Give Back When Traveling And Pack For A Purpose!

Traveling can provide you with a lot of rewarding and memorable experiences, but did you know that there is also a way to give back to the places you visit? There’s a fantastic organization called Pack for a Purpose that can help you fill your extra luggage space with supplies that are needed by the communities you’re planning to visit.

Where are the origins of Pack for a Purpose?

It all started with a trip to Africa. Pack For a Purpose founder Rebecca Rothney realized that while the safari limited her baggage to 18 kg/40 lbs, the commercial airline taking her to the continent allowed 64 kg/140 lbs. That gave her an idea. On the next trip with her husband they got in touch with a school in Botswana (their destination) and found out what supplies the school needed. With 90kg/200 lbs of extra luggage (combined) they brought a lot of stationery with them. It had such a great impact on the community, the Rothneys started getting friends involved and it grew and grew. It wasn’t long before the logistics got a little complicated. So, to simplify things, they started an charity in 2009, developed a distribution network, and now anyone who wants to make their trip meaningful can join the party.

Pack for a Purpose toothbrushes in Nicaragua

These kids in Nicaragua just received toothbrushes from a Pack for a Purpose donor

How does Pack for a Purpose work?

It’s a very simple process. This charitable organization has set up a website where poor communities all over the globe can list exactly what items they need most. Pack for a Purpose works with lodge/hotel owners, tour operators, and others in that specific area. These “partners” help Pack for a Purpose stay in touch with ever-changing needs, and also act as a hub for distributing goods. This is where you come in. Most people (aside for Paris Hilton) don’t use their maximum luggage. And even if you do, you can always make room for 2 kg/5 lbs of extra space, that’s all they ask. So leave that volume of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” at home and help out a village, kid, or family. Pack for a Purpose will tell you exactly what people need in the destination where you’re going. When you arrive, just drop the package off at the partner listed on the website. You don’t have to book a stay or a tour with them, but it’s nice if you do since these good people are doing so much for the local community.

Pack for a Purpose footballs for school in South Africa

Footballs are easy to pack when deflated and bring countless hours of fun and work-out to these kids in South Africa.

In which countries is Pack for a Purpose active?

Pack For a Purpose currently provides assistance to 60 countries in Africa, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, North America, Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, Oceania, and the Middle East. When you visit the website, choose the region and the country you’re visiting, and you’ll find a list of partners and a map showing their location.

What can you expect to bring along in the extra space of your luggage?

Once you pick a partner, the site will tell you a little about the area and its people, what challenges they face, and what projects are in effect to help make things better. Then, they will provide you with a list of items that the community needs. The primary recipients are schools and hospitals. For example, in Bonoka Bush Camp the people need things like general school supplies, reference materials, flash cards, wall charts, books, computer hardware/software, games, toys, sports equipment, clothing, and medical supplies.

Pack for a Purpose stethoscopes for a hospital in Kenya

These doctors received new stethoscopes through Pack for a Purpose.

Why you should you start packing for a purpose?

Almost anyone who has visited third-world countries has taken that photo of a boy herding cattle across a bright green field or a woman selling produce on the street (I’ve taken a lot of those pictures myself). And while it’s a nice contrast to modern world back home, often the story behind this picture is poverty and need. I don’t want to get preachy here, but let’s face it, many in this world are less fortunate than those of us who can afford to travel.

We all like to talk about eco-tourism and sustainable travel, but many don’t know how to do it or what it really means. Pack for a Purpose is doing their part to alleviate some of this poverty and need, while also providing travelers a chance to give back to a world that has given us so much. Relying on the good will of those who love to experience the world, Pack For a Purpose asks vacationers to bring something along with them in the extra space in their luggage or a carry-on that might make a world of difference to a child or family abroad.

And even better, Pack for a Purpose helps make sure that the assistance you provide is what is most needed. That way a down jacket won’t end up in Cambodia, or surf shorts in Siberia. This small effort to make this world a better place is a win-win-win. Instead of just talking about sustainable tourism, you become an active participant.

Many think they earn their vacation by sitting in a cubicle 11 months out of the year. But when you work with organizations like Pack for a Purpose, you take “earning your vacation” to an entirely different level.

How can you take part in the Pack for a Purpose movement?

The best way to start is to log on to the organization’s website. As indicated above, you pick the region where you’re headed (Asia, Africa, etc.), then you pick the country and the partner. At the bottom of the webpage you will see a link to the page “How to Pack”. This will tell you how to pack what you’re bringing and some advice on airlines and medical supplies. They even provide a printable card that identifies these items for donation.

Pack for a Purpose

There are a lot of good reasons to go on vacation, but there’s no better reason than to make the world a better place. And Pack for a Purpose will help you do just that. In many of the less fortunate parts of the world a little goes a long way, or as the Rothneys like to say, “small space – little effort – big impact”. So, next time you’re planning a vacation, give it a new meaning: check out the Pack for a Purpose website and see what’s needed at your destination.

Micha and kids in Cambodia

Micha with kids in Cambodia

If you have heard about any other great organizations that allow you to give back to people, wildlife, or nature when traveling, let us know in the comments.


Eric got the travel writing bug after working as a journalist in Cambodia in the mid-90s. Over the years he has written for numerous U.S. magazines and newspapers and taught writing at universities. He finally decided to go full-time with his travel writing because life is short, the world is big and he wants to experience it all.
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About Eric

Eric got the travel writing bug after working as a journalist in Cambodia in the mid-90s. Over the years he has written for numerous U.S. magazines and newspapers and taught writing at universities. He finally decided to go full-time with his travel writing because life is short, the world is big and he wants to experience it all.

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