Customized itineraries are an important aspect of authentic luxury travel. These days we like to focus on our individual interests and leave room in the trip plan for spontaneous detours.

This flexibility may enable staying longer than expected at a colorful marketplace or hiking farther than originally planned. It may also mean, as I learned a few years ago, being able to seize the moment and lend a hand in a developing country.

We stayed at the best hotels in Costa Rica and zoomed over the rainforest on a zipline, but my favorite memories of this country come from the village school we visited one afternoon. I hadn’t pre-planned the stop, but when I expressed interest – our driver made it possible.

To this day, the shy smiles of the children we met are locked in my heart, as is the gratitude expressed by the headmaster when I contributed enough cash to repair their only computer.

As the travel editor at a luxury lifestyle magazine, I’ve been sleeping on high-thread-count linens and enjoying 24/7 room service for a long time. However, I didn’t discover the true joy in travel until I started reaching out and finding small ways to make a difference in the developing world.

I call what I do “Voluntourism Lite.” Not everyone can build a house with Habitat for Humanity, but every traveler has a hug, a smile, and can pack a few gifts to share.

My first experience was in northern Vietnam, when – at the suggestion of our guide - I bought notebooks, pens, and pencils before heading out to visit ethnic hill tribe communities.

The beautiful families we visited welcomed us into their humble homes and were delighted with everything we brought them. When I admired their colorful tribal clothing, they insisted I try it on – which caused giggles all around. At the end of the day, I felt a “high” that far exceeded the pleasures of a luxury spa or yet another gourmet meal.

I have subsequently known the joy of heart-to-heart contacts in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa and South Luanga, Zambia where bags of school supplies carried from California were warmly received.

These gestures aren’t grand, but the rewards of voluntourism are great. Each time I reach out, I experience the joy that comes from being an authentic traveler, having real experiences, and seizing a....

It is far better to give....

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