Giving Back: Holiday Gift Ideas For Travelers

Who needs more stuff this holiday season?

Certainly not a traveler trying to pack light and avoid airline baggage fees.

Skip the razors pre-filled with shaving cream. Pass on the hair brush with the massage-action bristles. Make do without the roll-up airplane shoes with waterproof bottoms.

These are some of the holiday gift suggestions that popped up in e-mail in the past few weeks. Don't get me started on the travel-size cans of bedbug spray.

I give these inventors points for creativity, but the globe-trotter on your list might appreciate more a gesture that reflects the joys rather than the hassles of travel. This year especially seems like a good time to look for gifts that give back.

A few suggestions:

• Help someone interested in world travel connect with a sweet-potato seller in Tanzania or a butcher in Nicaragua through This is the San Francisco nonprofit that uses the Internet to link small lenders with entrepreneurs in 187 countries, including the United States.

Gift certificates ( for $25 are available for loans that can be made to small business people whose bio, pictures and business appear on the site.

Kiva had some explaining to do recently after a blogger raised questions about how funds are disbursed by the microfinance organizations with whom Kiva partners. Details are in the "About" section on the Kiva Web site. Click on "Kiva Blog."

Let's hope Kiva continues efforts to clear up the confusion because its person-to-person lending approach has helped thousands get a leg up on life. The payback rate — 98 percent — is one most banks couldn't match.

One of the highlights of a trip my husband and I took to Bulgaria two years ago was a visit with Gypsy entrepreneurs to whom we made two $25 Kiva loans. One was a woman who sold socks at street markets. The other was a couple who split and delivered firewood.

They repaid promptly, and we have since rolled the money over into new loans to new borrowers, 13 so far, in Cambodia, Vietnam, Sudan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

• Shop for art and handicrafts at stores dedicated to supporting fair wages and working conditions for artisans in poor countries. The owners of these "fair trade" shops are usually well-traveled with firsthand knowledge of the country and crafts people.

The possibilities are more than I have room to list, so please add your own suggestions in the "comments" section online at the end of this column.

Among my favorite holiday-shopping stops is Ten Thousand Villages, 6417 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle, where Mennonite Church volunteers run a store stocked with the work of artisan groups in 38 countries.

Between Cultures Gallery, 8809 Roosevelt Way N.E., specializes in tribal and folk art. Owner and retired anthropology professor Robert Elam funnels profits from the sales of baskets made in Panama and Uganda to cooperatives in those countries.

I love poking around Market Street Traders in Ballard. Unfortunately, the retail store will close after the holidays, but the owners will continue to sell online at

Andy and Tammy James, owners of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the Seattle waterfront, opened Market Street Traders two years ago after visiting a village in Thailand where they bought $500 worth of bracelets and belts to sell in Seattle. The village elder told them it was enough to send all the kids to school for a year.

Gifts made by women in Nepal are for sale at Global Daughter (, an online fair-trade boutique started by Seattleites Erin Miller and Erika Mosebach.

• Buy a travel book or guidebook from a locally owned independent business dedicated to helping travelers.

Wide World Books & Maps ( in Wallingford, under new ownership this year; The Savvy Traveler in Edmonds (; and REI stores ( host many free travel-related slide shows, talks and seminars. The holidays are a good time to do our part to keep them in business.

A good pick for someone interested in a volunteer vacation is the new Frommer's "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" ($19.99). It offers information on 500 worldwide service projects, from protecting gray whales in British Columbia to helping restore a Buddhist monastery in Nepal.

• Support socially responsible tourism. Surprise someone with a tour that uses locally owned hotels and restaurants and employs local guides. Consider a trip that combines sightseeing with ways to connect with people and learn something about a country's political, economic and social issues.

Global Exchange, a San Francisco international human-rights nonprofit, sponsors dozens of "Reality Tours" each year. On the list for 2010 are trips to Iran, Israel/Palestine and Cuba. See

Eugene, Ore.-based Friendship with Cambodia plans an 11-day trip in January that will weave sightseeing at the Angkor Wat temples with humanitarian work such as taking children from families with AIDS on a field trip. Details at