There is no doubt that travel feeds the soul. Travelers return from trips often refreshed and a smidgen wiser for experiencing a new part of the world and a new culture vastly different than their own. The effect is reciprocated by those countries and cultures that thrive from the inward flow of money tourism brings.
But oftentimes those cultures need more than money. They need help building schools and shelters. They need help learning skills and languages. They need help preserving the fragile environments and historic sites that draw tourists to their small part of the world. That is where volunteer travel steps in.
Volunteer travel involves people from all age and social classes traveling globally to give aid to communities in need and intimately experience the culture. This combination of exploration and inspiration is growing in popularity, mostly due to an increase in the number and variety of opportunities now available. No longer do travelers need to stay enmeshed in a foreign land for months to make a difference – they can now impact an entire community over the course of a week or two, or even during their honeymoon.
Regardless of how these travelers choose to contribute their time and energy into such a globally beneficial cause, they always return satiated, their souls well fed after making a lasting difference in the lives of their international neighbors.
Many of us have a strong urge to help others around the world, especially after witnessing such high-profile devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Thailand. Volunteer travel is the perfect way for everyday people to make a difference; however, they should first know what they’re getting themselves into.
As a volunteer traveler, you must be realistic – you are not going to single-handedly save a village or build a new school. During a week-long stay in Tanzania, you may only build a few desks and paint a classroom, which will not seem like much at the time. But the schoolchildren who later sit in those desks and enjoy that classroom will appreciate your efforts for a lifetime. Every improvement – no matter how small.
Volunteer travel is more than an alternative to a standard vacation. It’s about offering your skills and time while being part of a team and interacting with diverse cultures. Anyone considering this line of travel should be flexible, take direction well and have both a sense of adventure and humor. No special skills are needed – you only need an intense desire to make a difference and experience a destination in a way few tourists ever will.
The variety of programs is matched only by the variety of emotions each volunteer experiences during their stay.
You can teach English to Hungarian children, helping them fulfill their education requirements. You can nurture children in Ecuador, working at an orphanage. You can restore villages in the fabled Blue Mountains of Jamaica, restoring dignity to villagers. You can help care for disabled children in China and experience life through their eyes. You can repair Aboriginal homes in Australia, helping these proud indigenous people in their struggle for equality. You can help save lives by providing basic health-care screenings, such as diabetes tests, well-baby checks and prenatal exams, in Northern Greece. In addition to programs abroad, there are programs right here in the US.
If you’re a budget-conscious college student who wants to see the world, a volunteer abroad program overseas is ideal. Set your sights on the unforgettable scenery of Yorkshire, England, while taking part in a conservation program. Soak in the gorgeous South African sunset and learn how to protect dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds. Or venture to Costa Rica and get your hands dirty rebuilding homes. .
This article was provided by the ASTA (the American Association of Travel Agents)