wrappers for snacks. You can organize a beach cleanup through community organizations dedicated to this cause, or do it on a whim! Either way, make sure to stay safe with protective equipment for your hands to keep them clean and protected against any sharp or rugged items. You can even check out global organizations centered around coordinating events and see where there are already scheduled cleanups and join in on those, like with ProjectAWARE’s Dive Against Debris, or EarthDay! Don’t see a cleanup scheduled on those sites? Create your own, or search for local organizations dedicated to cleanups!

Photo credit_ Author's Instagram @natasha_tucker
Photo provided from author’s Instagram page @natasha_tucker

We all know Airbnb for the unique accommodations that can be found during your travels, and personally, it’s one of my favourite ways to connect with locals. A new-ish and exciting feature of this platform is the expansion into offering local experiences. Many of these experiences offered are centered around social impact. In our current social-distancing and travel limited climate, many of these experiences have been adapted to provide virtual experiences. Depending on what your focus for social impact is, you can support locals from the comfort of your own home by experiencing virtual tours of attractions such as wildlife sanctuaries, dance classes and art classes. Check out what’s available in your area, or beyond by simply selecting the “Experiences” section of Airbnb, searching “online experiences” and scroll through to “Social Impact”.

Photo_ From virtual “Dive Under the Sea” experience with proceeds supporting local conservation organization in South Africa
Photo from a virtual “Dive Under the Sea” experience with proceeds supporting local conservation organization in South Africa

With COVID decimating the travel and tourism sector, simply travelling to a destination that is reliant on travel can be a hugely important form of social impact that can provide economic relief to communities suffering as a result of covid. Many countries may even offer to pay some expenses or offer discounts for you to explore their country to help boost tourism and put your dollars into their economy. Places like Sicily in Italy are offering discounted rates, free hotel accommodations and passes to museums, whereas Cyprus has a slightly different approach, reimbursing any tourist who contracts COVID-19 during their trip for expenses incurred. These incentives are ever-changing and a quick Google search can point you in the direction of incentives.

Social impact travelling is an incredible way to get to experience the places you’re visiting and take away more than the experience of exploring somewhere new. You take away a sense of community, accomplishment and knowing that you’re leaving somewhere better than when you got there. Social impact travel can be accessible for anyone and everyone and I hope this article has helped with some creative solutions to make a difference without a hefty price tag. Happy change-making! 

  • Cleaning a stream

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