Avoiding guilt trips

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

We’re becoming a nation of airborne adventurers. As flights get cheaper, holidaymakers are bypassing Blackpool in favour of more exotic locations like Bali and Borneo. We return invigorated, inspired and refreshed but there’s a catch: as tourists we can actually have an adverse impact on the countries we visit. So what’s the modern traveller with a conscience to do? Lonely Planet’s new book, Volunteer: A Traveller’s guide to making a difference around the world, has some suggestions

Are you looking for a more meaningful travel experience? Do you want to give back to the communities you visit, make a genuine connection with locals, meet like-minded travellers and build your skills? International volunteering opens up all these opportunities, and Lonely Planet’s new book Volunteer: A Traveller’s guide to making a difference around the world has all the advice you need to get you there. Much more than just a resource directory, Volunteer is packed with invaluable information and full-colour inspiration to get you planning your perfect short – or long-term volunteer experience anywhere in the world – whether it’s monitoring sea turtles in Greece , helping set up handicraft businesses in Ghana or building community centres in Guatemala!

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‘Time is money’. How often have you heard that said? Perhaps it came to mind as you spent yet another late night in the office trying to meet a deadline; or perhaps you work in a profession where your time is billed in blocks of 15 minutes. Maybe you’ve just retired, having worked hard for years in return for an annual salary. Unless you’re a professional parent, the chances are you’re used to being paid for the work that you do. And, whatever your circumstances, you probably consider your time a precious commodity.
So, why give your time for free? Or, as is the case with the majority of international volunteering opportunities, why pay for the privilege of working for nothing?

‘Think globally, act locally’ was a phrase coined in 1972 by Rene Dubos, an adviser to the UN Conference on the Human Environment. Although the phrase initially referred to looking after our environment, it touched a global nerve and came to mean acting locally in any worthwhile capacity. Then, 12 years later, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure formed Band Aid and challenged the world not only to ‘think’ globally but ‘act’ globally as well, and raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Whatever you think of this campaign (and subsequent ones such as Make Poverty History), the actions of Geldof and Ure ignited high-level debate about world inequality. The ongoing efforts of many ensure that such imbalances are kept in the global media spotlight.

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Buying white wristbands and donating money from the comfort of your lounge room to send abroad is one thing. Actually giving up your time and going to a poorer part of the world to contribute your knowledge, skills or labour is quite another. But this is exactly what an increasing number of people around the globe are choosing to do with their holidays, during gap years, on career breaks or upon retirement.

However, the more popular international volunteering becomes, the more difficult it is to pinpoint where to go, what to do and which organisation you want to volunteer with. For starters, the sheer number of volunteering opportunities today can be overwhelming. Then there’s the problem that not all volunteering is good volunteering. There are plenty of volunteer organisations that are not meeting or responding to local needs, not working in proper partnership with host communities and certainly not working towards sustainable solutions. And, let’s face it, no-one wants to become that volunteer who has just built a bridge where no bridge was needed.

Volunteering abroad should be the best thing you’ve ever done, but the onus is on you to act responsibly, do the research and find a volunteer programme that works both for you and for the host community. This book aims to equip you with all the tools to do just that.

You may well ask yourself, ‘What makes it all worthwhile?’ The answer lies in that ‘feel-good’ factor. Alex Tarrant describes his most rewarding experiences in running a volunteering organisation:
‘it’s definitely two things: dealing with people who have chosen to volunteer their time; and working with small overseas projects and charities. Seeing the contribution that volunteers make, and the enjoyment and personal development they gain in the process, is fantastic. It’s also wonderful to see how we have helped small projects and charities to grow and become stronger and, as a result, have enabled them to provide greater help to the communities they work in.’

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Reproduced with permission from Volunteer: A Traveller’s guide to making a difference around the world 2nd Edition 2010 Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com)

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