Travel gifts that give back

The traveler on your list may be off to Italy or Nepal next year, but you won’t have to go far to find a practical gift that will be appreciated, not just for what it is, but from where it came.

This week's Travel Wise column for The Seattle Times includes a few suggestions for ways to put your holiday shopping dollars to work supporting local businesses, charitable organizations and online retailers with a global mission:

•Shop for art and handicrafts online or at stores that support fair wages and decent working conditions in developing countries.

One of the best is Seattle’s Ten Thousand Villages (6417 Roosevelt Way N.E.). Part of a national chain run by volunteers from the Mennonite Church, the store helps people in 70 countries find a market for handcrafted products.

Spending an hour or so here is like traveling around the world in one afternoon. From the Philippines are “Good News” Christmas-star ornaments made from recycled newspaper ($6). Cinnamon bark boxes ($12) come from a program that helps Vietnamese women and children from neglected families. Crafted by artisans in Burkina Faso, West Africa, are “thumb pianos” ($14) made from scraps of tin cans.

The website,, includes videos showing how many of the products are made. It lists hundreds of inexpensive items for sale online, from $10 felt flower pins made by women in Nepal to $6 brass and bone bangles from India.

•Support an independent travel bookstore.

We’re lucky to have three in the Puget Sound area: Wide World Books & Maps in Wallingford, The Savvy Traveler in Edmonds and The Traveler on Bainbridge Island.

Wide World’s $2 plastic sink stoppers and $3.50 “sporks,” all-in-one plastic knives, make excellent stocking stuffers.

•Make a donation in a traveler’s name.

Passports with a Purpose, a fundraiser started in 2008 by four Seattle-based travel bloggers, aims to raise $100,000 this year to build wells in rural Haiti.

Those who donate are eligible for prizes, from travel gear to vacation packages, supplied by the bloggers and sponsoring travel companies.

Are your cabinets filled with hotel-sized soap and shampoos you never use? AAA Washington’s annual “Soap for Hope’‘ toiletries drive supports shelters and charities in Washington and Northern Idaho.

Bring donations to auto-club offices and get a coupon for 15 percent off an item at AAA travel stores. Practical gifts include “anti-bottles,” collapsible, reusable half-liter plastic water bottles made by California-based Vapur, Inc. ($12.95). Also 4-ounce, full-size nylon duffel bags stored in pocket-size pouches ($9.95) made by Richmond, B.C.-based Kiva Design.

•Give a gift subscription to a publication that promotes world understanding through responsible travel.

I like Afar Magazine ( for its emphasis on the cultural aspects of foreign travel. Another favorite is International Travel News (, filled with trip reports and advice from real travelers.

•Buy a $25 gift card, and let the traveler on your list find and follow the progress of an entrepreneur in a Third World country.

The San Francisco nonprofit works with microlending groups in 66 countries to funnel small loans to budding small businessmen and women who use the money to buy a bicycle, a cow or cooking pots, sometimes all that’s needed to earn enough to support a family. You pick the country and the person you want to support, and Kiva supplies updates on their progress.

My portfolio includes more than 30 individuals and groups, including a dressmaker in Tajikistan, a group of Cambodian women who make and sell desserts and a tea seller in South Sudan. Their pictures appear on my corner of Kiva’s website along with notes such as “Success! The loan was 100 percent repaid,” reminders of the joy that comes with giving back.

No comments:

Post a Comment