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Traveling with a Purpose

by Nicole Bergstrom

Nov 13, 2019

ID 71379823 © Lifeontheside | Dreamstime.com

Trends / Sustainability

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TRAVEL WITH PURPOSE? Does it mean you want to do more than just flock around like all the other tourists? In addition to seeing the beauty and history of a foreign land, you can become involved with local communities and get an extraordinary cultural experience. If that is what you are looking for, consider spending some or all of your trip volunteering in one of the thousands of opportunities available worldwide.

 

It is important, however, to ensure your experience is not just another staged tourist activity. Make it a memory of a lifetime by really connecting with a community. Ask yourself what your passions are or how your skills can be best utilized. A group on Facebook called Travel to Do Good even helps people find the perfect volunteer travel experience.

 

Nearly every profession or interest offers worldwide opportuni- ties to volunteer tailored to any need. Just Google your individual passions or interests combined with volunteer opportunities abroad and you will see endless possibilities.

 

Historically, voluntourism, as the travel segment is known, is not new. As far back as 1909 the British Red Cross implemented the Voluntary Aid Detachment unit of civilians providing nursing care for military personnel. In contemporary times, the trend arose in the United States in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps to promote international relations. To date, more than 235,000 joined the Peace Corps and provided aid in 141 countries.

 

More than 55 percent of Americans have participated in voluntourism in some way in the past two years. The millennial generation represents the highest percentage of volunteers according to a 2015 survey conducted by Good Travels, an organization devoted to worldwide philanthropy. For decades, college-bound youth have volunteered overseas as part of a gap year. According to the 2015 survey, 81 percent of the millennials surveyed volunteered during the previous two years in their chosen destination. This outpaces the 61 percent of travelers ages 35–54 and the 43 percent of travelers aged 55-plus who voluntour.

 

For those who need to travel on a budget, volunteer tourism can also be beneficial to both sides. Staying with a host family proves a great way to find low-cost lodging — often including meals. The host family can provide the most intimate experience with another culture.

 

Education students can gain experience through many programs for teaching English as a foreign language around the world. Teaching abroad has been one of the most popular volunteer activities. Ac- cording to the Good Travels survey, 27 percent of Americans choose education as their favorite cause. Imagine teaching English to Italian children on one trip, then instructing a class of adults in Vietnam on the next.

 

Carpenters and other tradespeople — or anyone else with skills — can volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, an organiza- tion started in 1976 by Clarence Jordan and championed by President Jimmy Carter, who at age 95 continues to volunteer along with his wife, Rosalynn. The organization now operates in all 50 of the United States and more than 70 countries world- wide. So far, Habitat has built homes for more than 22 million people.

 

If you’re motivated to work on behalf of the planet and its creatures, you can do your part to help preserve our wildlife and natural resources. The Good Travels survey reports environmen- tal and wildlife causes reflect the interests of 11 and 10 percent of American travelers, respectively.

 

As ecotourism continues to gain momentum, travelers can explore the planet while working with others to preserve it for future generations. The oldest and largest ecotourism society in the world, The International Ecotourism Society, now boasts more than 15,000 active members who participate in conserva- tion efforts in more than 190 countries.

 

Animal lovers can volunteer to work with marine and wild life. The 16,306 endangered species on the planet need volunteers to help save them from extinction. If the sea is your passion, consider joining the Marine Conservation Society’s new program for volunteers called Sea Champions.

 

Voluntourism is not without its critics. Case in point: the recent backlash against orphanage tourism, due to some institu- tions running profit-making scams at the expense of vulnerable children and occasionally being linked to human trafficking. In addition, some sanctuaries for endangered species have been guilty of unethical treatment of animals. It is a smart idea to investigate the legitimacy of the organization you are considering. While you may want to contribute to a cause in your own unique way, always make sure you and the cause are not exploited in any way by scammers. If any fees are needed, investigate where this money goes. Legitimate organizations will provide full disclosure on how funds are used.

 

If you want to make an impact on people and this world through travel, you’ll find a multitude of ways to do so. As citizens of Mother Earth, we need to do our part to keep her around for future generations. We also need to do whatever we can to keep positive international relations strong for the greater good. With the right approach, traveling with a purpose can translate to a fulfilling and rewarding experience for all involved.

 

 

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