By Jennifer Bain
Whether it's building houses in Jordan or meeting the feathered residents of Antarctica's Penguin Island, these dream journeys are guaranteed to make a difference in your life, and the lives of those you help along the way.
Sustainable travel. Ecotourism. Fund-raising expeditions. Educational tours. Voluntourism.
The lexicon of travel is expanding as quickly as the world is shrinking. For many, it is no longer enough to return home with a Turkish carpet or tales of an exquisite atoll. Travelers still want to explore Chile or the Loire in style, but they also want a deeper experience, and one that doesn't leave a footprint, carbon or otherwise. In the post-9/11 world, travelers want to make transformations of their own.
A range of organizations are answering that need, including luxury outfitters like Butterfield & Robinson, environmental watchdogs such as the Sierra Club, and new groups like Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), which places volunteers in 12 countries. As with other vacation packages, there is staff to take care of the detailsâ€”arranging airport transfers, setting up accommodations (a converted riad, a Maori lodge, a stateroom on an Amazon sloop), and coordinating work assignments.
Whatever these trips might cost, all of them give backâ€”to the travelers themselves as well as to the communities they visit. Debby and Tom Glassanos of Pleasanton, California, spent three weeks in Morocco with CCS where Tom, a Silicon Valley executive, worked with local women to increase their computer skills. Now, long after the couple's return to the United States, he continues to share his expertise with his old students in a stream of e-mail exchanges. And interior designer Joe Naham and his partner, Jeffrey Fields, carried away from their trip to Costa Rica a lasting impression of the camaraderie that can develop between "voluntour" travelers of disparate backgrounds. Their group, including a financier, a CNN anchor, and a coffeehouse owner, discovered shared interests along with the new bond of their shared experience abroad.
Volunteers also describe the rewards of contributing beyond writing a check, although the dollars these programs provide to communities and causes are significant and often crucial. The itineraries that follow have the potential to make a difference in both your world, and the world.
Teach basic English and computer classes to children living in the remote mountain village of San Pedro de Casta, north of Lima. Those with carpentry skills can help with community housing repairs and build simple Lorena stoves. When the workday ends, hike or horseback ride to the majestic stone sculptures on the Markawasi Plateau.
Trip Tip: Take an Andean cooking lesson while you're there. Pachamanca, a traditional dish of meat wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a hot stone oven, is a must-try.
Luxury Level: Volunteers stay at the central village lodge with basic amenities. Those who tend to get the shivers should bring an extra blanket or two.
Key Voluntourism: Globe Aware; 877/588-4562; globeaware.org; one-week tours from $1,090 per person.