10 Perfect Gifts For Travelers (And The World They Love To Explore)

I know for a fact that frequent travelers present quite the conundrum for gift-givers. For my last birthday, my best friend sent me a set of silicone baking cups, saying that they were flexible, light, and small – good qualities as she had “no idea” where I would be going or moving next. I’m willing to bet that she’s not alone in this regard, and that friends and families of nomads often struggle to find gifts for them.

So, why don’t you skip the material gift for the traveler on your list this holiday season? Instead, donate to an organization that’s working to improve the world they love to explore. The traveler will not only be honored, but also appreciative — because, other than warm fuzzies, they won’t have anything new to lug around.

How does this benefit you, the gift-giver? Well, in addition to the fact that you’ll be supporting those who really need it (and, what better time to do so than the holidays?), your donation will be tax-deductible.

Not feeling altruistic, but simply lazy? That’s fine, too. Donations are a great last minute gift, since with almost all the options, you don’t have to wait for something to arrive in the mail. Simply click, pay, and print or email a card describing your donation.

The number of amazing organizations out there made it difficult to choose only ten. I used four criteria to narrow the list. First, all the organizations have four-star ratings from Charity Navigator, which, in simple terms, means they rock at what they do. They are also international in scope and have a range of price options. Lastly, they offer some sort of “tangible” donation, which makes them ideal for gift-giving. (It’s more fun to say “I bought you a cow for Christmas!” than “I donated $100 to this charity.”)

Without further ado, the list:

Accion International – This financial non-profit provides “‘micro’ loans, business training, and other financial services” to help poor men and women work their own way up the economic ladder. Their large online “micromarket” is conveniently organized by price and interest. How about buying a mosquito net for $25, or woodworking tools for $45?

charity: water – Though it’s something that many in the developed world take for granted, clean water remains the most basic human need. All of this organization’s overhead costs are covered by private donors, so 100% of your donation will go to funding clean water programs. “The Little Black Box” is the perfect gift at $20. Not only is it sleek and affordable, but it will provide one person in a developing nation access to clean water for twenty years.

Direct Relief International – Need a stocking stuffer? A $5 donation will provide a month’s worth of oral rehydration solution for those suffering from waterborne illnesses. For $15, you can have a child fully treated for pneumonia, the number one killer of children under five worldwide – more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. 100% of this organization’s donations go to support various health projects around the world, so for those with (a lot) more change to spare, why not outfit an entire clinic for a smooth $1,000?

KickStart – This organization has received several awards for its innovative approach to combating world poverty. With every dollar donated, an African farmer can earn $15 in profits.  A hundred bucks buys one “MoneyMaker hip pump,” which gives small-scale farmers a way to irrigate their land. Irrigation allows them to grow crops year-round, producing higher yields and giving them the ability to continue selling during the dry season.

Relief International – This international giant provides “emergency relief, rehabilitation, and development assistance to victims of natural disasters and civil conflicts.” I know I said non-material gifts, but the woven bookmarks here are so beautiful that I had to include them. They are hand-embroidered by Afghan refugee women in Pakistan, and cost $10 a pop. One bookmark will provide ten books for a school library in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Buy 25 for all the readers on your list and supply books for an entire primary school library.

Nepal Youth Foundation – For $100, you can rescue a young Nepali girl from indentured servitude. With your donation, this organization will buy the girl’s family a goat or piglet to compensate for her lost wages, allowing the girl to come home and attend school. If there’s a better way to spend a Benjamin, I’ve never heard of it. (Read this if you’re not convinced.)

Project Hope – This is another awesome global health organization. For $12, you can provide surgical masks and gloves for medical staff. Not the sexiest gift around, but definitely essential. Or, your gift of $75 will help train local doctors and nurses.

Stop Hunger Now – This organization has packaged over 200,000 meals this week. They could probably use a helping hand! A $250 donation here will provide 1,000 meals – supporting an orphanage of 20 children for nearly two months. A $100 donation will allow the organization to ship 400 meals to people in disaster-relief areas.

Sustainable Harvest International – Um, who has ever wanted to plant a chocolate forest? Though I didn’t know that was possible until about five minutes ago, I do! Give a Central American family the ability to grow cacao and earn a living with a $40 donation. (This also has the added bonus of being good for the environment and our animal friends.) Or, for $50, give a family the supplies to plant their own organic vegetable garden. How hipster of you.

Women for Women – Girl power. This organization supports “women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights eduction and small business assistance so they can rebuild their lives.” There are many options here — from sewing kits to okra seeds — neatly divided by price and category. Allow women a steady source of income at the market by buying them three chicks or a rabbit for $15. You can also buy a goat for $50. And who doesn’t love goats?

Please keep in mind that many of these organizations have a disclaimer that your donation will likely not fund the exact item that you “purchased.” As they are working very hard to put your dollars where they’re most needed, hopefully this won’t affect your decision to donate.

Because, for once, it’s not only the thought that counts. Even if the traveler doesn’t appreciate the donation made in his or her name, whomever is on the other end of it will. A lot.

Susan Shain is a lover of adventure travel, Michigan football, and Cheez-Its. She hopes to someday pursue a career in non-profit management or public health. For now, however, she is content to travel the world. Follow her quest to take the perfect jumpy picture on every continent at http://traveljunkette.com.

Photos by: Nina Matthews Photography, nromagna,  isafmedia

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  • Amanda Patterson said at 2012-01-10T17:23:31+0000: Thanks for this list! Although the holiday season is over, I'll be abroad for my birthday in a few months, so this will come in handy for a wishlist. I love your bio-blub, and realized in reading it that, without even knowing I had the goal, have jumpy pictures on four continents. Gave me a chuckle.