The road is life, said Jack Kerouac in his seminal novel “On the Road”. And I must agree with the man who himself was the very incarnation of wanderlust.
Do you get a kick out of movies such as The Motorcycle Diaries, Tracks, or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but still haven’t had the guts to go on the adventure of a lifetime? Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you uplifting but ultimately cheesy advice to quit your job, travel the world, and never look back, or eat, pray, love, and ditch the comfort of your safe job, cozy flat, and Netflix subscription.
Let’s keep it real and talk about the options that most of us, ordinary people, find plausible and manageable. Luckily, adventure and excitement can be part of the equation too. Traveling beyond the sun, sand, and sea concept is an actual possibility, which means that you can visit some exotic corners of the earth without breaking the bank.
But how, you ask.
Ever heard of voluntourism?
What is Voluntourism?
Instead of traveling for the sake of your own enjoyment, try to make a difference and give something back. While there’s nothing wrong with spending your vacation sunbathing and sipping cocktails on the beach, you should be aware of the negative environmental impacts of tourism – the depletion of natural resources, pollution and tons of waste, among many other things.
There are more than 1.2 billion tourist arrivals every year, and some popular destinations struggle to cope with all those noisy, nosy, and careless travelers. The thing is that some of the most amazing places on the planet are about to disappear due to global warming, and it’s our fault.
For example, one of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, is dying and half of this coral reef system has already been destroyed beyond repair by a recent heat wave. The Maldives, tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, will sink in a couple of decades, as the sea level rises.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg (FYI, these are already melting at a speed 3 times faster than a decade ago, and coastal cities including NYC, Miami, and Sydney are at a risk of being drowned.)
Personally, I can’t enjoy my vacation if people in the country I visit live in extreme poverty and squalor, no matter how beautiful the scenery is. That’s one of the reasons why I started researching the possibilities of responsible travel as a way to help make the world a better place to live in and visit.
Traveling for a good cause has benefits for you too – you’ll get to know the country you visit and the community first-hand, experience some things you wouldn’t if you traveled first-class and all-inclusive, change your perspective on things, and grow as a person. Did I mention adrenaline-packed adventures?
How to Pick a Charity
You can choose from a wide variety of activities: trekking, cycling, teaching, diving, building schools, and houses, helping at orphanages, you name it. It all depends on what your preferences are, but it’s worth mentioning that since travelling for a good cause has become extremely popular, there are countless companies which offer different volunteering trips. Don’t be alarmed if you only come across one- or two-week trips for no less than $5,000.
Select wisely with whom you cooperate with, to make sure that the money from your volunteering actually goes to the communities in need, not to a big company!
Now you’re probably asking yourself whether it’s fair to pay that much money (that you most likely don’t even have) in order to invest your time and energy in volunteering.
The truth is that the fact that you’re going to share your time and volunteer doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay for your own expenses, because the whole point of volunteering is to help without asking for anything in return. You can not only avoid an ecological impact of your travel but also give your own life more meaning. Besides, some organizations donate a certain percentage of the money you pay for accommodation to charitable causes, so it’s practically a twofer.
Still, if you can’t afford all these expenses, you can raise funds for your trip either by convincing your friends and family to chip in or take advantage of crowdfunding platforms to get money from a number of strangers willing to support your cause.
To find out more about combining travelling and volunteering, check out the following sites:
- Volunteer World
- Global Service Corps
- Habitat for Community
- Cross-Cultural Solutions
If you can’t decide where to go and how to contribute to a good cause, here are some ideas that will tickle your imagination and give you a little nudge towards going places and doing things.
Teach Kids English and Arts in Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica is one of the most stable countries in Latin America (it doesn’t have armed forces) with a comparatively decent standard of living for which it’s dubbed the “Switzerland of Central America”, it still needs some help. You can contribute by teaching impoverished kids English, assisting their teachers in the classroom, and offering extra support.
The cherry on top of this great opportunity is that you’re going to be situated in the coastal region of Costa Rica, which means that you’ll have access to breathtaking beaches and coastal rainforests brimming with wildlife. The price is $1820 for 3 weeks, which isn’t exactly cheap, especially when we take airfares into consideration, but you can resort to some of the above-mentioned funding methods. As for requirements, you obviously must love kids and have a basic level of Spanish. (govoluntouring.com)
Volunteer in Tanzania
Since the prices of volunteering trips to Tanzania can be sky-high, it’s good to know that there is a decent place where you can stay for as little as $20 a day. Hostel Hoff in Moshi, a town situated at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, is run by an Australian woman and her Tanzanian husband and it offers safe and comfortable accommodation.
What’s even better is that the place is basically an independent volunteering hub for this area. Depending on your qualifications and preferences, you can choose to volunteer at local hospitals, day care centers for kids, orphanages, juvenile correctional facilities, schools, and environmental conservation centers. In your free time, you can climb the world’s tallest freestanding mountain and cross it off your bucket list. (Hostel Hoff)
Volunteer on the Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrims’ walking routes situated mainly in Spain. This option is a real deal – you get free accommodation in Santiago, a true gem in every sense of the word. The old town with its cobbled streets and historic buildings is light years away from the stress of modern life. You must be thinking that the nightlife of this place is nothing to write home about, but you’re dead wrong.
Apart from being at the heart of all pilgrimage routes, the city has a vibrant nightlife thanks to the students attending the University of Santiago de Compostela. When it comes to volunteering, your job at the Pilgrim Office would be to welcome pilgrims from all parts of the world and offer them advice and support. In other words, you’ll be their Amigo. Cool, right? (csj.org.uk)
Build Homes in Rio de Janeiro Favelas
There are approximately 600 favelas or shanty towns in Rio. It’s hard to believe that almost 19% of the population of this dazzling city lives in the slums, with no proper housing, sanitary conditions, schools, roads, and other critical infrastructure. Your help will improve their living conditions, since they’re practically living in shacks.
No particular construction skills are required as you’ll be instructed about everything on arrival. However, it’s important that you’re at least 18 years old and that you’re fit and driven to work hard. The price is around $60 a day for accommodation and food. Since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, you can opt to come in February or March, and be in Rio during the Carnival.
However, it needs to be mentioned that Rio isn’t exactly the safest place on earth. Due to a recent economic crisis, crime rates are up again, so you’re in for some mom advice: be very careful about flaunting your iPhone or other perceived luxury goods while on the street, make sure to be back in your flat by 10 p.m., and don’t bring valuable stuff and too much money to the beach. (lovevolunteers.com)
Help Protect and Save Indigenous Animals in Australia
More than 1,700 species of animals and plants indigenous to Australia are on the extinction list. If you’re a wildlife lover, then this is the perfect gig for you. Your work responsibilities would include taking long walks in the natural bushland, planting eucalyptus trees, helping rangers feed more than 180 different species of animals, some of which are injured and orphaned, cleaning the area, and doing all sorts of odd jobs on the premises.
This sanctuary is situated in Calga, a town just an hour’s drive away from Sydney, and for $1,890 for two weeks you get accommodation and free meals plus a chance to interact with koalas, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, kangaroos, possums, alpacas, and other weird but cute creatures. You have to admit that it’s a real bargain! Afternoons and weekends are free so that you can explore the nearby area, Sydney, and the NSW Central Coast. The famous Blue Mountains are within your reach, so if you’re into mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoning, or similar challenging sports activities, this is the right place for you. (goeco.org)
A wise man once said that “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” OK, I can literally hear your boos now, but seriously, wouldn’t you be at least a tiny bit more proud of yourself if you actually did something to make someone’s life better, and had a lot of fun in the process?