Delaware Town Gives Beach Vacations To Wounded Vets

Bethany Beach week for military families
Flickr, Patrick Nouhailler

If you want to see the transformative power of travel, read this Washington Post story about the military families who’ve enjoyed this Labor Day week on the beach. The town of Bethany Beach, Delaware, not far from Washington D.C., coordinated with local homeowners to open their beach houses and small businesses to donate goods and services for 25 wounded military families. Each “VIF” (Very Important Family) has been treated to free meals and groceries, golf games, spa treatments and even family portraits.

For soldiers suffering from war injuries both visible and unseen like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, a stress- and cost-free vacation can provide a great deal of comfort. This is the first year of Operation Seas the Day, and 70 families applied for the program, with more than 50 homeowners offering their homes to the veterans, but the town agreed to keep it small for the inaugural year of the program.

The military families will head home on Sunday, so if you are in the area this weekend, be sure to offer your thanks for their service. If you’d like to donate or volunteer for next year, sign up for news at OperationSeasTheDay.org

Heifer International: Working To End World Hunger, One Llama At A Time

bolivian farmerGot an extra $20 burning a hole in your pocket and want to make a difference in the lives of others? Buy a flock of ducks. Eighty-five dollars will get you a camel share, while a mere $48 purchases a share in a “Knitter’s Gift Basket (a llama, alpaca, sheep and angora rabbit).”

Since 1944, Heifer International has provided livestock, and animal husbandry, agricultural and community development training to over 125 countries, including the U.S. The goal: to help end world hunger and poverty by improving breeding stock, providing valuable dietary supplements such as milk and eggs, and creating viable business enterprises for commodity products such as cheese, wool, honey, or crops cultivated by draft animals like horses and water buffalo.

The livestock species used to support disenfranchised communities are diverse, but traditional to their respective regions. They include goats, sheep, honeybees, beef and dairy cattle, water buffalo, yaks, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, camels, rabbits, guinea pigs and poultry.

When I was a kid growing up on a small ranch in Southern California, we used to donate our male dairy goat kids (which, if sold here, would most likely be relegated to dinner) to Heifer. Although the program no longer ships live animals overseas (it’s easier and safer/more humane to ship frozen semen), the concept remains the same: using top bloodlines to improve the quality and enhance the genetic diversity of herds or flocks in impoverished regions.

Heifer teaches the concept of the “Seven M’s: Milk, Manure, Meat, Material, Money, Motivation and Muscle.” These are the benefits livestock animals provide to people in developing nations. With the training provided by Heifer employees and volunteers, the cycle of poverty can be broken, and families and villages can thrive. During the holidays or for birthdays, I like to make animal gift donations in the name of the recipient, an especially valuable lesson for children (who, let’s face it, really don’t need another electronic piece of crap to foster their ADD and lack of global awareness).

Never doubt the power of a furry friend to change the world. To make a donation, click here.

Check out this Heifer International gallery of animals and their proud owners from around the world:

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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]

You can help save an ancient Egyptian palace


The palace of Egypt’s most enigmatic pharaoh needs your help. Akhenaten ruled from c. 1351-1334 BC and is famous for his devotion to the god Aten, an aspect of the Sun. His worship became more and more exclusive over the years and while he wasn’t a monotheist in the strict sense of the word, he certainly alienated the priests of other temples. He also left the traditional capital and built his own by the Nile at Amarna.

Since 1997 the Amarna Project has been restoring this one-of-a-kind site for posterity. In the spring of 2011 they’re planning a major project to finish work on the Royal Suite, where Akhenaten himself lived. They’ve set up a webpage at JustGiving where you can contribute to the project. Conservation Architect Surésh Dhargalkar and his team will be doing the work, and the donations will go toward their pay and materials. You can read more about their work here.

Once Akhenaten died, the worship of the Aten fell out of favor and his city was abandoned to the sands. Thus Amarna makes a unique slice of time for archaeologists to study and an important place to preserve.

Special thanks to Andie over at the Egyptology blog for bringing this to my attention.

[Photo of Aten temple at Amarna courtesy user Markh via Wikimedia Commons]

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.