Ever have one of those self-evaluation moments where you wonder if all of the time and effort you’re putting into your daily activities is really worth it? Will the rewards pay off? How long down the road do you need to go before you begin seeing the benefits? One way to combat this feeling is to step back, take a vacation and recharge your body and spirit. Feel even better after your vacation by embarking on a travel volunteer program (popularly called voluntourism.) Voluntourism combines luxury excursions and relaxation activities of traditional vacations with service projects during a portion of the trip. These service projects are designed to positively impact the lives of other people or animals in the world. Voluntourism gives you the chance to step outside your comfort zone and experience new places in ways you’d never be able to at the popular all-inclusive resorts. Stepping out and “surviving” may help you feel even more rejuvenated when you return home. It may not answer the unnerving questions that arise during those self-evaluation moments, but one thing’s for sure:
Travel volunteer programs take on many shapes, sizes and focuses and vary in cost. They can range from the volunteer earning a stipend, to the volunteer paying a trip cost that covers not only their expenses, but also provides additional monetary resources to the organization to buy products for the projects that they will be working on. Below are a few examples of programs you’ll feel good putting your time and efforts toward. The experience may even permanently change how you travel.
Globe Aware: Adventures in Service
The primary focus of Globe Aware is twofold: promote cultural awareness and/or promote sustainability. Trips aim to recognize and appreciate the real beauties and real challenges of a culture, but not try to change it. The effort is to, instead, help others stand on their own two feet. They teach skills rather than reliance. Quicklya prospective participant reading through their website might be struck with one workd to describe their mission: empowerment.
Combined with their local community projects, Globe Aware organizes several optional cultural excursions throughout every program, designed to highlight local culture in a way the typical tourist can rarely experience. Unlike a regular vacation, where you may spend a good deal of time on a tourist bus and in lines at museums, a trip with Globe Aware will allow you to learn truly unique things. You can learn how to cook local cuisine, sing with local school children, and work side by side on local community projects. Few vacations provide a way to bond so closely with local cultures. These trips are organized all over the world, including countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and even European Romania.
Cross Cultural Solutions:
What’s unique about Cross-Cultural Solutions is that the work is community driven. Their in-country teams are staffed by local people who understand their community needs and how you not only can help, but get the most from your volunteer travel experience. Projects include but are not limited to caring for orphaned infants and children, working in schools, and supporting those affected by HIV/AIDS. Fees and start dates vary by destination and duration, but whether you only have one week over the winter holidays, an entire summer, or anything in between, Cross-Cultural Solutions has the volunteer travel experiences all over the world for you to jump into.
If the idea of helping animals or the environment in other parts of our world appeals to you more, there are plenty of opportunities to put your time and skill-set into this focus as well.
Earthwatch Institute: Research Expeditions
Think it’d be fun to live on a boat on the Amazon River in Peru observing pink dolphins? Or tracking koalas in Australia to better understand the impacts of climate change? On Earthwatch expeditions, individuals from all walks can join respected scientists in the field to investigate environmental issues and contribute directly to research. While no scientific background is required for this type of service project, this is more than part-volunteer-part-vacation and instead is a whole immersive experience where you are part of a scientific research team for a short period of time. Expedition focuses are on wildlife and ecosystems, ocean health, climate change, and archaeology and culture, in countries all around the world.
GoEco is another company offering travel to exotic locations while conserving endangered species worldwide. From protecting sea turtles on the Caribbean beaches of Central America to the rehabilitation of cheetahs and lions in the African bush, the opportunities and depth of the volunteer projects are endless. Trip durations and costs vary wildly, ensuring there is something to meet every traveler’s needs and budget.
Certainly, these examples are just a preview into the endless opportunities out there to give back while traveling to exotic locations. When looking at companies and programs always make sure they are reputable by researching reviews and confirming they are indeed a 501(c)(3) non-profit (if they claim to be). Also, be sure your personal luggage is prepared to handle the demands and rigors of such a unique trip. ECBC's unique line of TSA-Friendly FastPass luggage and travel accessories offering a built-in portable power pack or the option for seamless installation of one can help you experience a care-free vacation and focus on what's important; making a difference. Be ready to not just go on vacation but to be changed by your vacation.