Updated December 19, 2003 -- We love it when we meet people who are purely good guys -- they've got no other motive than making people happy through travel. So we can enthusiastically recommend Generous Adventures, a unique travel auction Web site where you get to take trips that support both a small nonprofit business and a rotating crew of worthy charities.
Generous Adventures has run auctions since 1997, and they work just like most other online travel auctions. You pick your trip off a long list of currently offered options, bid, and hope you win. As on eBay, you can also enter a "maximum bid" so you'll still pay as little as possible, but Generous Adventures will automatically increase your bid if others start bidding.
Here's the unique factor: almost all of the trips on GA's site are donated, and about 45% of the final bid amount goes straight to GA's specified charities. At the moment, the lucky groups are the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the list changes quarterly.
Generous Adventures trips tend towards the exotic and the cozy. You've got to be adventurous: there are no New York City trips or flights to Paris here. (The closest you'll get to NYC would be a night at a scenic Hudson Valley inn.)
Lots of nights at country B&Bs are available, as well as rafting odysseys, birdwatching trips, diving adventures and fishing trips. The one component missing is air travel: GA hasn't been able to find any airlines willing to donate trips, so you'll have to get to the trip's location on your own.
According to Sally Oberstein, GA's founder, most of their trips are in the US and Canada, with some destinations in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean, and the occasional trip elsewhere in the world. If you'd like to go somewhere in particular, Oberstein says to send her an email at email@example.com or give her a call at 907/235-2228 and she'll try to find some options for you.
That sort of personal service also sets GA apart from other travel sites -- especially from other auction sites. GA is a small, Alaska-based nonprofit, and it's easy to get Oberstein or other decision-makers on the horn if you have questions or comments. Just remember they're on Alaska time, which is an hour earlier than Pacific time.
We wouldn't recommend GA if they didn't have bargains, and they do. Oberstein says AG auctions start at 60% below retail price, and many auctions end well below retail price. Recent shockers included a week at a beach resorts in the Bahamas, usually $1449, which was won for $600, and a helicopter tour of Toronto that's normally $65, a steal at $25.
GA adds new trips at least once a week, and auctions take 4-6 weeks -- so they always have a few ending. Go check out the options at www.generousadventures.com and see how your travel dollars can help change the world.
Go The Extra Mile
If you belong to frequent flier programs, hotel frequent-stay programs or credit-card loyalty programs, you probably have thousands of useless points accumulated that you'll never spend. You can right a governmental wrong by donating them to US troops at www.heromiles.org.
Appallingly, when the men and women who fight and die for our country are sent home for breaks, they're flown to Baltimore, Dallas or Atlanta, and then told they're on their own. While Congress finally got around to providing funding to send soldiers home in November, the money hasn't yet become available to the soldiers who need it now.
Enter Dutch Ruppersberger, the Congressman whose district includes Baltimore's BWI airport. He's gotten 11 airlines to let you donate your miles to fly soldiers home. As we're writing this, more than 10,000 round-trip tickets have been purchased. But as we have about 130,000 troops in Iraq right now, that's only the tip of the iceberg. If you'd like to donate your miles to send a soldier home, go to the HeroMiles Web site above.
Soldiers aren't the only folks suffering for lack of transportation. You can donate miles to a wide range of charities using the links at MileDonor.com (www.miledonor.com), so needy non-soldiers can get free airline tickets and hotel rooms at critical times.
Run by the frequent-flier gurus at Inside Flyer Magazine, MileDonor.com doesn't actually distribute any miles -- it just provides links to the various point programs' charity pages. Continental Airlines OnePass members, for instance, can donate to the Red Cross, United Way, and the Make a Wish Foundation.
MileDonor also has a bulletin board full of pleas from individuals and small nonprofit organizations which need airline tickets for specific trips. If you're a flier with more miles than you can count and would like to give away some award tickets in a particularly personal context, you can get in touch directly with needy folks through the site.
Wilderness Adventures for Everyone
A while ago we profiled Wilderness Inquiry, a unique non-profit travel packager which specializes in offering trips to economically disadvantaged and disabled travelers. Everyone can go on their adventure tours, which include kayaking, canoeing, hiking and backpacking trips all over the US and Canada (and a few in other countries as well.) Generous Adventures' Sally Oberstein gave WI a big thumbs-up for being an altruistic travel organization. Click here or our previous review of WI, or head directly to their own Web site at www.wildernessinquiry.org.