whale-tailA growing number of people are choosing to volunteer on vacation. Voluntourism allows you to have the adventure of a lifetime, while helping others. Whether getting a first-hand look at charitable projects, or delivering school supplies on a Caribbean vacation, there are many ways to help.

cameraMy twelve year old son and I had a chance to give back while still having a great time on a recent Alaska cruise aboard Holland America. Holland America’s innovative “Cruise with Purpose”shore excursions partner with various groups in ports around the world, giving passengers a chance to participate in meaningful community service projects while on shore. It’s a creative way to give guests an opportunity to meet the locals in port, while also raising awareness about issues local residents face. Our “Cruise with Purpose” excursion in Juneau, Alaska, was called “Whales and Glaciers: Science Adventure”.

We were citizen scientists for the day— helping marine biologists at the University of Alaska Southeast collect data about humpback whales. We headed out in a small boat, armed with cameras to capture photos of humpback whale tails. It’s the underside of the tail that distinguishes humpback whales from one another.

We were amazed by the number of whales we sighted, and did our best to gather the necessary data for the whale research. Any images of whale tails were then e-mailed to a local doctoral student researching humpback whale migration and added to her catalogue.

catalogueThis adventure not only provided us with an opportunity to contribute and learn about the local environment, it came with a guaranteed whale sighting!

As you pack for your next trip, consider not just what you’re bringing with you, but what you’re leaving behind. Combining travel with the chance to contribute is a great way to see the world. Giving back feels good—even on vacation.

Andrea Guthmann is a freelance journalist. She spent many years as a writer and producer for WTTW-TV, the PBS station in Chicago. Her travel stories have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Parent, Make It Better and on-line travel sites.

A native Floridian, Andrea’s now a big (windy) city mom of 3, who range in age from tot to teen. After giving birth to 2 beautiful children she’s had the joy of becoming a mom again through adoption. She loves sailing Lake Michigan and visiting the world class museums and restaurants in her sweet home Chicago. Being a scenery starved city girl, she loves escaping to the outdoors during vacations and is working hard to raise 3 happy campers! You can follow her on Twitter at @AndreaGuthmann.

Disclosure: Research for this story was gathered on a trip sponsored by Holland America Cruise Line.