The best travel gifts that give back in 2020

Girl holding an MPOWERD Luci light
The Give Luci program puts lights in the hands of people who need it most. Image © courtesy of MPOWERD

Even as Marie Kondo’s viral movement is on the wane, her commitment to things that spark joy is as relevant as ever – especially in a marketplace overflowing with stuff, each item newer and better, more craveable and more accessible than ever before. When you're overwhelmed by choice, simplify the endless selections by seeking out companies using their products and platform to ignite positive social change.

The gifts on this list will spark joy not just for the recipient, but also for local economies and vulnerable communities from wildlife conservation to clean-water initiatives to programs for kids with cancer to support for LGBTQ folk. If you're looking for items and experiences that are ethically sourced and align with your values as a conscious consumer, at prices to suit every budget, these are our top picks.

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s adoptable orphans 

Help care for an orphaned elephant, rhino, or giraffe in East Africa. Image
Help care for an orphaned elephant, rhino, or giraffe in East Africa. Image© courtesy of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

You might not be able to spring for a safari, but the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust offers a great alternative for animal lovers on a budget: the chance to contribute to the care of an orphaned elephant, rhino, or giraffe from $50. Through various projects, the Kenyan conservation organization works to protect the animals’ natural habitat, fight against poaching, and provide veterinary care, all while rescuing and rehabilitating the babies for eventual release back into the wild. There are more than 200 deserving critters up for ‘adoption’ – you can pick one on your own, or opt for the ‘help me choose’ option if you can’t make up your mind. 

MPOWERD Luci light

The Give Luci program puts lights in the hands of people who need it most.
The Give Luci program puts lights in the hands of people who need it most.© courtesy of MPOWERD

From a functionality standpoint, MPOWERD’s inflatable, solar-powered lanterns come highly recommended from various members of Lonely Planet’s staff, thanks to a bevy of features like a USB port, snapable loop for hanging, multiple brightness settings, and a lightweight, packable design. The company’s charitable arm deserves equal recognition, however. With its Give Luci program, you can purchase a light for to the company’s nonprofit partners, where they’re used for search-and-rescue missions, disaster relief, and more. 

Cotopaxi Do Good sweatshirt

Cotopaxi uses 1% of its profits to fund grants around the world.
Cotopaxi uses 1% of its profits to fund grants around the world.© courtesy of Cotopaxi

For that friend who wears their philanthropic leanings on their sleeve, Cotopaxi’s Do Good sweatshirt sends the right message. Not only will the cozy crewneck keep them warm, the certified B corporation is committed to ethical practices throughout its supply chain and funnels 1 percent of its profits into grants for health, education, and livelihoods initiatives around the world, in six countries and counting. 

Love Your Melon beanies

Half the profits from this hat go toward kids battling cancer.
Half the profits from this hat go toward kids battling cancer.© Love Your Melon

From monochromatic pom-pom–bedecked hats to limited-edition, extremely popular collaborations (the brand’s first Disney collection sold out in less than 24 hours, and another is coming soon), Love Your Melon’s beanies are a cute winter warmer – and the company donates half its net profits to fighting pediatric cancer, which makes them look even better. To date, it’s given more than $6 million to a long list of organizations, so no need to feel guilty about going all-out with the luxe Italian cashmere version. 

A trip with Lokal Travel

A unique, sustainably focused trip could be just the ticket.
A unique, sustainably focused trip could be just the ticket.© Lokal Travel & Dave Krugman

For someone who values experiences over physical gifts, a trip with the sustainably minded Lokal Travel could be just the ticket. The company links with local experts to offer unique cultural and nature-oriented excursions around the world, but its trip to Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula is the main attraction. Book one of the set dates to join a small group of eight people max (from $2,050), or opt for a custom itinerary curated to match your budget and travel style, whether you’re venturing out as a couple, with family and friends, or treating yourself to a solo journey. 

Lush’s Charity Pot

Minus the taxes, the entire cost of this lotion goes to grassroots organizations.
Minus the taxes, the entire cost of this lotion goes to grassroots organizations.© courtesy of Lush Cosmetics

Lush’s Charity Pot may look like an everyday body lotion, but behind the unassuming packaging lurks a bevy of benefits. It’s created with ingredients from the company’s sustainability projects, which support regenerative agriculture around the world; the entire sticker price goes toward human rights, animal protection, and environmental justice causes; and it comes in a carry-on-friendly 1.7-ounce size. Win, win, win. 

Parks Project Minimalist National Park playing cards

These minimalist playing cards benefit America's National Park system.
These minimalist playing cards benefit America's National Park system.© courtesy of Parks Project

A deck of cards is a reliable crowd-pleaser, and this well-designed Parks Project set has the added bonus of being a conversation-starter: let them serve as inspiration for future trips, give extra points for parks you’ve visited, or simply keep them in your back pocket for that rainy day. The Parks Project directly funds initiatives like habitat restoration, youth education, and wildlife conservation, and between now and January 1, 2022, the organization will also donate 5% of the set's price to the National Parks Conservation Association, an organization whose mission is to protect and enhance America's National Park system for present and future generations.

Kayu Jean beach bag

Kayu's Jean bag packs well and looks Instagram-ready.
Kayu's Jean bag packs well and looks Instagram-ready.© Maria Del Rio/Kayu

This woven tote packs well and looks Instagram-ready, but that’s not the best part. As all of Kayu’s bags are, it’s handcrafted with organic natural straw – a sustainable material – by cooperatives of women in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, using indigenous techniques that keep their cultural heritage alive. The company also offers collections that directly benefit various causes, and its workers are all paid a living wage. 

Choose Love supplies for refugees

Choose Love invites shoppers to spend their money and leave empty-handed – but for a good cause.
Choose Love invites shoppers to spend their money and leave empty-handed – but for a good cause.© Polina Buchak/Choose Love

For the third year running, Choose Love is hosting pop-up shops in London, New York, and Los Angeles, but you won’t find the latest designer duds here. The stores, which open on Black Friday, only sell supplies for refugees – items to aid in their journey, from winter coats and warming blankets to hygiene packs and cell phones to tents and sleeping bags to school supplies and mental-health resources – and the purchases go straight into their hands. It's the perfect present for someone who truly derives joy from the act of giving. (There’s also an online store if you can’t shop in person.) 

The Ethical Silk Company Sleeping Beauty pillowcase and eye mask set

This travel-friendly set is sustainably produced by a company that gives 10% of its profits to charitable causes.
This travel-friendly set is sustainably produced by a company that gives 10% of its profits to charitable causes.© courtesy of The Ethical Silk Company

Proponents of the no-frizz, no-wrinkle lifestyle know that a silk pillowcase is key to keeping flyaways and creases at bay, and any frequent flier will tell you that an eye mask is integral to catching a nap in transit or a solid night’s sleep in a strange hotel room. The Ethical Silk Company’s Sleeping Beauty set combines both essentials into one travel-friendly package, with a block-printed mask, a natural matte pillowcase, and a silk bag to carry them in. The silk is ethically tailored and printed, and the company pledges 10 percent of its profits to an AIDS center in India and an Irish charity that supports the homeless.

Bloom & Give Anne scarf

For its handmade scarves, Bloom & Give taps textile artists across India, from the coastal city of Kannur, where cotton wool is hand-loomed to airy effect, to Jaipur, where block printers apply their 800-year-old technique with precision and skill. The results are stunning, but even more impressive is the company’s commitment to girls’ education, which sends 10 percent of every purchase – about half its total profits – into seven programs around the country, plus one in Nigeria. 

Kora Xenolith sweater

Kora’s Xenolith sweater looks like a straightforward insulating mid-layer, but it has a secret weapon: yak wool, purchased from a co-op of nomadic Tibetan herders who gather it each spring. Blended with merino and transformed into a pullover with smart design elements, like thumb loops, a zippered interior pocket, and an insulated collar, it's a stretchy, breathable performance fabric that also supports a traditional way of life for an entire community. 

Human Rights Campaign Everyone pin

Show your support for LGBTQ equality with the Human Rights Campaign's rainbow pin.
Show your support for LGBTQ equality with the Human Rights Campaign's rainbow pin.© Bailey Bradford/Human Rights Campaign

You don’t have to wait for a landmark celebration to show your pride. The Human Rights Campaign’s rainbow lapel pin puts your support for LGBTQ rights front and center – and with 100 percent of the cost going toward the fight for equality, it puts your money where your mouth is too. 

Hand in Hand soaps

Hand in Hand has a "buy a bar, give a bar" policy that provides soap to communities in need.
Hand in Hand has a "buy a bar, give a bar" policy that provides soap to communities in need.© Hand in Hand

When Hand in Hand’s founders learned 5 million children die each year from water-related illnesses – 45 percent of which could have been prevented with hand-washing – they launched their company with the goal of donating one bar of soap for each bar purchased. Some eight years on, they’ve worked with non-profit partners to provide approximately 3 million bars to people in Haiti and Cambodia, and expanded their skincare line to include body wash, sugar scrubs, and body lotion.

We Fed an Island, by José Andrés

All of the author's net proceeds from book sales fund World Central Kitchen’s work.
All of the author's net proceeds from book sales fund World Central Kitchen’s work.© courtesy of Ecco

Last year, José Andrés was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his disaster-relief work with World Central Kitchen, the NGO he founded in 2010 to feed communities in need. To date, he’s provided millions of hot meals around the world – 50,000 in California during the recent wildfires, 1.5 million in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, nearly 4 million in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria – but emergency food relief is only one branch of the operation.

The humanitarian organization also partners with local groups on the ground for long-term programs that advance health initiatives, offer professional culinary training, create jobs, and improve food security. If you have time and vacation days to spare, volunteering could be an option; if not, his book tells the story of the organization’s work in Puerto Rico – and 100 percent of his net proceeds fund World Central Kitchen’s work.

Cupanion water bottles

This water bottle donates the cost of a cup of water every time you refill and scan it.
This water bottle donates the cost of a cup of water every time you refill and scan it.© courtesy of Cupanion

Cupanion’s lightweight bottle has flat sides for easy packing and a wide mouth to accommodate ice cubes, and it’s spill-proof so you don’t have to worry about leaks. But as nice as all that is, it’s almost beside the point. Each bottle has a tag that connects to the company’s Fill It Forward app, which donates the cost of a cup of water every time you refill and scan it in. Along with providing visual confirmation of your impact on water-based projects around the world, it also tracks the emissions you’ve saved and the ocean pollution you’ve prevented – and helps you hit your hydration goals too. 

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