Volunteering While on Vacation: Or, What I Did on My Summer Vacation
When the travel bug first bites, you stick close to home, visit tried-and-true destinations. Maybe you try Hawaii on for size or New Orleans. Then you branch out to England, Italy, or maybe Canada. Soon, you’re looking for more off-the-beaten-path places, more adventure. And before you know it, you’re backpacking in a country that raises a few eyebrows at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
But with these more adventurous destinations comes a bit of heartbreak, a realization at just how good you have it back home. When my husband and I honeymooned in Thailand, we were struck by the poverty and the kindness of its people. During our trip we kept saying, We wish we could do something to help.
We came home and applied for a grant through Travelocity’s Travel for Good program to take our very first volunteer vacation. The program awards two $5,000 Change Ambassador Grants to deserving travelers every quarter. (That’s 8 grants a year!) They also award one $5,000 grant to an employee every quarter and you can apply as an individual or a group.
When I got the call that I had won the employee grant, tears were rolling down my cheeks. Now as a bit of background, I did not cry at my own wedding and my boss once asked me to tone down the sarcasm in my writing. I’m not really a crier, per se. But I knew that this trip would have the power to change my life–and it did.
Before long, my group and I were headed to Cuzco, Peru on a voluntourism trip from Globe Aware. We lived and worked in an albergue, which is kind of like a dormitory for kids. The kids came from the small communities surrounding the city and lived there Monday – Friday so they could attend school. Their parents can’t afford to pay for their room and board, so the albergue survives on the donations from programs like Globe Aware and the work of volunteers like us.
The video above shows you how we spent our week there, and I hope it also gets at how the trip touched our lives. Peru is an incredible country and we felt like we were really able to plug into it by rolling up our sleeves and helping out. We saw things we would have never seen–even on the very best of tours–and we made real, lasting friendships with the people we met. We learned exactly how their lives were lived and we shared meals and laughter with them.
If you’re looking for that next travel adventure, I highly recommend a volunteer vacation. Most program fees include room and board and average out to be roughly the same as any exotic trip. And if you can’t afford a voluntourism trip in the near future, you can apply for a Change Ambassadors Grant. Real people win them every quarter.
My name: Alison Presley
Nickname: Presbo, because I'm good police.
How I earn my keep: I'm the manager of Travelocity's Travel for Good program. Visit Travel for Good to learn more about our green travel and voluntourism initiatives!
What kind of traveler am I: I'm an intrepid food explorer. I usually starve myself on the plane (not that that's too hard to do) so that the moment my toes touch foreign soil I'm ready to sample new and exciting cuisine. I like to dine everywhere from hole-in-the-wall local secrets to Michelin Guide gems. Cannelés, poi, boiled peanuts, oxtail soup, poutine--there's no stopping this adventurous palate.
Greatest travel lesson I've learned: It doesn't cost a lot of money to do good. Offsetting your carbon impact only adds a few bucks to your trip, green hotels are very affordable, and volunteering locally during your vacation is a great way to give back and learn about the culture.