Use your vacation to do something good -- and get a tax write-off

My five-year-old has big aspirations for her summer vacation: she wants to go to the Gulf and clean pelicans. She's not alone. The bleak pictures on the news have inspired many people to consider ways to make a difference beyond simply making a donation. Some will stay home, but some will travel to the source of the problem to help.

It's not a new idea. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy, thousands of volunteers headed to New York City to lend a hand. Similarly, clean-up crews traveled by the busload to New Orleans to provide assistance after Hurricane Katrina. Most recently, organized relief efforts brought water and much needed medical supplies to Haiti after the January 12 earthquake.

Of course, not all of us can afford to hop on a plane and head off to help. But there is one added financial incentive that may make a big difference in whether you stay or whether you go: a tax write off.