Connection. It’s something we all seek in our daily lives: with family, friends, neighbors, the person who serves our latte daily.


Even when we travel, building those connections can enhance our time away from home and help forge deeper, fonder memories of the places we visit. Sometimes it happens by chance. You strike up a conversation with a local on the subway or in line at the coffee shop, and suddenly you’re welcomed into the family and seeing a side of the city you would have missed as a tourist.


For some businesses, helping the community in which they operate isn’t just about making a few extra bucks. Sanctuary NYC Retreats has made meaningful experiences part of their mission since they opened their doors to travelers. Every person who stays in a Sanctuary guest suite is given a complimentary membership that allows them to take part in the yoga and/or meditation classes offered on the ground floor of the building. Guests are also encouraged to help feed hungry people in Tompkins Square Park through the Food for Life Project.


“It’s a great little project,” says Sanctuary Reservations Director Mario Cornejo. “Seventy percent of the food we serve is donated. The rest we need to buy, Sanctuary helps cover that cost and also helps find new volunteers and donors. It’s super grassroots.”


Since 2005, the Food for Life Project has been feeding between 125 and 150 people every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Meals are freshly prepared within a few hours of being served using seasonal ingredients, and volunteers are out there serving food year-round, even in rain or snow. With support from the police, New York City Parks & Recreation, and the local community, the project has made an impression on the guests who help as well as the people they serve.


“Over the years we’ve had people who were homeless and ate at the park who have since come back to serve,” says Mario. “Transformation stories like that make it worth it when you hear that you actually changed someone’s life through a simple act of kindness.”


Guests who want to get involved should plan to be available a little
before 9:30 a.m. Thompson Square Park is about a 15-minute walk from the hotel, and food is served until it’s gone.


If New York City isn’t on your travel horizon, you can still find meaningful travel experiences wherever you go. Here are a few ideas to get you started.


  • Book your purposeful vacation through Travelocity and you’ll be able to use a special discount code that supports American Red Cross Disaster Relief. They also have an interactive map on their site that connects you to volunteer opportunities all over the United States.
  • Capital One has started The Purpose Project to encourage travelers to make personal discoveries and give back to the communities they visit. You can learn more here or visit the Points Guy, the hub for the Purpose Project.
  • Even Universal Orlando has found a way to tie in volunteerism with their theme parks. Book a Volunteer Vacation Package and a portion of your purchase will go to the family of a child with a critical illness. You’ll also be able to spend four hours of your vacation volunteering at the Give Kids the World “storybook” resort where you’ll meet some of the recipient families.