Vacations, as we all know, cost money. And somebody benefits from the dollars we expend to "get away from it all." So here's my question: Would you rather line the pockets of the big corporations who run the major hotel chains, or would you instead like to use your buying power to support little guys who are trying to change the world?
For example, there's a treehouse lodge in Laos -- you have to zipline in to get there -- where all proceeds go to save endangered singing gibbons. Or consider Lied Lodge, an eco-friendly spa in Nebraska, where 100 percent of profits benefit the National Arbor Day foundation. Likewise, Untours, a travel company in Pennsylvania, uses all its proceeds to fund low-interest, start-up loans to worthy organizations.
Here are four amazing vacations where 100 percent of your travel dollars support a good cause.
Promote social and economic justice by staying in an old stone farmhouse in Tuscany, a charming cottage in Provence, an apartment with a view of Prague's Charles River or one of 20 other "live like the locals" tours provided by Untours, a Pennsylvania travel company that gives 100 percent of its profits to fund low-interest, start-up loans. Untours specializes in one to two-week stays (most in Europe, but a few in South America) that deeply immerse customers in their destination of choice. For example, if you choose Switzerland, you'll stay in a hillside chalet, visit family-run cheese farms, hear yodelers and cowbells and, if you want, hang out with the host family. The point is, it's up to you.
As for fighting poverty, Hal Taussig, founder of Untours, decided many years ago he didn't want to accumulate capital. He and his wife Norma live in a tiny house, he rides a bike to work and he gives away 100 percent of Untour's profits to innovative projects that address poverty around the world. For example, Untours funds Fonkoze, a microlender that gives loans to the poorest of Haiti's poor. After the 2010 earthquake when Port-au-Prince's nine commercial banks were in shambles and Western Union was paralyzed, 21 of Fonkoze's agencies were already providing small loans that meant survival for thousands of Haitians. Untours funds 40 unique projects around the world from Greensgrow, a hydroponic vegetable grower in Philadelphia run by single moms, to a vegetarian restaurant in Saigon that supports street children.
Fight global warming at a spa in Nebraska City. Lied Lodge, a green hotel and convention center on the grounds of the Arbor Day Foundation's tree farm, plows all profits from its spa and award-winning hotel into planting trees and promoting environmental stewardship. The hotel and spa are gorgeous with big fireplaces and luxurious rooms and there's plenty to do: hiking trails, a tree house adventure, birding tours, wine tasting and, of course, sightseeing at the farm and the greenhouse where tens of thousands of seedlings are being grown for the Arbor Day Foundation's million plus members.
Save endangered singing gibbons. In 1997, black-cheeked crested gibbons, which everybody thought were extinct, were rediscovered in a remote primordial rain forest in northern Laos, just across the border from Thailand. At Bokeo Nature Reserve, you can not only help save these endangered gibbons, but you can stay in an open-air treehouse and hear them sing. Bokeo's treehouses have running water, beds, showers and meals cooked by Laotian chefs who zipline over to your treehouse three times a day with steaming bowls of sticky rice, fish soup, laap (a cousin to steak tartare) and other exotic Laotian dishes they've concocted over the village fire. All proceeds from this vacation go to protect the Bokeo Reserve and its melodious gibbons.
Support higher education. At Swans, a boutique hotel in the heart of "Old Towne" Victoria, British Columbia, guests can rest easy knowing their dollars are going to support students and research at the University of Victoria. Once owned by a local real estate magnate, this luxurious hotel was willed to the university after he died. With 30 suites (average suite is 500 square feet), 1,600 pieces of art and a well-regarded brewpub, this hotel is the place to stay when visiting Victoria and its famous inner harbor.
If you're going to Branson, Mo., you can stay at the Keeter Center, a luxurious lodge with 15 suites, all lovingly attended to by the students at the College of the Ozarks. Students in the hospitality program deliver sumptuous breakfasts each morning with pastries they've made in their own on-site bakery and yogurt they've made at the college dairy. At night, they bring homemade cookies and milk, again straight from the very cows grazing outside your back window. Students get free tuition to the college in return for 15 hours of work.