Video: New York City subway tap dancer

If you find yourself on the New York City subway on any given weekend, you may be treated to the dance styling of a young tap dancer trying to support himself through college. Joshua Johnson is a junior at Penn State University and a native New Yorker who travels home twice a month to tap dance on the subway and earn extra cash through donations of subway riders. Joshua primarily taps on the 2, 3 and Q trains and calls his performance “The Tap Express.”

While performing and soliciting donations on the subway is illegal without permission from the MTA, chances are you’ve seen some kind of performer on the train if you’ve ridden enough times. In my 12-plus years in New York, I’ve seen (and even participated in) a few acts including magicians, break dancers, comedians, steel drummers, Doo Wop singers and plenty of just-plain-crazies, often the most entertaining performers of all.

Video produced by the New York Times.

Five easy ways be a philanthropic traveler

philanthropic travelVoluntourism is the newest warm fuzzy of the travel industry. Under ideal circumstances, it’s a sustainable, experiential way to see the world and give back at the same time. Whether you’re helping to build a new school or clearing a trail, a working holiday is, for some, the best possible expenditure of disposable income.

But there’s the rub. Along with multitudinous other factors that make voluntourism a dicey concept, it doesn’t come cheap. Some organized volunteer holidays cost as much as a luxury vacation or adventure trip of the same length. That’s great if you can afford both the time and expense, but many of us don’t have that option.

The good news? You can still be a philanthropic traveler regardless of your income, physical ability, educational background, or destination. Below, five easy ways to make a difference on every trip.

1. Donate.
Clothing, shoes, school supplies, basic medical supplies (Neosporin, aspirin, antidiarrheals, bandages), food (fresh fruit and dry goods such as rice, flour, or beans are often good choices, depending upon where you’re traveling; avoid processed foods and candy).

In regard to donations, I’ve found it’s best to do a bit of research beforehand (even if it just involves talking to some fellow travelers or travel operators in the region, or locals). You don’t want to inadvertently cause offense or shame by giving freebies; on the other hand, don’t be put off if you’re asked to help if you can. Some reputable outfitters may request that clients donate any unwanted items of clothing at the trip’s end. These items significantly help local communities (especially children) or the families of contracted staff such as porters or cooks. Donating gently used clothing and shoes is also a greener way to travel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Visions Service Adventures]philanthropic travelAsk–tour operators, guides, community leaders–before donating medical items, even if they’re OTC; ditto food. Guidebooks, travel articles, and local travel literature often note what items are in short supply in specific destinations.

For example, when I did a farmstay on a remote island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, my guidebook suggested I bring fresh fruit for my host family, as residents could only purchase it on the mainland. The farm patriarch also let me know at the end of my visit that any clothing donations for his children would be greatly appreciated. Depending upon your cultural and/or economic background, such a request may appear brazen or appallingly rude. Coming from a humble man whose entire family had welcomed me into their single-room home, fed me, and treated me as one of their own (rather than just a fast source of income), it was a request I was only too happy to honor.

2.Volunteer…for free
Voluntourism is something you can do yourself, assuming you ask permission when appropriate, and act in accordance with local and cultural mores (Behave Yourself! The Essential Guide to International Etiquette is an entertaining and informative book I recommend for all travelers). Whether you pick up trash on a beach, offer to work reception at a locally-owned backpacker’s for a few hours or days, or teach useful foreign language phrases to children, you’re giving back to that community.

I realize how colonialist this may sound, but the fact is, English speakers are in great demand worldwide. Even in the most impoverished countries or regions, locals who speak English (or French, Italian, German, etc.), no matter how rudimentary, can find employment or offer their services as guides, taxi drivers, hostel employees, or translators. Fluency in a foreign language(s) gives them an advantage in a competitive market. Think about it. It’s never a bad thing to learn a language other than your own, no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make.
philanthropic travel
3. Buy local handicrafts and food
Just like shopping your farmers market back home, buying local supports a local economy, and usually eliminates the need for a middle-man. A bonus: many specific destinations all over the world are famed for their food, textiles, woodcarving, pottery, etc.. Every time I look at certain items in my home–no matter how inexpensive they may be—I’m reminded of the adventures and experiences that led to their purchase.

4. Immerse yourself
You don’t need to “go native,” but the best travel experiences usually entail a certain amount of surrender to a place or culture. Learn a few key phrases in the local language or dialect; treat the people–even if they’re urbanites in an industrialized nation–with respect and observe their rules or customs when appropriate; be a gracious traveler or guest. Your actions may not provide monetary or physical relief, but giving back isn’t always about what’s tangible.

5. Reduce your footprint.
It’s impossible not to have a carbon footprint, and as recreational travelers, that impact increases exponentially. But there’s no need to eradicate “frivolous” travel; indeed, experiencing other cultures and sharing our own helps foster tolerance and empathy. Rather, we should be mindful travelers, and do our best to conserve natural resources and preserve the integrity of the places we visit. Just as with camping, leave a place better than you found it. Even if the locals aren’t putting these philosophies into practice, there’s no reason you can’t.

[Photo credits: schoolchildren, Flickr user A.K.M.Ali hossain;vendor, Laurel Miller]

Stay at a Sage hotel, donate to Haiti relief

There are countless ways you can donate money and supplies to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Here’s one more way you can help, just by going about your travels. Stay at a Sage Hospitality Group hotel, now through the end of January, and the company will give $10 per room, per night to the Red Cross.

54 Sage hotels throughout the US are participating in the promotion. Guests do need to book the special “Help Haiti” rate, which has limited availability, in order to make the donation.

The Sage group is offering a few other promotions that benefit victims of the disaster. Coco Key Water Resorts, a division of the hotel group, will offer 1% of all food and beverage purchases to the Red Cross, and will offer a $5 pass on January 26, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Sage has a history of offering great rates and promotions to help others. In the past, they’ve offered free nights to volunteers, service-people, and teachers.

The Galavanting Girls help the children of Roatan

Travel writer, founder of The Galavanting Girls, and creator of the Travel Blog Exchange conference, Kim Mance will soon be setting off on a cruise to visit, among other places, the island of Roatan in Honduras. Rather than spend her time in port sunning on the beautiful West Bay or browsing the new shops at the Port of Roatan, Kim and her crew decided to do something a little more constructive with their time.

While their Princess Cruises ship is in port on November 11, Kim and the other Galavanting Girls will head to Elfrida Brooks School in the area’s capital city of Coxen Hole. Honduras is the second-poorest Caribbean nation (behind only Haiti) and the school, which educates 180 children, is desperately in need of funding.

The Galavanting Girls will be spending the day at the school and dropping off supplies they’ve rounded up. They’re also taking online donations, as little as $5 per person, through the Roatan Children’s Fund on the secure First Giving website. The Girls have already raised $550 for the project, more than double the goal. They’ll be videotaping their visit to the school and will post the footage on their website after November 11.

Help save the sea lions when you stay at Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club

Warm waters caused by El Nino currents may be responsible for the record number of sea lions that have shown up weak and hungry along the California coast this year. In Sausalito, the Marine Mammal Center says it has rescued a record number of exhausted and malnourished sea lions, who can’t find enough food to survive because the squid and anchovies they normally eat have headed out into colder waters. While the center normally helps around 600 sea lions, so far they’ve rescued over 1000 in the last 7 months. In southern California, the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro has taken in 365 sea lions since January.

Want to help? You can book the “Save the Sea Lions” package at the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club in Redondo Beach. For $299 per night (plus tax), you’ll get an ocean-view room, a sea lion stuffed animal, a disposable camera, and a two-hour paddle-boat rental so you can get up close to the sea lions in the water. 10% of the proceeds from each package sold will go to the Marine Mammal Care Center to help them rescue and care for the sea lions. You can also visit the Center to learn more about their efforts firsthand. They don’t charge admission but do accept donations.

[via Los Angeles Times]