Craig Kielburger still divides his life into two periods: pre-Asia and post-Asia.

The Free the Children co-founder got the travel bug early and a bit differently than most. At 12 years old, after reading a newspaper article about a murdered child labourer in Pakistan, he started a children’s rights club at school.

Kielburger remembers talking to his parents as he started Grade 8. “I said: ‘Look, this isn’t a passing phase. I want to meet these children, I want to see child labour with my own eyes. I want to take two months off school to backpack through Southeast Asia,’ ” says Kielburger. “My mom said, ‘You’re not allowed to take the subway by yourself, so no.’ ” 

But Kielburger, who was named a member of the Order of Canada at just 25 years old, didn’t give up. “I asked so often that my mother banned the word ‘Asia’ in our house,” he recalls.

Needless to say, he changed their minds. Kielburger went on that trip, which he says changed his life, and, nearly two decades later, Free the Children has built more than 650 schools and school rooms and has worked in more than 45 countries.

In 2008, Kielburger and his brother, Marc, started Me to We, a social enterprise that offers volunteer trips and other socially responsible goods and donates half its profits to Free the Children.

Kielburger, now 31, makes his home in Toronto.

Days on the road

More than 300 days a year. House plants don’t have a very long life expectancy with me.

Inflight routine 

I always get the window seat. I’m that unstylish traveller who gets out the eye mask, and I always wear a hoodie [and] pull the hood up over my head. I carry an extra sweater to use as a pillow and I sleep. Either that, or I do e-mails. I carry [extra] batteries, so my computer never dies.

Favourite place to travel 

Masai Mara (Kenya). We have 100-plus schoolhouses that have been built right on the edge of the Masai Mara region. You wake up and see zebra and gazelle all around you. It’s a snapshot of a different time.

Top travel tip

The journey continues when you get home.

What are you reading? 

I listen to books on tape. I’m a big fan of When you’re waiting in lines, there’s a tremendous amount of time wasted. I can burn through a book in a few weeks, just in that time.

Packing tips

At the end of the day, besides your technology, everything else you need you can get on the ground. I travel extremely light . . . I come home after this much travel and I’m always amazed that people need more than a suitcase or two in life.

Advice to young people

Always be a shameless idealist.