In episode 13 of the Messy Middle Road Trip, I talked about the problem of overtourism and ideas to fix it.

I asked (during a very unscientific survey) women in mid-life, what would you do if you could do anything without regard to cost or responsibilities. Guess what every single person said, I’m sure you see where this going…they said, travel. We’re not alone, the number of international trips increased from 528 million in 2005 to 1.19 billion in 2015. It’s amazing, so many people are traveling, but we (all of us) need to take steps to make sure we don’t love the world the death.

Recently, I became a certified “Good Travels Advisor.” Yes, there is such a thing. With the growth of international trips and interest in responsible/sustainable travel, more and more vacationers want to help, and not harm, their favorite locations. If managed well, travel benefits communities and protects the character of a place and well-being of its people. If not…well, that’s a blog post for another day.

Healthy, economically sound destinations are the foundation of a robust tourism industry. Unfortunately, many locations are overwhelmed with visitors, endangering historic and natural sights. The problem is critical in some places, prompting government action. Locations like Machu Picchu in Peru, Cinque Terre in Italy, and Koh Tachai in Thailand now limit the number of visits, and others (Venice, Barcelona, and Iceland) are considering restrictions.

But, all is not lost (not even close). Many in the tourism industry are taking action to protect the earth’s most amazing places for generations to come. Studies show family vacations that include volunteering and giving back are more satisfying and help teach kids about being a good global citizen. Tons of opportunities exist for families who want to incorporate a touch of giving back during their family vacation. I included a few ideas below.

If adding a volunteer component to your trip sounds intriguing, make sure you thoroughly research the organization or tour company and ensure no community, children, or animals are exploited to create your volunteer experience (this is a problem in some areas). The best choices include organizations with strong ties to the community and projects to address local needs (not our needs).

Even if volunteering while on vacation isn’t part of the plan, there are still ways to help. Support the local economy by hiring a local tour guide, or eating and shopping at small, independent shops and restaurants. Research well-regarded social enterprises (a non-profit organization that uses a commercial enterprise to support social change) and support/purchase their services or goods. Most of all, remember to trust your gut. If an experience feels wrong and icky (riding elephants, poor children on display), stay away and encourage others to do the same.

I believe travel has the potential to make the world a better place. And remember, we’re all in this together.

A few volunteer vacation ideas:

United States

U.S. National Parks: The National Park Service and Sierra Club offer many volunteer opportunities to help in our national parks (with varying activity and skill levels), and many are family friendly.

Give Kids the World Village: Families volunteer at a theme-park in Florida created for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

New Orleans: Kids over 12 and their parents are welcome (and still needed) to help rebuild New Orleans.


Costa Rica: Help endangered sea turtles while experiencing Costa Rica’s amazing rainforest and beaches (plus, zip lining!!).

Thailand: Help protect and care elephants while marveling in a rich cultural experience.

Galapagos Islands: Volunteer at a nature reserve and breeding ground for giant tortoises while visiting one of the world’s unique and pristine destinations.

South Africa: Participate in great white shark research that supports conservation of this amazing predator.

You might also like:

EO11: Tips to Avoid Greenwashing

EO02: How to Green Without Going Extreme