Travel gifts with a conscience

Kids line up to see Scuba Santa at Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, British Columbia. Institutions...

Kids line up to see Scuba Santa at Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, British Columbia. Institutions such as zoos and wilderness sanctuaries also encourage seasonal giving. For instance, the Vancouver Aquarium has the Adopt-A-Killer Whale-program. (CARMINE MARINELLI/QMI AGENCY)

ILONA KAUREMSZKY, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:07 PM ET

Q: Do you have any ideas for holiday gift giving with a conscience?

--J. Harman, Toronto

A: If you want to change up your usual gift giving routine, you can help charities and non-governmental agencies by contributing funds, volunteering or purchasing locally made products from depressed regions of the world. Ideas include:

-- World Vision suggests making alternative gift giving a family affair. Send out a group e-mail to members of your family who normally exchange gifts and float the idea of making a donation instead. Or consult the organization's online catalogue to purchase gifts that make a difference such as purchasing hand-made crafts.

-- UNICEF Canada offers "survival gifts" in seven different categories. The food category lists a specially formulated therapeutic milk with extra vegetable fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and other minerals that can be a life-saver for malnourished children. For $24, you can purchase and donate 38 sachets (a total of 23 litres) of the milk. UNICEF also has a list of favourite gifts under $25. One of the most affordable is a $10 bed net to combat malaria by keeping mosquitos out, as well as $10 anti-malarial tablets.

-- Other institutions such as zoos and wilderness sanctuaries also encourage seasonal giving. For instance, the Vancouver Aquarium has the Adopt-A-Killer Whale-program. See killerwhale.vanaqua.org.

Q: I will be country-hopping with my young family for three months in South America. Our travel agent has given us some great information but I'd like to access travel updates on the road, and I'm hoping you might know how.

-- A. Kwan, Scarborough

A: The federal government recently updated its main website, which offers updates on travelling abroad, news, warnings, and details on returning to Canada. To find country reports for your destinations, go to the home page and click on "Where do you want to go?" While at the site, you can also subscribe to receive travel updates issued by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Travellers can also get up-to-date- travel information via Twitter @TravelGoC, Facebook, and a new Travel Smart mobile app available for Apple, Android, and Blackberry devices.

Send travel questions to ilona@mycompass.ca


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