Growing up, I had always wanted to see the world. How I would do that, I didn’t know… back then. I just remember that while my friends liked to play “house” or “doctor’s office,” I was the lone ranger who wanted to play “airplane.” I had a blast making my younger brother, sister and cousins pretend to board a plane (aka “the staircase”) with their carry-on bags and other things. And while they’d never get to choose the destinations on their own, they sure had a pretty decent customer experience with me as their pretend pilot-flight attendant. (Back then, I may have actually pioneered the male flight attendant-who-was-also-a-pilot, clearly, line of work. Ha.)
Through this game, I remember “flying” them to places like Copenhagen, Budapest and Morocco… all places they had never even heard of in their young age. To be honest, I’m not quite sure I knew where I learned of those places myself. (I lie. I was totally the nerdy one who asked my parents to buy me geography books as a kid.) But going to London, Paris or Rome just wasn’t “enough” for me back then. Granted, years later, I have found traveling the world to be completely intoxicating –and yes, London and Paris have since become a part of that devotion. I just can’t get enough. And working for a travel company has definitely helped. Having traveled abroad for business, I gained the personal experience I needed to travel to places on my own –and sometimes truly all by myself. Experiencing the daily life of others in their respective countries is amazing. Especially once you realize that at the end of the day, the hopes and dreams of people abroad are pretty much the same exact ones you have at home.
But the history & culture outside the U.S. is much deeper. It is so deep in fact that you can trace the annals of antiquity to some of the world’s most famous places. From the ancient ruins of Rome and Greece, to the fabled fairy tales of Eastern Europe… there is much to know and learn while traveling outside of the country. I can go on and on about my personal views on traveling, and perhaps I’ll get to share more through other posts. But this time around, I want to highlight philanthropic travel.
Travel has so many faces these days. You have your classic honeymoon and family travel, alongside adventure travel. And growing in popularity are culinary and wellness travel itineraries. It was only a matter of time that philanthropic travel came to realization. On a recent trip to Manila to visit family, I encountered several fellow American travelers on my flight who were headed to The Philippines on a “voluntourism” trip to provide aid to the middle of the country that was ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda, as the storm was referred to locally). And I heard of these trips before: medical missions, volunteering camps –opportunities to travel to second-response disaster areas to help with the clean-up or rebuilding, and essentially learning about the people and the place as they worked.
There is also what is referred to as “donor travel.” This happens a lot with philanthropists who travel to a place to maybe visit a school that they donated money to build, for example. While it can be seen by some as a less ideal means of philanthropic travel, many times those who take part find the experience truly moving. It can serve as an opportunity for the donor to truly connect to the people and place that they have financially helped.
And then there is “private philanthropic travel.” This is not always done with a big group, but often times small-scale ones. Couples, close friends, and even whole families often take part in this kind of exchange. Whether it is traveling to a remote village hospital in Africa to help with daily cleaning and general logistics, or visiting a coast line in Thailand to help locals with a hands-on clean-up effort. There is a true opportunity to build and foster values through this kind of travel, which hopes to instill a sense of caring to extend through generations and/or word of mouth.
It is an industry that is still in evolution. In some cases it can be costly, while in other cases it can be an economical way to immerse in another culture. At any rate, it is a sure way to see the world… albeit from a different, more personal lens.
There are several companies out there that cater to travelers who are interested in philanthropic and responsible travel. To learn more, visit Absolute Travel – and check out their Philanthropic Experiences. Or Elevate Destinations, who specializes in sustainable tourism.