Christmas is a time for giving (back)


The fast-approaching Christmas and Chanukah seasons are a special time, especially so for families. It is regarded as the time for giving, and it is even better to give-back. Travel and celebrate the essence of Christmas and Chanukah: give back and help those less fortunate on a festive family trip that changes lives… not just your own.

Trips that give-back are fantastic for families because:

  • Children appreciate how fortunate they are (some have even foregone their Christmas presents so that children they interact with can have gifts);
  • Families bond closer together;
  • Families get to interact with and gain insights into another culture
  • Volunteering can increase the chances of university entry

Here are my top 10 destinations where families can make the holidays even more meaningful and fulfilling on a luxury trip:

10. Italy

Serve meals to refugees and other homeless people in Rome, gain insights to what it is like to sleep rough, and combine this with your chosen highlights, such as Florence, Sicily, Sardinia, Venice, Amalfi Coast, Puglia or Lake Como.

Luxury family volunteer vacation Italy

9. St Lucia

Assist at a remedial reading program and help with homework in the library afterschool, and provide mentoring and support to disadvantaged youth…blend this with hiking, sailing, zip lining, aerial tram rides and beach relaxation.

8. Costa Rica

Assist at a rescue center for injured, orphaned or illegally traded animals: prepare meals for monkeys, cleaning parrot enclosures, introduce new sloths to their new living quarters, and assist the resident vet on his rounds. Combine this with white water rafting, hiking around a volcano, hot springs, spot wildlife in one of the many national parks, or take in some beach time.

Luxury family volunteer vacation Costa Rica

7. Zambia

Build a house for a widow and her children, which can be combined with the splendour of Victoria Falls, white-water rafting, kayaking and ‘Big 5’ safari in South Luangwa National Park, or neighbouring Botswana.

Luxury family volunteer holiday Zambia

6. New Zealand

Help maintain the habitats of endangered penguins in the South Island, which can be combined with cultural encounters, geysers, sailing, hiking, wine-tasting, bungy jumping, zorbing, glaciers and beaches.

Luxury volunteer vacation New Zealand

5. Cambodia

Build a house for a family in need, who could never afford to have a decent place to live to call their own, which can be combined with bike rides through the temples of Angkor, spotting Irrawaddy dolphins, and island relaxation.

Luxury family volunteer vacation Cambodia

4. Hawaii

Build a playhouse in the playground of a pre-school center in a low income part of Honolulu, and combine this with your choice of Pearl Harbor, surf lessons, scenic heli-flights, golf, spa, and beach relaxation.

Luxury family volunteer vacation Hawaii

3. Mexico

Help at a center in Cancun: a day-care at the women’s shelter. Play, color, and practice English with the children; prepare and serve lunch at the Elderly Home; assist in the Bread and Shelter home by sorting donations and organizing their bazar…finish up by exploring Chitzen Itza, Tulum, Islas Mujeres or try your hand at Mexican cooking or beach relaxation.

2. Thailand

Get up close and personal with elephants at an elephant nature park: prepare their meals, feed them, walk with them and watch them socialize and bathe, learning an enormous amount about these gentle giants as you go. Suitable from the age of 5.

Luxury volunteer vacation

1. Belize

You can make a lasting difference for a Mayan family by installing an eco-friendly stove in their home. These stoves are fantastic because:

  • they replace open flames so reduce burns, especially with young chidlren running around
  • they have a chimney, and remove respiratory problems such as asthma
  • they are much more fuel efficient, so are more environmentally-friendly

This is a perfect activity to bring families together, as you finish with something very tangible, and there is a lot of interaction with the local children.

Luxury family volunteer vacation Belize

Christopher Hill is Founder and CEO at Hands Up Holidays. Hands Up Holidays is an award-winning travel company specialising in tailor-made luxury family trips that combine sightseeing with hands-on service projects.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.


Comments (14)

  1. Karen Morris says:

    I worry that we lost the spirit of Christmas long ago. Sadly, for far too many people it’s become very commercial and it’s drifted a long way from its Christian origins.

    There are some great ideas here. Neither me nor my husband are at all practical so we wouldn’t want to take responsibility for attempting to put a roof over a family’s head. It wouldn’t stay there for very long. But some of the other suggestions are worth investigating.

    • You are right Karen. To your point about not being at all practical, the beauty of our model is that your funding employs local experts to do the tricky parts and supervise you, and you get involved to the extent that you can… And so not only does something tangible get built, you also help by providing jobs for the local community.

  2. Kate Rubio says:

    I like the idea of giving something that can be used long term, such as the eco-friendly stove of Belize. I’ve been to many charity events and most are concentrated on food drives, clothing, and money. There are a few that provide really affordable housing, but that takes big investments to be made. I have been blessed to be living in comfort, and every month I try to share that by donating to charities that advocates children’s education. Why? I believe that the best way to get out of poverty is to have a good education.

    • You are right Kate – a good education is for sure the best route out of poverty.
      Interestingly, having a decent place to live makes this more likely when you move from a shack full of leaks to a good home, as children are healthier and thus absent from school less.

  3. Jane says:

    My dream career would be to work with animals. Working with the elephants in Thailand sounds brilliant. How long would you do that for and where would you be staying?

    • Hi Jane,
      Yes, it is really rewarding!
      I recommend 3-4 days, but you can make a difference in just one day with the elephants, and at the other end of the spectrum, the longer you can spend, the better.
      When you travel with us, we specialize in luxury even whilst volunteering, so in Thailand for example, a lot of our clients stay at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai.

  4. Christie says:

    I think these kinds of ‘giving back’ trips are fantastic for anyone, individually or as a family. It enriches your experience and it’s much more valuable when considering the bigger picture of your life. It can be the big and small things too, like you say with serving meals to the homeless or helping out with the animals, it doesn’t have to be about building accommodation or spending months at a conservation centre, unless you’re able to do those things. These are some fantastic suggestions for ways we can all get more involved. A little extra compassion and giving a helping hand can make the world a much brighter place.

  5. Rob says:

    We tend to forget that those of us who are able to travel are a very lucky minority. If we can afford to see other peoples and cultures I think it is important that we give more back than just hoping that our tourist dollars, euros and pounds trickle down to those in need. There are some great practical projects here. I also hope that mixing with the local people will help put our good luck into context.

  6. Leah Santos says:

    I believe that helping is the true essence of Christmas. It is not only just through the form of gift-giving but also in extending our services to others. I agree that we can enjoy our dream holiday vacation while helping the less fortunate. This does not only teaches us to share our blessings with others but also strengthens the bond between our relatives and loved ones. Through this, we will also be able to appreciate what we have in life and give more importance to it.

    • I agree Leah – helping is the true essence of Christmas. You are also right to point out the amazing power of how helping others strengthens the bond between relatives and loved ones – you have put it so well!

  7. Pete says:

    It has only just gone mid-November and already the commercial Christmas is gearing up with that first horrendous hurdle of Black Friday to clear – it’s only black for the consumers who spend money they haven’t got on things that they don’t need.

    I’m totally in favour of getting away from all the tinsel and turkey and escaping from Christmas. I like the idea of a holiday where you also give your time to local animals or people in need. It would be a superb educational experience for the kids.

    I’ll go anywhere to escape Noddy Holder and Slade screaming, “It’s Christmas.”

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