Holiday-inspired generosity that aligns with the spirit of travel needn’t involve gifting a full luggage set or airline tickets to Bora Bora—although those certainly would be amazing gifts to receive. Instead, give in a way that taps into the spirit of conscious travel and will simultaneously earn you karma points. Below are some ideas to spark a smile of gratitude—listed from smallest commitment to greatest—that we hope will encourage a bit of pay-it-forward inspiration and perhaps plant the seeds of a future adventure.

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Do the kind thing

Gifts don’t need to cost a thing. When traveling with family this season, why not pack some extra patience and surprise snacks? Or allow a frazzled person in line to cut in front of you? Or when you notice a mother trying to corral crying children, offer a gentle smile instead of a look of annoyance? Small moments of kindness and compassion on your part can inspire welcome relief to those you help.

Level of ease: 1


Be a Secret Santa

Put some dollars behind your generosity toward your fellow travelers, whether they are loved ones or perfect strangers. Pay the toll for the driver behind you. Buy a theme park ticket or two for the child or children of the family in line behind you. While out to dinner, tell the waiter that you wish to pay for the drinks or dinner of the couple sitting across the room. When done anonymously, you leave the legacy of a moment that will be recounted and, perhaps, paid forward.

Level of ease: 2


Purchase carbon offset credits

For the jet-setter in your life, consider purchasing carbon offset credits in his or her name. It’s a small, but very meaningful, step in helping to counterbalance carbon pollution associated with flying. The idea is simple: You’re essentially paying someone else to prevent an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from getting into the atmosphere. Cool Effect, a non-profit endorsed by both the New York Times and PBS for its financially strong and ethically verified projects, helps fund carbon-mitigation projects across the globe and makes gifting carbon offset credit easy: Just enter the number of flights your gift recipient takes each year to determine output and gift cost. (One 7–9 hour roundtrip flight, for instance, equates to about a $10 carbon offset investment.)

Level of ease: 2


Contribute to study abroad financial aid

For the friend or family member who still raves about his or her study abroad experience, consider donating in his or her name to a study abroad scholarship fund at a specific college—your loved one’s alma mater, perhaps—or through IES Study Abroad, where gifts start at $25. Studying abroad can provide life-changing lessons that no traditional classroom could ever inspire. Unfortunately, this travel experience is out of reach for many without the help of a scholarship, but your gift can help make the dream of travel a reality.

Level of ease: 3


Adopt a zoo animal

Zoos are among the top tourist attractions in many destinations. Help to fund the care of these animals, as well as important conservation work, by “adopting” an animal in a loved one’s name. Annual Wildlife Adoptions at the world-renowned San Diego Zoo start at just $35. Nearly all zoos, however, offer this tax-deductible gifting opportunity, which includes the option to pick a specific animal—so pick your recipient’s favorite and pair it with a stuffed animal likeness! It’s a gift sure to inspire a trip to the zoo to visit the furry, scaly or feathery adoptee.

Level of ease: 4


Pack with a purpose

If you’re traveling for the holidays, consider devoting a few pounds of your luggage weight allowance—or an entire suitcase—to supplies needed by local organizations in your destination. Pack for a Purpose is a globally respected organization that can help you determine the what, where and how of providing this meaningful support. If you can align it with a cause that your gift recipient finds near and dear, doing it in his or her name can prove a powerful gift.

Level of ease: 4

Buy a National Parks pass

U.S. National Parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Zion are among our country’s greatest natural treasures. Inspire a trip—and help fund the preservation of these spectacular settings—by gifting an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. This pass costs $80 and allows one vehicle an entire year of access to the country’s 2,000 managed parks.

Level of ease: 5

Gift your hotel points

Some hotel loyalty programs, such as Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, also allow for gifting. Consider transferring your unused hotel points to a loved one for future travel—or using them to secure their hotel room when they visit you.

Level of ease: 6

Gift your airline miles

Donate your unused airline miles to a charity that’s meaningful to you or someone you love. Most major carriers provide this as an option. You could also transfer those miles directly to someone in your life who’s been dreaming of a vacation—help make it a reality! You might even take it one step further and emulate the jet-setting businessman who each year donates his frequent flier miles to financially-strapped strangers wishing to return home for the holidays.

Level of ease: 6

Endow a tree in New York City’s Central Park

Central Park, NYC, New York, autumn

Central Park

Add to the legacy of one of New York’s most popular tourist attractions by planting a tree in Central Park in a loved one’s name. These tax-deductible gifts range from $500 for a sapling to $5,000 to endow an existing tree and have a granite paving stone with the giftee’s name permanently installed along the park’s Literary Walk. Whether Central Park is a second home, a setting that holds a special memory, or a place your giftee longs to visit – this is a gift sure to inspire him or her, along with the millions of visitors received by the park each year.

Level of ease: 7


Donate a day while traveling

Giving back can feel so good, especially when you do it with a loved one. If your holiday travels include journeying overseas with friends or family, consider donating just one day together to volunteer with an organization that really needs a few extra hands. Give a Day Global curates ethically-responsible one-day volunteer opportunities around the world, including in Costa Rica, Germany, India, Thailand and Mexico.

Level of ease: 8


Plan a volunteer vacation with loved ones

Imagine the look on their faces when that gift is unwrapped to reveal … a future trip! One with heart! For the Good Samaritan family, traveling and giving back as a team with a “voluntourism” trip is sure to be an experience no one will forget. These service-oriented experiences combine travel with volunteering and have gained popularity, as they provide an intimate, impactful and more meaningful experience than your run-of-the-mill-let’s-tick-off-the-popular-sites vacation. Tourism Cares, an organization that elevates the travel industry’s positive social and environmental impact, has compiled a list of trained Good Travels specialists who can assist in arranging ethically-responsible opportunities so that you’re matched with an organization that legitimately needs the skills you can offer.

Level of ease: 10


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