Looking for a way to add a little fun to your summer vacation?
Take a few hours and volunteer.
Before you stop reading, know that this article isn't advocating you give up your entire trip to build a house in a rural village with no electricity or running water. For most people, that's not their idea of a quality vacation (although for a lot of good people, it is).
But even if your summer travel plans don't veer far from the beach, pool or park, you can still give a little something back wherever you are, even if it's just for a short time.
From cleaning up a public beach or hiking trail to volunteering at a summer festival, there are plenty of ways to make volunteering part of your existing itinerary.
My wife and I spent the past year traveling around the world while volunteering at least one day each week. We found that giving back, even for a few hours, can make any trip much more fun, memorable and rewarding.
And while it may not feel like you're changing the world, know that even little things can make a big difference to the faces and places you encounter along the way.
Thinking about it? Check out these tips to help you make volunteering part of your next trip:
-- Befriend Google: As part of pre-trip planning, search online for the word 'volunteer' and the name of the place you're going. This can be a quick way to learn about local organizations that seek volunteers or to find pre-scheduled events where volunteers may be needed - think summer festivals and park clean-ups, for example. While in South Africa recently, we found a local animal rescue organization that held a weekly "canine socialization session." Other organisations, such as Stuff Your Rucksack, have details of existing projects that need support around the world.
-- Keep Your Eyes Open: Opportunities to help out are all around us. If you see trash littering a beach or nature trail, take the time to clean it up. The next visitor who comes along will be glad you did, and you might even get some help along the way. If you're abroad and you meet someone who's keen to improve their English, ask if they would like to work on their language skills. It may not be glamorous, but these and other opportunities to give back are small but powerful ways to make a difference.
-- Ask a local: If you haven't had any luck finding a volunteer opportunity online or at your destination, talk with a friendly local once you get there. Tourism representatives, hotel managers, waiters, and shopkeepers can be a wealth of information. You can also stop by the offices of non-profits wherever you are to ask if they have recommendations. Even if they don't offer short-term gigs themselves, they might know someone who does.
Do your research, stay alert, and ask locals for advice. At the end of the day, remember that there's always something we can do to help others -- even if it's just a few hours of your trip.