Rebecca Rothney is the founder and chairperson of Pack for a Purpose®. Rebecca took her first overseas trip at age 11 and has since visited 41 countries and 7 continents. After graduating from Washington University, Rebecca taught middle school specializing in European and non-western cultures. For 24 years, Rebecca has hosted visitors from around the world as a member of the International Affairs Council in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has served on their board of directors for 12 years.
TRO: What inspired you to establish Pack for a Purpose?
RR: During our first trip to Africa, my husband Scott and I learned that while we were limited to 40 pounds of luggage on safari, the airline had an allowance of 100 pounds of checked luggage plus a 40-pound carry-on. In making plans for a second trip, we looked into visiting a school near the lodge we would visit in Botswana. We contacted our safari company to see if we could determine any specific needs of that school. Armed with that information, we were able to deliver 140 pounds of school supplies, including soccer balls, to the school.
It was enormously rewarding to be able to help the people in the community that had given us such a life-changing experience. Since then, a few of our fellow travelers and we have made several trips to other countries in Africa and have been able to deliver an estimated 1,000 pounds in donations of clothing, school and medical supplies. I asked a travel agent why other travelers did not use their luggage allowances this way. “Because nobody thinks about it,” he said. That was my “aha” moment. I knew that I could “give them a way to think about it.”
By asking travelers to pack 5 lbs of supplies, we felt we would be able to involve everyone who wanted to add value to his or her trip by participating. By delivering the supplies directly to the traveler’s accommodation, it would be possible for every traveler to contribute and require no logistical support. That amount would take only a small space, require little effort and still make a big impact.
TRO: Please explain how the organization works.
RR: Pack for a Purpose is an all-volunteer organization. We identify accommodations that are currently doing community based projects through web research and referrals from individuals and travel agents. Then we invite these accommodations to submit their information and specific needs so they can have an individual page posted on our website. Our goal is to provide individual travelers with the specific information they need so that they can, with little effort, make a valuable contribution to the communities they visit. Through our website, we also provide additional web presence and publicity to the worthwhile projects supported by the accommodations at these destinations.
If travelers are going to a destination on our website, they simply look at the supplies the destination has requested and select which ones they would like to take. Then they drop them at the “front desk” when they arrive. It is as simple as that. If travelers are not staying at a destination on our website, they can contact us and we will try to find a way to make an appropriate connection for them.
TRO: How many accommodations participate in the program?
RR: There are over 100 different accommodations currently on our website.
TRO: Travelers may be wary of having to work too hard on their vacations to participate in the program. What would you say to these travelers?
RR: Our tag line, “small space, little effort, big impact” says it all. In less than 4 minutes, you can find all the information you need regarding what supplies are needed for the community project at your accommodation. Then you simply purchase the items you wish to bring, pens, pencils, soccer balls etc. next time you’re out shopping and pack them in your luggage. When you arrive at your accommodation you take them to the front desk. There are no logistics involved. If you can’t bring 5 pounds, you can bring 2.
TRO: Is there any particular destination that seems to be more popular or foster more participation than others?
RR: Travelers took 800 pounds to five continents in 2010. Africa does seem to have received a large share of the supplies but it represents the largest amount of destinations currently on our website.
TRO: Please explain your relationship with travel agents.
RR: Travel agents have been a valuable part of spreading the word to appropriate accommodations. By sending out our invitation with a few lines of their own regarding the benefits to the accommodation, it is far less likely that our invitation will end up in the junk mail/ spam folder. People read the emails sent by those who send them business.
TRO: How can travel agents become involved with the organization?
RR: Travel agents can go to our website, www.packforapurpose.org , and under MEDIA select the link for LOGOS. They can then easily cut and paste our hyperlink onto their website. They can also download and print our brochure, which is also on our MEDIA page to distribute to their clients.
We’re constantly in the process of adding more accommodations to our network. The more destinations we list on Pack for a Purpose, the more supplies will be delivered to the people who need them the most.
TRO: What would you suggest for travel agents who wish to endorse Pack for a Purpose?
RR: For agents who connect us with six new accommodations, we will post their logo with a direct link to their website on our Partners page, along with the acknowledgement that they are providing outstanding connections, outreach and promotional support for Pack for a Purpose. As our partner, we ask agents to have the Pack for a Purpose hyperlink on their websites.
TRO: Do you have any educational tools for agents?
RR: All the information regarding community- based projects and what supplies they need can be found on the individual pages on our website. We also have a “How to Pack” page (http://www.packforapurpose.org/docs/how-to-pack.shtml ) with packing tips and a printable Pack for a Purpose card which can be included with the supplies.
TRO: Are there any new developments or plans for Pack for a Purpose that you would like to share with the travel community?
RR: We are a very new website with only 15 months on the internet. Our plans for the future are eventually to have every accommodation on the planet that is doing a community-based project listed on our website! This way, travelers will have, on one website, the opportunity to easily and effectively make a positive difference in the communities they visit. We hope that going to the Pack for a Purpose website will become a routine part of international travel planning. There are other initiatives in the planning stages, which will be announced when they are ready to launch.