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RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Travel Auction Benefits Center for Responsible Travel

Lapa-rios-ecolodge-costa-rica
Up for bid: A stay at Costa Rica's famous Lapa Rios ecolodge.
Photo: Lapa Rios

by Brook Wilkinson

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or your travel plans have you there on November 5, heads up: The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), a nonprofit research organization dedicated to furthering sustainable travel, is auctioning off several top-notch trips.

Among my favorites up for bidding: A 6-day trip in Yellowstone with outfitter Off the Beaten Path; a 10-day Galapagos cruise with Lindblad Expeditions; or 7 nights in Costa Rica for a starting bid of just $400. Other destinations include Kenya, Belize, Peru, Turkey, Greenland, and Ecuador. All are offered by certifiably green operators.

In all, 11 travel packages will be auctioned off, with proceeds funding CREST's work (co-director Martha Honey is a judge for Conde Nast Traveler's World Savers Awards). The event will take place at a private home in Woodside, California; there is a suggested donation of $100, which can be used toward a bid on any of the trips. Think of it as an opportunity to take care of both your travel plans and your charitable giving for 2010.

Further reading:
* Check out our live reports from Monday's World Savers Congress, an event that brought together travel industry leaders to talk about corporate social responsibility
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Sponsor a Maasai in the New York Marathon

by Brook Wilkinson

It's no shocker to see Africans running marathons--Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru just won the Chicago race convincingly this past weekend, and his medal collection also includes an Olympic gold. But next month's New York City Marathon will include three African marathon novices--Maasai warriors who work at Campi ya Kanzi, a 2008 winner of Condé Nast Traveler's World Savers Award, and its Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.

Campi ya Kanzi is the brainchild of Italian Luca Belpietro (who also will be running the grueling 26.2 miles), who made a deal with the Maasai of the Kuku Group Ranch: If they would put up the land to protect as a wildlife reserve, he would finance a luxury eco-lodge to attract travelers. The project is, by all accounts, a success. It's raised over $750,000 for conservation, education, and health care in the last year alone.

Edward Norton, who impressed all in attendance at Condé Nast Traveler's World Savers Congress a few weeks ago, is the president of the board for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Fund, and the leader of a group of 30 running the NYC Marathon to raise money for the Fund. Read after the jump to see what he has to say about this latest endeavor.

Continue reading "Sponsor a Maasai in the New York Marathon" »

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Journeys Within Reaches Out to Help Typhoon Victims

JWOC-typhoon-relief-Cambodia
In Cambodia's Taksen Tboung village, children play in floodwater that may well be contaminated.
Photo: JWOC

by Brook Wilkinson

Southeast Asia and the South Pacific just can't catch a break. First it was earthquakes, which wreaked havoc in Indonesia--spawning mudslides and killing hundreds--and caused a tsunami in the Samoas that took many more lives. Then Typhoon Ketsana rolled over the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia, leaving destruction in its path and more than 360 dead.

To say that the news out of this part of the world is not good would be an understatement. But one small travel company on the ground in Cambodia has already been able to make a difference. It is Journeys Within, a tour operator and B&B in Siem Reap. The company's nonprofit arm, Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC), works under the motto "See a Problem, Solve a Problem." And see one they did. Ketsana had left many nearby communities underwater. But since the devastation was arguably worse elsewhere, it would be a while before major aid organizations showed up in these small villages.

So JWOC took up the cause.

Continue reading "Journeys Within Reaches Out to Help Typhoon Victims" »

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Massive Good Travel Fundraising to Launch

Massive-good

by Brook Wilkinson

Starting early next year, travelers will likely be asked if they want to make a suggested donation of $2 each time they buy an airline ticket. The fundraising effort is part of MassiveGood, a joint project involving the Millennium Foundation (an NGO dedicated to raising money to support the UN's goal of fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in developing countries), the World Travel & Tourism Council, and other travel partners. Those travelers who agree to make the small contribution will be supporting UNITAID, which is already receiving funding from airline ticket taxes levied by several countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. UNITAID uses this money to place large orders for medication; this in turn drives down prices and allows the contribution to make an even greater impact. It's a model that's gotten the attention of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a well-respected philanthropic organization.

What do you think? Will you click the box to add an extra $2 to your spring break flight next year? Or would you rather make your charitable donations elsewhere? How do you make sure that your travel gives something back to the earth and its inhabitants?

Further reading:
* Check out our live reports from Monday's World Savers Congress, an event that brought together travel industry leaders to talk about corporate social responsibility
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

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National Geographic's Genographic Project

National-geographic-genographic-project-mapMy family tree?

by Brook Wilkinson

My ancestors left Africa about 50,000 years ago, moving north across the Sinai Peninsula and eventually populating western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. I know this because I sent a sample of my saliva to National Geographic's Genographic Project. They extracted my DNA from the Q-Tip I'd used to swab the inside of my cheek. The mutations in my mitochondrial DNA--which is passed from mother to child--laid down signposts indicating the route my ancestors followed, starting all the way back with Mitochondrial Eve: a woman who lived in Africa between 150,000 and 170,000 years ago, to whom all humans on earth today are related.

Continue reading "National Geographic's Genographic Project" »

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A Different Perspective on Hotel Deals

Journeys-within-b&b-siem-reap
The Rosses with their staff at the Journeys Within B&B in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

by Brook Wilkinson

I met up last week with Andrea Ross, one of Wendy Perrin's top travel specialists, and my host during the voluntourism trip to Cambodia that I wrote about in the May 2008 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Andrea and her husband, Brandon, run a Southeast Asia tour operator called Journeys Within, a B&B in Siem Reap, and also a local nonprofit that gives back to the local communities through university scholarships, microloans for small businesses, and more. (With all that and two small kids, Andrea and Brandon have their hands full!)

Andrea had an interesting perspective on the hotel deals that we've been seeing in the last year. "Hotels in Siem Reap are slashing their prices," she said. But how do they make up for these discounts on their bottom line? In many cases, by laying off employees. And that starts a trickle-down effect that she's seeing at home in Siem Reap, and is surely taking place all around the world. People with jobs in the tourism industry are typically well-off in places like Cambodia; they often share their relative abundance with their extended family. When a hotel lets go of one waiter, they may well be taking food off the table of a dozen or more people. And there aren't many other alternatives for that waiter; Cambodia's garment industry (what we think of as sweatshops are attractive employers to many a rural farmer's son or daughter) is hurting as well, now that Americans are cutting back on their material consumption.

I know that hoteliers have some very difficult decisions to make in an economic climate like this one. Having to close your doors forever because you refused to lay off a single employee does no one any good. And I certainly don't blame the travelers who are taking advantage of the deals to be had right now. But I also applaud people like Andrea and Brandon, who have made a commitment not to lay off any of their staff--and as a consequence haven't been able to advertise the bargain-basement prices we see elsewhere. And I ask you, my fellow travelers, to speak up when you're on the road. Encourage the properties you visit not to let got of staff right now, to find other ways to cut costs. Leave a few extra dollars in your room as a tip for the housekeeper who may well be earning less than she did last year. An amount that would barely cover a draft beer back at home could feed that housekeeper's entire family.

Further reading:
* The Autobiography of a Tip (CNT, September 2009): What a difference a gratuity can make
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

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Marquis Los Cabos: Mexico Hotel with a Heart

Marquis-los-cabos-mexico
The Marquis Los Cabos, a Mexican hotel that gives back to the community.
Photo: Marquis Los Cabos

by Brook Wilkinson

Did the long Labor Day weekend come and go too fast? If you want to treat yourself to a sun-filled getaway later this month, here's one option that is sure to bring you good karma: The Marquis Los Cabos, right on the beach on the tip of Baja California, is offering fourth and seventh nights for free (just ask for the Mexico Extravaganza Package when you book). Stay for a week, and you'll save almost 30%. Choose either an ocean-view suite or a private casita; the latter have their own private plunge pools. There are also three restaurants, a bar, and a 15,000-foot holistic spa and fitness center, so you need never leave the property.

What makes this hotel a responsible traveler's choice? When the owners opened their doors to guests back in 2003, they also opened a university for their employees. Books and classes are paid for entirely by the hotel, which donates 5% of its annual revenue to staff education and health care. 

The giving back doesn't stop there: The hotel also turns off all its lights for every full moon, lighting the place instead with candles and reducing the energy usage by 25%. And employee uniforms are embroidered by a small community near Mexico City, not a sweatshop somewhere in Asia. With room rates starting at $240 per night, Marquis Los Cabos isn't the cheapest Mexican holiday you'll find, but its heart is in the right place.

Further reading:
* Check out Consumer News Editor Wendy Perrin's Deal of the Day column for more travel deals
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Trudie Styler on Ecuador's Rain Forest

by Dinda Elliott

What do Trudie Styler, Ecuador's Amazon, its tribal people, and Chevron have in common? Documentary films!

Ecuador is one of those great unsung countries: As Ondine Cohane writes in the August issue of Condé Nast Traveler, it has some of the world's highest volcanoes and a fascinating mix of Spanish and Incan cultures. It is also the locus of the world's largest oil-related environmental lawsuit, worth $27 billion and involving 30,000 Ecuadoreans who charge that Chevron is responsible for pollution of the Amazon dating back to the 1970s.

In the form of secretly taped videos recorded by pens and watches implanted with bugging devices, Chevron is presenting new evidence that may show an Ecuadorean operative trying to solicit bribes for environmental clean-up contracts. Those video clips will be competing with Crude, a documentary directed by Joe Berlinger that comes out September 9, produced with the help of Trudie Styler, the environmental activist and wife of Sting. The film details the devastation of the area where the oil wells operated, from water that smells like gas to tribal children dying of cancer. "I hope this film will have a profound impact on people," Styler says. "You can't help but be moved when you see a 38-year-old mother with uterine cancer and her 18-year-old daughter with liver cancer. You just want to jump in and help."

Styler, who founded the Rainforest Foundation with Sting 20 years ago to fight for indigenous people living in endangered rain forests, has also been working as UNICEF ambassador in Ecuador, building 60 schools and bringing in huge rainwater tanks. "For $400, you can buy a tank that will last for 15 years," Styler says. "You can make a difference." To learn more, go to rainforestfoundation.org.

Further reading:
* Ondine Cohane says Ecuador is one of Latin America's best kept secrets (CNT, August 2009)
* Dinda's Dispatches from Hong Kong (it's partying and turning red) and Shanghai ("At Home in Shanghai" and the city's World Expo transformation)
* The 2009 World Savers Awards: Honoring the travel industry

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Yosemite's Evergreen Lodge Takes 25% Off

Cabin_evergreen_lodge_yosemite
Cabins at the Evergreen Lodge.

by Brook Wilkinson

What with the Obama family's visits and Ken Burns's upcoming documentary, the national parks have certainly had their 15 minutes this summer. I think it's safe to say that most everyone in the country agrees with Burns that the parks truly are one of our country's best ideas--a point that's worth remembering at a time when we're divided by issues like health care.

What I'm less enthusiastic about are the accommodation options inside most national parks. That's why I try to stay just outside their boundaries whenever possible. Evergreen Lodge is my top choice for Yosemite--it's just a mile from the Hetch Hetchy entrance station, which takes you into a much quieter section of spectacular wilderness than you'll find down in the valley. And from now until the end of the month, Evergreen is slashing 25% off its weeknight (Sunday-Thursday) rates. That means you can book one of their cabins for as little as $109 per night.

I strongly recommend opting for one of the newer cabins, which were built in 2004 and 2009 and are about 400 square feet, plus a 100-square-foot private deck. The original cabins, which date back as far as the 1920s, are much smaller but still pleasant. There's a fantastic restaurant on the property, a general store where you can buy picnic supplies, an outdoor plaza where people roast marshmallows in the evening, and an activity desk to help you figure out what to do inside or outside the park. Evergreen Lodge is the perfect combination of rustic simplicity and all the creature comforts, and this is a great time of year to be in the park--the kids are back in school so the crowds are gone, and the crisp fall air is invigorating. So if you can afford to play hooky this month, I encourage you to take advantage of this special.

Further reading:
* National Parks Welcome the Obamas
* Our top ten national parks and how to see them
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

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Mongolia's Golden Eagle Festival

Kazakh_Eagle_trainer_Golden-Eagle_Festival_Mongolia
A proud golden eagle hunter and his magnificent pet.
Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

by Brook Wilkinson

No matter how many places I travel to, there are always dozens more I'm dying to visit--like Mongolia. What's not to like: some of the world's last nomadic herders crossing the plains on horseback, a name that is synonymous with the middle of nowhere. But it's not an easy place to visit, which is why I'd want to book my trip through Nomadic Expeditions, a New Jersey-based tour operator founded by Mongolia native Jalsa Urubshurow. If I had the time and funds, in fact, I'd be booking a trip right now to the Golden Eagle Festival, which takes place in northwestern Mongolia every fall. Several tour operators now run trips to the festival, but Urubshurow himself started it back in 2000, as a way to revive this traditional Kazakh hunting technique, and to bring money into these subsistence-based communities. All proceeds from the festival go to the Berkut Association, which works to uphold the traditions of the country's largest ethnic minority group.

Continue reading "Mongolia's Golden Eagle Festival" »

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Massages for Breast Cancer Awareness

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Women's health is the focus at the Four Seasons The Biltmore's spa.
Photo: Four Seasons

by Brook Wilkinson

Summer may be wrapping up, but there will be plenty of travel deals to be had this fall. Case in point: the "Life is Suite" promotion, from The Four Seasons The Biltmore, in Santa Barbara, which offers 20%-40% off any suite booked during the week, from September 7 through the end of October. The Biltmore is a perennial Condé Nast Traveler Gold List property.

What's more, for every Swedish, shiatsu, or deep-tissue massage that you book at the resort's spa during October--National Breast Cancer Awareness Month--the Four Seasons will donate 10% of the treatment price to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. Who knew that a good rubdown could make your heart feel good, too.

Further reading:
* The 2009 World Savers Awards: Honoring the airlines, cruise lines, city hotels, resorts, hotel chains, and tour operators that are dedicated to saving their communities and our world
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

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Don't Forget to Plug in Your . . . Car?

electric-car-charging-closeup
Fueling up, EV-style.
Photo: Element Lexington

by Brook Wilkinson

The Element Lexington hotel in Massachusetts, one of the greener hotels in the country, has just opened a charging station for electric vehicles. It's the first to admit, however, that not many people will be pulling up for a charge in the near future--there are only a handful of all-electric or plug-in hybrids on the road right now (many of them on the other side of the country, in California). But that could change soon: Chevrolet is set to debut the Volt, a plug-in hybrid, in 2010 (though you probably won't see one on the road until at least 2012), and Nissan will come out with the Leaf around the same time. Other makers likely won't be far behind. What's needed before these cars hit the road is the infrastructure to support them: a network of charging stations like the one at the Element. Without that infrastructure, drivers won't be able to venture more than about 50 miles from home, since the current battery technology provides for a range of 100 miles or less. Currently, ChargePoint (the maker of the Element's charging station) lists just 39 stations across the country. Kudos to Element, but we've got a long way to go before electric cars rule the roads.

Further reading:
* Great Drives: Stephan Wilkinson rides shotgun in the Nissan GT-R from the Great Basin to Big Sur.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

HALL: California's Greenest Winery

by Brook Wilkinson

It doesn't take much to get me out of the city during San Francisco's foggy summer months, and last week gave me a great excuse to head up to Napa: the debut of California's first LEED Gold-certified winery. (LEED is a certification program run by the U.S. Green Building Council; buildings earn a rating based on energy use, water efficiency, construction materials used, etc.) HALL Wines was already well known for its luscious cabernet sauvignon, but now it's making a name for itself in the world of sustainable wine.

There's been little agreement in the wine world so far about how to position oneself as a thoughtful caretaker of the planet. Having your wine certified organic means not adding sulfites--even though they are a natural byproduct of fermentation--which many winemakers are loathe to agree to. My personal experience in buying organic wine has been very mixed. What I do seek out are bottles labeled "grown from organic grapes." This means that the fruit was grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, but sulfite was added. Other bottles are labeled biodynamic, which means that they subscribe to the principles of a rather eccentric agricultural philosophy, including burying cow horns filled with manure in the field. Winemakers I've talked to say that they prefer biodynamic to organic because it still prescribes natural methods of fertilizing the soil and reducing pests, but doesn't forbid the growers from using chemicals in the case of a phylloxera infestation--a dreaded plague here in California wine country.

HALL Wines uses mostly organic-grown grapes in its wines, and the company has now extended its green philosophy to its fermentation, bottling, and packaging methods. LEED gave them points for things like the acre of solar panels on the roofs of the barrel cellar and fermentation building, radiant floors that can heat and cool the rooms to precise temperatures, and recycled/recyclable shipping materials. You can take a free tour of HALL's green winery at 11 a.m. every day through the end of August. Just make sure you don't miss the tasting room--I walked away with a bottle of the 2008 sauvignon blanc myself. Now I'm just waiting for a sunny day here in the city to drink it.

Further reading:
* Brook's suggestions for five perfect days in California wine country.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.

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Help Clean Up Aruba

EMBRACE
Hyatt Regency Aruba employees and guests sprucing up the ruins of the Bushiribana smelter.

by Brook Wilkinson

The reef internship I wrote about last week might be a long shot, but if you're looking to include some volunteer work in your next beach vacation, consider the Hyatt Regency in Aruba. The resort has committed to helping preserve local cultural attractions through its EMBRACE project, which stands for "Employees Maintaining, Beautifying, Revitalizing Authentic Cultural Elements." Every few months, a group of Hyatt employees and guests go out and spend a few hours cleaning up a historic site. (Yes, the employees who would otherwise be working at the hotel that day are still paid.) The next volunteer day will take place on August 25 at the Balashi Gold Smelter Ruins, a relic of the island's nineteenth-century mining industry. You can spend the morning lending some sweat equity to the volunteer project, and the afternoon lazing on the beach. Not a bad combination, if you ask me.

Further reading:
* How can we open the joys and benefits of travel to more people? Enter your idea and you could be featured in the November issue of Condé Nast Traveler.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Win a Beach Vacation (and Earn Your Keep)

HarryPotter
Your new office.
Photo: Digital Vision, Getty Images

by Brook Wilkinson

If you didn't make the cut for that dream job as caretaker of the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, you've got a second chance. This time, Malibu (yes, that Malibu, of coconut-flavored rum) is offering up ten internships to conduct surveys of the coral reefs around Thailand, the Maldives, and the Philippines. Your employer will be Reef Check, a well-regarded nonprofit dedicated to monitoring, protecting, and rehabilitating coral reefs. During your ten-day, all-expenses-paid internship, you'll learn about the local reef ecosystem, snorkel, and scuba dive (you'll get certified if you aren't already) to inspect its health.

To apply, you'll need to write a 500-word essay explaining why Malibu should choose you, plus answer questions like "What are you passionate about?" and "How do you get your island on?" They say that videos are "not required but highly encouraged," which means you'd be crazy to apply without one. (The winner of the Great Barrier Reef job produced a video full of images of his travel highlights, from bungee jumping to running a marathon in Africa.) You'll need to submit your application by the end of August and be available to travel between October 15 and November 15. (Oh, and you must be 21--they probably want lots of shots of you drinking Malibu rum after your reef checks.)

So get busy and figure out how to get your island on!

Further reading:
* How can we open the joys and benefits of travel to more people? Enter your idea and you could be featured in the November issue of Condé Nast Traveler.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Bidding for Sustainable Travel

Journeys Within
The Journeys Within B&B.

by Brook Wilkinson

Sustainable Travel International is in the middle of its second annual Green Travel Auction, in which you can buy earth-friendly trips, hotel stays, and travel accessories for prices considerably below the retail value. Several packages are still available at the opening bid--often less than half the retail price. Some of my favorites:
* A 3-night stay at Journeys Within's B&B in Siem Reap, and a tour of their projects with founder Brandon Ross, $220.
* A 3-night all-inclusive program at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica in Peru for two, $700.
* A 7-night Galapagos cruise by Ecoventura, $3,000.
* A 2-night stay at Ecuador's Black Sheep Inn, $150.
* A 3-night all-inclusive stay at the Yachana Lodge in the Ecuadorian rain forest, $250.
* A 4-person rafting trip on Idaho's Clearwater River, plus 2 nights at ROW Adventures' River Dance Lodge, $400.

The bidding ends at 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 19. Since all auction items were donated by members of Sustainable Travel International, every dollar you spend goes to STI, a not-for-profit dedicated to promoting responsible tourism.

Further reading:
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference
* Connecting for Good: Join Condé Nast Traveler and Ashoka in this international competition for the best ideas on how to encourage citizens everywhere to travel more

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Volunteer with Roadmonkey in Vietnam

Diomande
The Roadmonkey expedition atop Kilimanjaro
last month.

by Brook Wilkinson

I've been following the blog over on Roadmonkey's site for the last few weeks, rooting for their expedition to make it to the top of Kilimanjaro (and vicariously reliving my own climb up Africa's highest peak back in 2003). They all made it to the summit in late June, and are now building a clean-water system and painting classrooms at a school in Tanzania.

"Adventure philanthropy": That's the idea behind Roadmonkey, a new tour operator that combines physical feats with volunteer work. The company was launched last year by New York Times correspondent Paul von Zielbauer, who leads all the trips himself. Perhaps in 10 years he'll be taking tourists back to his favorite spots in Baghdad--where he traveled on assignment for the paper in 2007--but for now he's sticking to less war-torn destinations: Tanzania and Vietnam. The next expedition is a two-week bike trip in Vietnam, set to begin on October 31.

Roadmonkey claims that what sets them apart from other voluntourism operations is that they directly involve local community members. That's an important factor (though not a unique one--Journeys Within, for instance, with whom I volunteered in Cambodia, has locals running their charity programs). If you'd like to get something more out of your next vacation by giving voluntourism a shot, check out Roadmonkey's upcoming Vietnam bike trip. Just make sure your butt is ready for 9 days in the saddle.

Further reading:
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference
* Connecting for Good: Join Condé Nast Traveler and Ashoka in this international competition for the best ideas on how to encourage citizens everywhere to travel more

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Wildlife Tales from Kiawah Island

Kiawahbobcat
This bobcat is regularly spotted by Kiawah Island residents and guests. The GPS collar helps biologists track his movements.
Photo: Photo: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

by Brook Wilkinson

Turns out you don't need to book a flight to Africa to partake in a wildlife safari. Heck, you don't even need to get up from the computer. Just click over to nature blog, run by the resident biologists at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina (a state that could use a little good news these days). It's a surprisingly fascinating, and regularly updated, chronicle of the varying wildlife found on and around the island, from butterflies to egrets, and sea turtles to sharks. I've always thought of Kiawah as a leisure-sports destination--it's famous for its golf and tennis facilities--but this blog has opened my eyes to the island's natural splendors. After catching up with the posts, I'm rooting for Mingo, the green sea turtle who was rescued near the resort and is now being cared for at the South Carolina Turtle Hospital, as well as the one-hour-old fawn who was photographed on the island back in May. If you're lucky enough to make it to Kiawah this summer, you can see these and many more species in action on the resort's nature walks, photography tours, and dolphin encounters. Or just log on for the daily update.

Further reading:
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference
* Connecting for Good: Join Condé Nast Traveler and Ashoka in this international competition for the best ideas on how to encourage citizens everywhere to travel more

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Voluntours in South Asia

DestinationHimalaya
A voluntourist lends a hand in Kerala.
Photo: Destination Himalaya

by Brook Wilkinson

Let's face it: Even in troubled times like these, we Americans generally have it pretty good. We're still healthier, better fed, and better educated than the vast majority of the world's population. If such inequalities trouble you, consider turning your next trip into a voluntour with Destination Himalaya.

This well-respected tour operator--operations manager Sanjay Saxena is on Wendy Perrin's annual list of the world's best travel planners (you can read a user review of him here)--has long had a philosophy of "giving back," by partnering with local charities in the areas its clients visit. Now Destination Himalaya has taken it a step further, by organizing several voluntours that combine volunteer work with a bit of sightseeing. You can help out on a medical boat that brings health care to the people of the remote Sunderban Islands (no medical training is necessary to participate), assist at a school for handicapped children in Kerala, or lend a hand at a school high in the Spiti Valley of the Himalayas (be prepared to spend a fair amount of time above 12,000 feet). All of the trips include some time to relax and enjoy the sights, as well as deluxe accommodations where available.

Check out the links and contact our friend Sanjay for more details.

Further reading:
* Globe-trotting for Good: Join the Condé Nast Traveler Challenge.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Eco-Friendly Laptop Case

Ecogear by Brook Wilkinson

Looking for a Father's Day gift? How about the new earth-friendly laptop travel case from Ecogear? It's made with nylon that's free of PVC (a possible source of dioxins, which have been linked to cancer and other diseases) and nontoxic dyes. I've been testing one out for a couple of weeks, and if I didn't have to return it to the manufacturer it would be replacing my current laptop case. The Tiger model that I tested has two wide top-zipping pockets, one of which has a Velcro compartment for your laptop. It was a very snug fit for my 13-inch MacBook for the first few days, but eventually the bag material relaxed a bit and now the computer slides in perfectly--safe and secure (the Rhino backpack fits 17-inchers). The gray interior with orange accents nicely straddles the line between business and casual, and there are more pockets and compartments than I know what to do with--plenty of places to store valuables and documents. The lightweight material and wide padded shoulder strap make for a comfortable carrying case--though I still like to store my laptop in my rolling suitcase when I'm trekking through airports and such. And the price is a cool 40 bucks. The verdict? A bag any dad would love.

Further reading:
* Where to find a checkpoint-friendly laptop case
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

State Parks in Upheaval

http://concierge.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c5a2653ef01156ff0e893970c-pi
Herbert Hoover saved the redwoods.
Now it's our turn.

Photo: Save the Redwoods League

by Brook Wilkinson

If you've been thinking about visiting a California state park, you better do it this summer. Assuming the Governator's proposed budget passes, most of them will be closed come Labor Day. California has had financial troubles since long before last fall's economic collapse, and the latest solution to its budgetary woes calls for the shuttering of every state park that isn't collecting enough in fees to support itself. The gates to state beaches will be locked, the ranger stations inside redwood forests unmanned. Of course, that could lead to vandalism, wildfires set by careless trespassers, and even poaching.

If you care about maintaining our country's wilderness, go visit a park. Whether it's a state or national park, in California or anywhere else in the country, they all need our help. It doesn't cost much. So take your kid or your sweetie for a walk in the woods this weekend. 

And to drum up attention for the plight of the parks, the Save the Redwoods League is holding a photo contest. Upload your favorite shot from a redwood forest by July 23 and you might win a stay in Redwood National Park.

Further reading:
* Globe-trotting for Good: Enter the Condé Nast Traveler Challenge
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Ritz-Carlton's Give Back Getaways

Givebackgetaways
Ritz-Carlton guests get down and dirty.
Photo: Photo: Ritz-Carlton

by Brook Wilkinson

One travel fad that's sure to last longer than the staycation is voluntourism. These trips combine typical sightseeing with volunteering opportunities, which also open up an entirely atypical window into a foreign culture. You can find lots of companies that organize volunteer vacations. But to my knowledge, the only hotel chain to have a formal voluntourism program is the Ritz-Carlton. Surprised? So was I.

At a time when the word ritz has become synonymous with excess, I think it only fair to point out some great good works being done in the name of this luxury hotel brand. Every Ritz-Carlton has partnered with a community organization through which guests can volunteer a short amount of time but still make a difference. On Amelia Island, this means helping the Boys & Girls Club expand its garden. In Washington, D.C., you can help prepare a meal at the DC Central Kitchen, which feeds the hungry with food that would otherwise go to waste. The program has been running for over a year, so I'm curious: Have any of you out there participated in a Give Back Getaway? If you stayed at a Ritz-Carlton, were you aware that they had such a program? Would you consider signing up in the future?

Further reading:
* Globetrotting for Good: Join the Condé Nast Traveler challenge
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Yosemite by Bike

Yosemitebike
You'll be much happier navigating Yosemite Valley on two wheels, not four.
Photo: nps.gov

by Brook Wilkinson

I spent part of last week in Yosemite National Park, and one of my favorite finds was renting bikes in Yosemite Valley. The valley's few roads were clogged with cars, even on a weekday in mid-May, but the bike paths were blissfully empty. You can navigate along these paved trails to a number of the valley's best spots--Mirror Lake, the trailhead to Vernal and Nevada falls, the swinging bridge over the Merced River. You can also take the bikes onto the valley's roads, though be aware that there aren't any shoulders and you'll be competing for space with SUVs and tour buses. Parking your car is a nightmare anywhere in the valley, but there's always a bike rack nearby (and you don't even have to lock up your rental). With all these reasons to rent a bike, need I add that it'll save some fossil fuels, too?

My only disappointment was seeing how few bikers wore helmets. They're free with the bike rental, and well worth the bad hair day. Don't think you can do without one just because you're riding only on the trails, away from vehicular traffic--one trip over the handlebars after stopping short for a scurrying animal and you'll be happy that dent is in your helmet, not your head. 

You can rent bikes at Yosemite Lodge (also a great option for overnighting in the valley) or Curry Village.

Further reading:
* No more wrong turns: Put a GPS on that bike
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Garmin GPS: No More Wrong Turns

GPS
The Garmin nuvi 205,
friend to lost travelers everywhere
.
Photo: garmin.com

by Brook Wilkinson

Summer driving season is almost upon us. Don't own a GPS unit yet? Here's another reason to go out and get one: It'll save you some gas. In fact, a recent study indicated that using a navigation system can be equivalent to increasing your fuel efficiency from 27 mpg to 30 mpg. To be fair, the study was commissioned by NAVTEQ, the "leading global provider of digital map, traffic, and location data." But the point is a fair one: I know that my Garmin nuvi 350 has saved me from many a wrong turn.

Plus, Garmin's new EcoRoute program (which you can download for free from the company's Web site, though you have to own a compatible nuvi model) will help you drive even more efficiently. Its "Less Fuel" route preference takes into account things like the number of stops and speed limits along various routes from point A to point B. It'll also measure your average fuel economy, which is great if you're a hypermiler like me but your car doesn't have a built-in mpg readout.

One thing that worried me about getting a GPS unit was that it'd take the spontaneity out of travel. But it's actually made me more willing to wander off the beaten path these days because I know that I can always find my way back. I even bring it along on my bike; no more sweaty route maps.

The NAVTEQ study also cites an annual savings of $192 in gas, but since the study was carried out in Germany, where gas currently costs more than $6.50 a gallon, I'd be willing to bet that that number is a little inflated when used for the American market. Still, it's a good down payment on the cost of a GPS unit like the Garmin nuvi 205, which retails for $169.

Read on for three tips from Garmin on how to save gas.

Continue reading "Garmin GPS: No More Wrong Turns" »

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Globetrotting for Good: Enter the Conde Nast Traveler Challenge

Ashoka_dt
A snapshot of the entries so far. Click on the image to enter the challenge.

by Dorinda Elliott

Condé Nast Traveler has joined Ashoka, the global network of social entrepreneurs, for the Condé Nast Traveler Challenge, a series of online competitions to drum up great ideas about how travelers and the travel industry can do good in the world. The first challenge: How can we best promote the idea of global citizenship through travel?

So far we have received 40 entries from 16 countries. It's fascinating stuff -- from a social activist in Namibia who wants to launch a Web site connecting community projects with travel companies, to a student who wants to promote international peace parks and a financial adviser in China who suggests that we should pay Travel Offsets to a human rights organization every time we visit a country with a repressive government. The competition is closing soon, so please take a look and add your own ideas. And vote on your favorites: The winner will be highlighted in the September issue of Condé Nast Traveler!

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