My traveling philosophy is to change the world as you discover it, and that is even easier in your own world at home. If you’re not convinced you can make a difference in every place you visit and actually enhance your trip on the way, start right where you are. There are more ways than you think to take a little good a long way, and that doesn’t always mean donating to a cause.
The biggest, but sometimes hardest, donation we can make is usually time…but once you form a habit of scheduling giving back and see the effects you can have, it won’t seem hard at all. Try any of these 13 easy acts of humanitarianism today and watch them change your year in 2013.
- Clean out your closet
I find few people who don’t need to do this anyway. You’ll be surprised how many clothes and shoes you never wear that someone else could use. Find a second hand store, shelter, or drop box near you rather than throwing them away, and you’ll feel lighter and accomplished.
Hopefully you already do, but if your neighborhood, building, or county doesn’t have a program, find a recycle drop off center and do your part to save the planet. Going a little out of your way can do some good for the environment and promote preservation.
- Let go of old books and magazines
Once you’ve given up those clothes you never wore, this should be easy. In tiny apartments in NYC this is more relieving, but journalists and writers want to save every good thing we’ve ever read. Either recycle that stack of old mags, or donate those and used books. There are services that pick them up and redistribute or you can give to a second hand store, hospital, nursing home, or other housing for those in need.
- Provide food
Clean out the cans or dried goods that have become permanent fixtures in your pantry and donate to a shelter rather than letting them expire. If you don’t keep food in your apartment like me, pick up a few to drop off when you go by. Those cans are less than a dollar and can make all the difference for people less fortunate.
- Visit someone lonely
Not to make these people sound sad, but this covers a broad spectrum. Whether you’re more comfortable entertaining children in a hospital or listening to the elderly in a home, this little bit of time goes a long way for those who can’t get out like you.
Research volunteering in your community; opportunities can range from yard work, serving meals at a soup kitchen, painting or repairing homes, playing with kids in after school programs, tutoring students or job training adults. You can give your time once a week or help with a one-time activity to support local programs and serve others.
- Shop intentionally
Look into what local stores support. From chain retailers that give profits to national campaigns like RED to boutiques selling local products like beer, wine, crafts, or artisanal foods, the shopping you’d do anyway can make a difference. This is great for meaningful gift giving. One of my favorite little goods this year was Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Bargain Boutiques where you can pick up a souvenir or gift and support the hospital’s research. How simple is that?
- Thank service workers
If anyone needs to be served, it’s service workers. Whether you over tip a waitress or cab driver, or have a Gatorade ready for your maintenance man, you can change a person’s day by showing you appreciate them and all they put up with. Thank the troops you know with a letter, leave your super a card of encouragement, or make cookies for the janitor at your office. Everyone wants to feel noticed and appreciated.
- Pack something extra
Throw an extra sandwich in your bag lunch for a coworker or have a granola bar ready for someone on the way. If you pass a lot of homeless people when you travel, like New Yorkers do, keep a change purse with coins. It’s so easy to give away a dime or breakfast bar and know you did some good and made an impact.
- Exercise for a cause
See how often your city hosts runs, walks, yoga-thons, or bike rides for good causes. All you have to do is show up and work out and you’ll be surprised how many people want to support you. Raise funds and support, especially with a team, to unite your friends or coworkers in doing a little good. Many cities now have charitable intramural leagues for adults from kickball or bowling to softball or soccer.
Offer to pet sit, house sit, or babysit for a friend free of charge. You can give someone a break, time for a date, or simply save them money while multi-tasking and/or spending quality time with a little one.
- Foster a chore
When you have a friend that’s sick, see what they need at the store. See a neighbor’s trash in the hall? Take it downstairs for them. Taking over a small task to save someone else time is a painless, considerate random act of kindness. My favorite: show up with wine and a movie when someone’s had a bad day. If we all better the very small world around us, we really will change the world.
- Join #26acts
Speaking of random acts of kindness, kick off the year with #26acts, the 26 random acts of kindness in honor of every victim at Sandy Hook. Participating with other people and photographing all you do to share the love on social media will get you and everyone watching excited about doing some good.
For ideas of how you can help specific destinations, see where I’ve found a little good in my travels.