find a little good

Gotham’s grounds of good

COFFEEDThere’s more good in Gotham than most people give the city credit for, and lately giving back has gotten even easier–as easy as having your morning coffee. Studies and surveys have shown Americans spend an insane amount of money on coffee, about $1,000 each a year, and I’d argue that workaholic New Yorkers and travelers (both without cars aka cupholders) would be on the high end of that average.

Regardless, we love the stuff, and Manhattan has a few destination shops that give back with a portion of their proceeds. Chances are, whether traveling or living here, you’ll pass one of these spots.

COFFEED at The Foundling

The newest of this charitable cafe’s seven locations is right in the heart of Chelsea (on 6th Ave. between 16th and 17th), and it’s adorable. The bold design will draw you in, but the offerings and service are just as appealing. The staff answered all of my questions about The New York Foundling (which serves foster children and underprivileged local families right next door) and the menu covers everything: pastries, breakfast, sandwiches, salads, and coffee variations from $2 to $5. Also find BluePrint juices, greek yogurt by The Epic Seed, coconut water and more.
Little good: The cafe donates 10% of its proceeds to The Foundling and keeps a running tally of the donations displayed above the cash register.
Long way: COFFEED’s Long Island City flagship features a patio with stunning skyline views and a rooftop garden, from which the other locations source produce and honey.


That’s right, the name you know and love has debuted brick and mortars, with the latest opening in NoLita (Elizabeth St. just off Houston) about two months ago. Find essentially all of the charitable products they sell paired with cappuccinos. Drip and pour over coffees run from $2.50 to $5 with pastries and vegan cookies to boot. The staff is friendly and welcoming and you can shop shades while you wait for your brew, or wander to the store in the back for shoes, accessories and more.
Little good: A portion of proceeds from the coffee goes to international water initiatives. TOMS Roasting Co. says one bag of coffee supports one week of safe water.
Long way: The concept can be found in Austin, Portland, Venice and Chicago, too!

Think Coffee

The popular chain has six locations in the city (Bowery, Union Square, Meatpacking, Chelsea, Flatiron, LES) all of which give back to the community. Think emphasizes honest and sustainable farming, priding themselves in having relationships with everyone they purchase from. Their products give thoughtful consideration to environmental impact as well. (Cups, lids and packaging are compostable, for example.)
Little good: The coffeeshops give 10% back to Grand Street Settlement or Hudson Guild (both of which work with low-income families and communities), depending on the cafe location.
Long way: Think Coffee also has five locations in South Korea, where I hear they have found a cult following.

find a little good

20 gifts that give back (for mostly under $20)

This is just my favorite Christmas photo, but I'm pretty sure I gifted a dinner here.
This is just my favorite Christmas photo, but I’m pretty sure I gifted a dinner here.
I love giving while giving back; I think it’s rewarding, adds a story to the gift, and beats mass consumerism. But it can be challenging to choose something practical that the recipient will actually like and maybe even use, find legitimate websites, and not spend a fortune. Plus, let’s be honest, donating to charity in someone’s name is like naming a star after them…it sounds like a nice idea but the recipient didn’t get anything out of it.

I challenged myself to a year of gifting only products that support causes I care about after last Christmas, and because I realized how slim and outdated the sources are for the concept, I’ve compiled my favorite, affordable picks for every kind of recipient on any holiday. Here are 20 things that your friends and family will love while they love knowing they’ve been part of a little good going a long way.

    For her

  1. Live fashionABLE scarves – One of my go-to’s, this organization is creating sustainable work for women in Africa, and the merch is cute! There’s no gal in your life that has too many scarves, and the gift comes with the personal story of the artisan who made it. ($28-65)
  2. LUSH Charity Pot body lotion – By working with partners, LUSH donates 100% of the price of each pot to charity — tons of charities. The company has supported over 350 grassroots campaigns, and the whole operation is ethical, handmade and green! ($5.95-22.95)
  3. Peacekeeper Cause-Metics – Shop cute and simple balms, glosses, lip sticks and nail polishes knowing 100% of the profits support women’s health and human rights. I love the gift packs. ($8-24)
  4. Jewelry – We all know there’s an elastic bracelet for every cause, but there’s legitimately nice jewelry coming from empowered artisans as well. I have to advocate Women at Risk International, whose founder spoke at a march against human trafficking in D.C. this year and moved everyone with her mission. ($18-50)
  5. Mocha Club tote – Super cute with a pocket, supports good work in Africa that’s transparently reported in newsletters. More at No. 19. ($18)

    For him

  6. Uncommon goods hygiene goodies – Get him a full kit whether he’s a working man or a bearded gent, there are customized packages for every kind of guy that they won’t buy for themselves. ($40-50)
  7. Brews cruiser – I have to admit this six pack beer holder that hangs on a bike is for just about anyone who can pull it off. You know who they are. ($69)
  8. Warby Parker glasses or sunglasses – This is a pricey one, but not comparatively, and they’re stylish. If you need new frames anyway, why not buy from the company who’s donating one for one? ($95-105) You can give a gift card if the price is too steep, or consider SOLVE Sunglasses, which donates to clean water projects. ($84-104)
  9. (RED) Tech – If your guy’s up for bright red headphones, iPhone cases or iPad covers, this is the shop for him. Support Bono’s fight against AIDS along with so many stars and retailers. ($29-200) Browse apparel or accessories alternatively.
  10. NIKE Dri-Fit Tech Hat – Benefits St. Judes Children’s Hospital, comes in blue and black. ($18) I also love St. Judes’ jogjacket ($20) and golf gift set ($28) for athletes.

    For kids

  11. TOMS shoes – If you don’t know TOMS gives a pair every time a pair is bought, you have to get out more. Tom paved the way in one-for-one giving setting a hugely popular trend for the sake of helping others. The kids shoes are adorable and affordable. ($32-69)
  12. One World Futbol Project soccer ball – The ball is designed to be indestructible, never needing a pump. For each ball purchased — in youth or adult sizes — disadvantaged youth will be provided a soccer ball. ($39.50)
  13. Good Spread – For every packet of natural peanut butter purchased, a malnourished child will be provided therapeutic food. Started by two guys out of Nashville. ($15-100)
  14. Sprinkles cupcake mix – Take on a DIY project together from the original cupcake bakery in LA. Not only can this be a family activity, Sprinkles has consistently supported cancer research, schools and children’s hospitals with charitable cupcakes and portions of their profits. ($14)
  15. FEED Bags – Choose from duffle bags, messengers, backpacks and totes. Every FEED product donates a meal to a hungry child, and the number of meals you helped provide is stenciled on the bag. Yes…there are also wine bags. ($20-495)

    For anyone

  16. ONEHOPE Wine – Just when wine couldn’t get any trendier, ONEHOPE helped do good-ing catch on. The company now supports over a dozen causes and has expanded to coffee and tea, and the cutest gift packs ever. ($19-50)
  17. MiiR water bottles – One dollar from each bottle purchased provides one person with clean water for a year. Imagine if you gifted water bottles for a whole team! Growlers and even bikes are also available as part of the MiiR project. ($15-25)
  18. Raven + Lily soap and candles – This foundation’s employing women in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India and the U.S., paying fair trade wages and breaking the cycle of poverty. Plus, the gifts are really nice. You can read some of the artisans stories on the website. ($7-22)
  19. Mocha Club coffee – There are a lot of ways to support farmers or those less fortunate through the coffee you buy, but I love that it’s Mocha Club’s premise. Started by some of my favorite musicians in Nashville, the non-profit asked people to give up a mocha a month at the height of the coffee craze. Join the club for just $7 a month to fund powerful projects in Africa or simply buy a bag of coffee through the initiative. There’s a gift set with a mug included, too. Plus, check out the mix tape collaboration available now. ($9-20)
  20. ASPCA 10-piece gift set – Yes, I included a gift for your pet on the list. In fact, you can gift every pet you know one of these toys and support the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. ($12.99)

Be sure to check out my travel and foodie gift guides, too!

find a little good

How to support veterans today

My favorite active-duty fighter pilot.
My favorite active-duty fighter pilot.

Monday 11/11 is Veterans’ Day and there are plenty of ways you can support our troops by showing your thanks (any day actually), and for the protection of our freedom, it’s the least any of us can do.

A little good

  • Sign up to tweet and/or post with Thunderclap who’s setting up one loud, united ‘Thank you’.
  • Attend a parade in New York, Santa Fe, Fresno, Rapid City, Dallas or Miami Beach.
  • Write a thank you note! The White House’s Joining Forces campaign offers a quick opportunity to write a military family a thank you to be delivered by the USO. Write yours now.

A long way

  • Volunteer. The Joining Forces Campaign partners with All for Good to help you find service opportunities based on your zip code and interest area. There are tons of opportunities to help veterans.
  • Gift a military family. By shopping the UFO wishlist, you can fund active servicemen and women’s calls home, decorations for welcome home parties, comfort food packages and more. And you can send the gift in honor of someone you know’s special occasion. See what’s offered from $15 to $50.
  • Treat a military family to dinner. You can gift any family living on or near a military base a $25 or $50 commissary gift card. That could provide a full Thanksgiving meal.
find a little good

Finding the good in DC

Caitlin and I support Martha's Table and other DC organizations with school supplies as part of DC Metro's Supply the Need 2013
Caitlin and I support Martha’s House and other DC organizations with school supplies as part of DC Metro’s Supply the Need 2013
It’s no secret that New Yorkers struggle transitioning to DC. And on top of adjusting to short buildings, big yards and roundabouts, I moved to a 9-to-5 cubicle, commuting by car and six months without travel. I’ve held a little grudge against the city by association and had to get a little more proactive about warming up to my new (temporary) home.

To start, I’ve made myself wade through tourists to take advantage of the free museums at my doorstep, try a new restaurant every week, and treat this destination like any I’d travel to. As such, I’ve found a few ways to do a little good locally, thanks to DC Metro and Gannett in part.

Here’s where you can make a difference in DC, even if you’re only passing through.

1. Ben’s Chili Bowl. That’s right, a local landmark tourists are likely to visit anyway gives back a portion of profits to charities in the district. You can make a little difference just by chowing down.

2. Jill’s House serves children with intellectual disabilities and their families by providing qualified care to give parents time off. Volunteers can care for children by swimming, playing basketball or facilitating arts and crafts, or support the program with administrative assistance. Donors can sponsor a child for as low as $42 and groups can plan a three-day mission trip.

3. Martha’s Table combats poverty with long-term solutions for families from food and clothing to job training and support programs. Food, clothing, toiletry and office supply donations are always accepted and volunteers can assist with food preparation, tutoring, childcare or simply sorting the donations.

4. Little Lights Urban Ministries works with inner city youth instilling life skills, art, academics and spirituality through tutoring, recreation, Bible studies and mentoring. Volunteers can work with these programs or help with organization or event planning. And donations are easy with the Change the City coin can drive.

5. Suited for Change empowers low-income women in the job field by providing second-hand professional attire. They’re always accepting business and business casual clothing donations and there’s an abundance in the nation’s capital.

find a little good, learn

13 Ways to Do a Little Good Today (or in 2013)

loveMy 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.

  1. 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.

  2. Recycle
    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Volunteer
    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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Sit
    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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

find a little good

A little good lately

I’ve been very busy with food and travel lately, and while I’d love to write all about Saratoga Springs, Northern Michigan, and the NYC Wine & Food Festival, I already have…a lot. Feel free to check out the pieces if you’re interested in visiting any of the above yourself and while you’re there, here’s a little good in each place and a few awesome chefs taking it a long way.

Saratoga Springs
I spent my 25th Birthday weekend in Saratoga Springs checking out Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa’s culinary program and the downtown food scene. I ate about 16 meals in three days and drank like a college freshman, finding the friendliest hotel staff I’ve ever experienced—they sang me happy birthday…on the shuttle bus—and basically a lot of welcoming townies. The coolest parts of this trip were several chef’s gardens right on site, which is the food world’s version of “going Dutch”, and the beautiful state park—even in the rain.

  • a little good: Chef Brian Sterner, the center of my attention on this particular trip, supports both Shelters of Saratoga, the community hospice, and March of Dimes with food donations and events. His biggest charitable cause each year though, is the Albany Chefs’ Food & Wine Festival, when area chefs prepare the courses for fundraising dinners.
  • a long way: You can attend the festival with the dual benefits of trying awesome local food and wine, AND supporting the arts. Check out the 2013 beneficiaries and plan a trip for January for some good travel.

Northern Michigan
The next weekend I headed to Petoskey, Michigan for a Hemingway tour complete with haunted hotels and salmon fishing in the freezing cold. This marked a reunion writing with Field & Stream, which we have yet to see the result of, but was a fun re-attempt to catch. I was with such an amazing group of journalists and only had time to support the local fudge industry to be honest, but found some great additional bits of good.

  • a little good: My fly fishing guide, Brian Kozminski, is an ambassador for GreenFish, an apparel company supporting sustainable fishing. With every purchase, 5% is donated to organizations that are furthering sustainable fishing.
  • a long way: Helping is as easy as catching and releasing, and respecting the land and waters you use, but you can help clean up and monitor these environments locally with the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.

NYC Wine & Food
After three years in the city without the means or memory to attend this festival, I finally made it with The Daily Meal. I spent six hours interviewing Food Network stars then tried 32 of the city’s best chef’s tacos…with tequila. If you’re in New York in October you simply cannot miss this. There are so, so many events to choose from and the proceeds go to charity. Not to mention all these chefs work with good causes individually as well. Here are a few examples!

  • a little good: If you don’t know, 100% of the net proceeds at NYCWFF go to the Food Bank for New York City, which is effectively working to end poverty in all five boroughs. Definitely, definitely check out how you can help if you’re ever in the city.
  • a long way: You can always donate food or funds to the food bank or volunteer with them, but I wanted to call out a few organizations the chefs I met support individually. Spike Mendelsohn partners with Michelle Obama’s, which is encouraging kids to be healthy and active, Anne Burrell supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Bobby Flay sponsors Wholesome Wave, which is bridging farms and under-served communities. If you’re a Food Network junkie, see how you can help your favorite stars’ initiatives.

To read more about the amazing food and my particular adventures in these last three stops, check out these articles by yours truly:

find a little good

$25 for my 25th Birthday

My 25th birthday is inevitably a time to reflect on where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and where I’m going, but like any year, it’s a sign I’m getting older. It’s that year I am officially, unmistakably an adult…even though I hear I don’t look like it. A time I’m unquestionably accountable for my own life and an excuse to act in the name of this milestone.

After six months on crutches this year, I’ve given plenty of thought to the things I wanted to do before I was 25, and how many I couldn’t do without walking. I’ve dreamed of embarking on 25 adventures that remind me I’m young and celebrate youthfulness, trying 25 new things to challenge myself, or seeing 25 new and different places. But I realized the most meaningful thing I can do, and really the least I can do, is commit to 25 ways to change the world…in person.

I write about simple, painless ways to better destinations in a number of minutes or hours on a visit, so fitting 25 into a year shouldn’t be hard, right? Only paying for it is. The cost of getting there is the only thing ever holding me back, or any of us I’m sure. So for one of the many trips I have planned this year, I’m asking for your help.

Several friends and I planned a mission trip to Panama last year and our funds, schedules and bodies fell through before we could make it. We’ve committed to helping my friends David and Lisa Carter who live there by tapping into our personal talents and resources to better their community. Three of us are still committed to this.

Two of my closest friends have never been on an international volunteer trip and I am so excited for this experience for them. Ruthie, a pediatric nurse, will be teaching the girls about personal hygiene, menstrual health, and emotional health. Jessica, a retired professional ballerina, will be teaching the girls dance and creative expression. And I will be teaching them to journal and write, contributing to both emotional health and creative expression.

Most importantly, we’ll also be distributing food and clothes to isolated and underdeveloped communities, even camping in mosquito nets, which is a necessary hand to lend and an amazing cultural opportunity for perspective and global awareness.

All this to say, we can’t go until we have the funds, and it is on all of our hearts to help this community. As with anything, we would love prayerful support, but we can use financial support as well, and if the three of us each convince 25 people to donate $25, we will be on our way.

The funds go to airfare, accommodations, food, supplies and transportation, and we’ll be videoing and blogging the entire trip to keep our supporters updated. With the help of the amazing new Volunteer Forever site, we’ve set up a donation platform and a home base for all the information on the trip.

Thanks for any and all support, even $5 goes a long way towards helping beautiful people of a beautiful country. For ways you can change the world around you, keep reading about taking a little good a long way, and follow along this year as I try 25 things that will change the world.

Want to join the trip? Have a suggestion for a little extra good in Panama? Let us know here!

find a little good, live, unsolicited travel how-to's

How to Get to the Getaway

The only thing that flew by faster than this summer was Labor Day (seriously, did it already happen?) and if you missed this free vacation you have to hold on to that regret the next time a three-day weekend creeps up on you. Guilty (and shameful) of working on the 4th of July, I determinedly made it to Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes this day off around, but after a ridiculous course of events in the week leading up to it—the kind that threaten all of us in the trip planning process.

To me, the biggest challenges with every weekend getaway opportunity, particularly when an extra day comes into play, are getting there and getting over being back. While not knowing what day it is for the rest of the following week is inevitable, I can help with making that trip happen in the first place despite the life/stress/work/obligation/budget obstacles that are bound to arise. If you’re a friend of mine, you know that by help I mean text message, tweet or IM you the entire week before to encourage (peer pressure) you to commit. But with or without this endearing persistence, here are the keys to ending up far from the couch all on your own.

  1. Try to realize it’s one weekend. As many excuses as your commitments will provide, your world will survive without you for two to three days. Think of it as the rest of the world only getting those couple days. You know when you lose or forget your phone for a few hours and you have overwhelming anxiety about how much information you’re missing and who must be worried sick you’re out of touch, and then you finally get a hold of it and you don’t have a single message? Or the only one you have is from your mom? Putting your chores off, ignoring your work email, or rain checking rain-check-able plans for a few days away can be just like that. And usually better.
  2. Use your bucket list. Whether you’re OCD and have a thorough list or simply continually pass things by or hear about places and remember they’re on your to-do’s…now is the time; let those motivate you. Travel lovers know if you want to see the whole world, you better get started, and every long weekend is a little bonus. I couldn’t make it to India or Australia this weekend, but I could certainly see the things that are lower on the list, but closer and less expensive. When the day off was approaching, I went through my endless wishes to see what was feasible—whether that referred to funding, proximity or group appeal—and saw Niagara Falls for the first time, plus tasted Finger Lakes wine, all in two days.
  3. Be up for anything. On this particular trip I had to be up for third-wheeling, borrowing a friend’s car, staying in a very scary but cheap motel, cutting the time down from four days away to two, and driving seven hours each way to make it work, and those waterfalls were completely worth it. On the other hand we were also up for attending a family’s annual picnic even though they were complete strangers, taking an impromptu winery tour from a brand new employee who wanted to share his version, and settling for pizza when every restaurant we’d wanted to try closed early. For these settlements, we got small town charm, local history, an intimate and personal tour complete with grape tasting, and really good pizza. Simply agreeing can lead to so many memories that outdo what you had planned.
  4. De-emphasize sleep…and money, for once. When we think of an extra day off, we think of more time to rest and one less day of waking up for work. But we lose sleep for work and responsibilities every day of the week, why not lose it for travel? When you squeeze a 14-hour trip into two days, the only way to really take advantage of that little time is to forego sleep in favor of driving. As tired as we all were Tuesday, I’d rather stay in for a night than have missed out on all we saw and did. Similarly, money limitations don’t have to hinder or prevent travel, try to make your budget work. Save on gas and hotels by bringing more people, look for free events or activities, be up for camping, grab fast food when you have to or pack snacks.

The truth is, you can’t always get away, but when you can, determine how conquerable the obstacles are. Our country hands you TEN free days a year, that’s 10 extra days to see the world, and when you’re determined, you can take those a long way. And when you can’t go far, apply these steps to your weekend at home. They should still get you off the couch.

  • a little good here: The Finger Lakes’ annual wine competition (FLIWC) is the largest charitable event of its kind on this continent! Proceeds benefit Camp Good Days and Special Times, a getaway for families affected by cancer and other life challenges.
  • a long way: While the camp can always use volunteers if you have extensive time in this area, they’re currently accepting used books in a partnership with Great Lakes Book Buyers who are making donations for every book collected. They’ll even come and pick them up. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Where have three-day weekends taken you?

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If you’re hungry for more than a cupcake

A Special Olympics gala in NYC
My weekend was completely consumed with feedback that people like, want, or are looking for perspective. I don’t know whether I would say that travel is the number one way to gain perspective or that perspective is the number one result of travel, but perhaps both. I’m a huge advocate of planning a trip when your problems are out of focus, but you don’t have to go far to realign your priorities or readjust to your circumstances. If you’d like to at least go further than the bakery, here are a few suggestions.

Look for a little good. The point of my blog is to show how simple and painless it is to incorporate goodwill into both your travel and your home. Unless you’ve never done a good deed, you know how positive it feels to make a difference in someone else’s life, and my theory is that giving back to someone’s home is as important when you consume it, because the rewards of travel–the best products–are free, typically from the locals where you go. Every little bit of good makes the world a better place, and you can make that difference in small but significant ways. On the road or in your hometown look for benefits, charity events or local causes. You can dress up and go out for a night, complete a walk or run or even do yoga, or simply shop at a particular store for a good cause.

Do something that has nothing to do with yourself. Whether you volunteer, donate to a cause, pick up the tab or help a friend move, you don’t have to leave home to have a life-changing experience. You will be surprised at how this affects you and unlike laying on the couch for a whole Saturday or watching TV for hours on a week night, you won’t feel any sense of having wasted time. Most importantly, when you consider someone else for even 10 minutes, you gain perspective on your own life. Looking for what could help others reveals problems you don’t have or that you didn’t have any idea existed.

Plan a trip that involves more than laying on a beach. Adventure, exotic and volunteer travel are blatantly on the rise amongst travel professionals, but most teachers, families or working 20-somethings I know still opt for Caribbean cruises, Vegas or European backpacking. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but once you’ve done it three times, explore something new. Foreign cultures, customs and lifestyles can rock your world and truly change you. So you don’t have two years to teach English abroad? Squeeze a lesser-known village in between major European cities for an authentic experience. The most amazing travel discoveries can be found where locations least prepare for your visit. Even at the beach, after laying out, go looking…

Travel when you don’t think you can travel. There are dozens of inspirational photos and quotes on social media a day to inspire you for this one, but when you’re dying to get away and your budget, schedule or reservations are holding you back, take a risk. Challenge yourself. Getaway for the weekend or drive too far for one night. Look for community festivals or events, concert tours, state fairs, farms or wineries, or outdoor recreation for ideas. Breaking your norm and embarking on even the smallest of adventures will ultimately give you perspective by relieving the stress, worry, fear or discontentment that’s overwhelming you. When you need to surprise yourself, take a risk. Spontaneity that makes you happy or fulfills you over responsibilities or obligations that don’t is the right choice every once in a while.

A week at an orphanage in Mexico…better than the beach that Spring Break.
Combine all of these on a mission trip. It’s one thing to incorporate giving back into your travel, an amazing thing actually, but what if that was all you did? I have never met anyone who regretted going on a mission trip despite the fundraising, inconvenience or challenges. Whether you distribute food, play with kids, build houses, minister religiously, heal medically or protect environmentally, do this once in your life. Words can’t describe what a lack of running water and electricity will do to your perspective, much less malnourished children, entire towns destroyed by natural disasters, or widespread diseases. Seeing what happiness means to people in these circumstances will forever change you.

For more ideas in particular cities, check any of my destination blogs, or click where to find a little good.

How has travel changed your perspective?

find a little good, learn

The speechless show that stood out

Many, many stories have come from the month or two I spent in Florence, because traveling abroad is so incomparable to intentional, costly, adult travel and yields countless lessons you carry with you. But the story I never tell is one that my group of four re-hashes frequently and the fact that it falls under my travel telling radar is even more a testament to the lesson that was learned. I guarantee you can relate, and I encourage you to start sharing your untold tale when you think about what it truly taught you.

Because travel abroad is organized and our program planned everything accounting for our every need, there were constant opportunities for activities included in the cost of our trip. As students at a Christian college, we never quite grasped that these opportunities were optional—from running down the street hungover with pillows under our arms to make the bus every other weekend to thinking we’d be kicked out and sent home when we lost our tour guide in Rome, we could not catch on that the staff simply wanted us to have fun and enjoy our trip and gave us options to do so.

So when we were notified of a theatrical production on a random Tuesday night after class, we scrambled to arrive on time and get seats with our friends in the program. As with everything, we arrived sweating and panicked barely making it to the play and were even more of a wreck when we realized we were the only students who took up the offer.

We sat down awkwardly, questioned whether we were still allowed to back out, and leafed through the program…only to read what the heck we were seeing. The play had no words! Not only did it not have words; it had one character…throughout! We were held hostage at a play with only one actor and zero words while everyone else was at the same bar we went to every night having the same great time, all together. We’d been had.

When the play started we were so frustrated; we were antsy and restless and anxious to get out of there, but act by act we completely forgot about our attitudes. The show was hilarious. This single actor had completely overcome a monstrous challenge to create a quirky, unique masterpiece—a once in a lifetime performance. With no acting, singing or play writing understanding, ability or appreciation, we could feel what a feat this was.

We sat on the edge of our seats waiting for what was next, wide eyed during intermission over what else he could possibly come up with. We experienced one man’s creativity, humor and versatility while experiencing locals, Italian culture and community unity. The rest of the audience had paid for this, they’d heard about it in all the time it’d been playing, and they’d come to see for themselves. What we never considered was that our staff, who were locals themselves, had heard about it and decided to include us, to let us get a glimpse of what everyone here was laughing about.

And we will never forget it. We may forget what our tour guides said about major landmarks and attractions, what our professors taught us about Italian history, or what bars we had a good time at in the city, but we don’t forget the sounds of this play. We repeated these “lines” for days, the noises that said more than words and tickled us more than jokes or cynicism. I can still call me sister and make her laugh with one sound effect from this show.

And you realize, this is that out of the box, one of a kind experience only we had here. It’s the memory customized and specific to our particular trip that we didn’t plan or pay for but that made all the difference. And you give every future trip the benefit of the doubt, you say yes to unexpected opportunities and unforeseen openings, because you never know what will come of them. And when you don’t know, you learn and you’re never the same because of it.

You can’t add this to your itinerary, because it only occurs when you don’t, but you’ll know it when you’re there in the moment and you won’t have the moment until you plan the trip and you go. The rest is up to your destination and perhaps some thoughtful people along the way who know better than you there. It just might help to not be at the same bar with the same people every single night of your stay. Say yes to the alternative, even on a random Tuesday night.

  • a little good here: The Florentine, an English magazine in Florence, recently published a great article on a ton of simple ways to volunteer a little bit of time in the city from cleaning up streets to distributing medicine to the elderly.
  • a long way: In performing arts, a program called Creative Corner provides art, dance, music, science and English lessons in addition to community events, all for which they need volunteers’ help.

What random, unexpected things have made all the difference in your travels?