Posted by: Kathy Dragon | October 16, 2007

Volunteer Vacations

By, David Clemmons, TravelDragon & Eons.com Contributor

VolunTourism can be the ultimate life dream. For those with a passion for travel, it is an opportunity to protect, preserve or enhance the destinations which you visit and to serve those who reside there. For those with a passion for service to others, or nature and the environment, VolunTourism is a chance to put your personal ideals into practice in exotic locations around the globe. VolunTourism is a balanced approach that delivers the best of both passions via unique experiences throughout the world.

A VolunTour is a personal journey that will present you with a new canvas upon which to paint your views of the world, inspired by your willingness to give back. You will see people and places in a refreshing light.

Getting Started
In order to make the most of your VolunTourism experience, ask yourself five very important questions and answer them prior to finalizing your decision to be a VolunTourist.
1.  What is your purpose for participating in a VolunTourism itinerary?
2.  To what destination do you want to travel?
3.  Who or what do you wish to serve in the destination?
4.  How much of your time do you want to serve versus how much time do you want to interact with the destination?
5.  How strenuous do you want the volunteer work to be?

You may find that you want to answer them in a different order depending upon which item is a priority for you.  For example, those with a passion for service may answer question #3 before they answer question #2.  If, for instance, you decided to serve elephants as your volunteer service work, you would not select a destination in Central America as you would be hard pressed to find an elephant there.  However, you should always answer question #1 first, as this will help you determine whether a VolunTourism trip is actually the form of travel that will help you fulfill your life dream.

There are certainly other questions that you may want to consider, based on personal preferences. Some individuals will not want to see extreme poverty – malnourished or emaciated children, or dire living conditions.  Thus, you may ask yourself the question: “What level of emotional intensity am I willing to accept on this trip?” Some individuals may have a medical condition – allergies, epilepsy, etc., that could require immediate attention.  You might want to ask the question: “How close are your operations to the nearest medical facility?” These and similar questions will vary depending on the traveler.

Selecting a Project
Once you’ve taken the time to answer the five questions, you should be well positioned to review potential projects to select one. If through the “Getting Started” process you have identified additional questions of interest, add them to the original questions in preparation for interviewing potential VolunTourism operators.

There are some 10,000 VolunTourism projects underway worldwide right now – everything from hard-core building programs, to animal conservation projects and a growing number of “cross-generational experiences” that allow whole families, from grandparents to their grandchildren, to travel to remote corners of the planet and help out needy communities together. A VolunTour can be for a week or a year, but trips tend to last two to three weeks.

TravelDragon Volunteer experiences include carefully chosen VolunTourism operators and trips, with proven track records of offering high quality VolunTour experiences with the boomer and beyond traveler in mind. This is an excellent resource to begin comparing your specifications and VolunTourism options. There are a number of web sites to further assist you – see Other Resources.

When you have thoroughly conducted your research and have satisfied the answers to your questions, give the VolunTourism operators a call and speak with a representative. During this conversation, you can repeat some of your questions, request to speak to a former client, in fact, ask for anything that you feel will improve your comfort level in making a final determination. Take your time, reflect on the options that resonate with you and discern which one will fulfill your purpose and desires.

Like any other form of travel you will want to review the “fine print.” What are your options for trip cancellation? What are your options for travelers insurance? What is the deposit schedule, etc.? Make sure that you are financially protected, including liability, and have options available to you under every circumstance.

Making the Most of Your Experience
Once you have selected a program and are preparing for your journey, it’s valuable to develop a practice of processing your personal experiences. If you already write a journal, practice yoga and/or meditation, write (outside of a journal), take photographs, paint, sketch, or conduct any other form of reflection, you will want to add this to your “packing list.”  Whatever items you will need to support this activity should be measured according to the number of days of your trip and the regularity of your processing practice.

If actions that support personal reflection are not part of your life now, consider using the time between booking your VolunTourism trip and your actual departure to include at least one in your daily regimen. It will help you cope with your own reactions to the circumstances of your daily, unfolding VolunTourism adventure.

It is also important that you set boundaries for yourself during your tour – physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual. Entering into, or even continuing, an activity that is beyond the point of comfort can result in personal disappointment or discomfort, at the very least. It could also affect your companions and, perhaps, members of the community you are trying to assist. Therefore, let your wisdom and your intent to be of true service to everyone include yourself.

VolunTourism is meant to be one of the most enjoyable undertakings of your entire life. To meet others who hold similar values to your own while supporting the well-being of residents and/or the environment of a destination is a real privilege. Part of your service to a destination and its residents is the economic impact you make via your purchasing power. This provides local residents an opportunity to feel that they have reciprocated your generosity through “service” of their own. VolunTourism is a balanced engagement rooted in reciprocity.

Home Again
Everyone has an adjustment period following a VolunTourism experience. Unlike other forms of travel, VolunTourism has a reality factor that bypasses the “dreamscape” of a cruise or other traditional trip. Views that you previously held have shifted. No matter how you look at it, the same five dollars you spend to rent a movie is likely more than the daily wage of the people whom you have recently met. Will you still rent the movie? Probably, but you will do so with a very different consciousness.

VolunTourism plants a seed within the heart of each participant. For some, the conditions will be absolutely right for a plant to sprout readily from the experience. For others, it may take time for germination to occur. Nonetheless, you will know that you have traveled profoundly, and the journey is far from over simply because you are once again sitting in your favorite chair.

Following your passion
Search the TravelDragon Travel database for “volunteer, voluntour, give back” for meaningful opportunities for Volunteer experiences.

Other Resources
VolunTourism.org (http://www.voluntourism.org )
International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) (http://www.volunteerinternational.org/  )

Bio
David Clemmons is the founder of VolunTourism.org [http://www.voluntourism.org], co-founder of VolunTours™ and editor of The VolunTourist, an e-newsletter for the business tourism industry and travel trade.

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