In the story "Healing Holidays", writer Jennifer Wilson reported on Americans who are using their vacation time to do volunteer work around the globe. Here is some advice from veterans of volunteer vacations on how to find the right trip for you-and how to get off on the right foot.
Volunteering in developing countries, or even on projects stateside, might seem a bit daunting. Even the founders of volunteer organizations admit to having some serious anxiety before their first trip. Here they offer some helpful tips for beginners:
• Find two or three organizations that you like, then compare and contrast what they do. Which trip appeals to you most? What projects mean the most to you?
• Call and ask questions. Lots of questions. These organizations are eager to respond to your concerns and thoughts. Make sure your questions are answered to your own comfort level—if you don’t feel confident with an organization, don’t travel with them.
• Choose the organization that makes you feel the most confident and excited about your trip.
• Visit your doctor. When you make the appointment, tell the office ahead of time where you’ll be going, so she can discuss any health risks and preventive measures (such as shots) with you.
• Read, read, read. Most of our fears are those of the unknown. Get a good idea of the history of where you’ll be going, as well as the culture and environment.
• If there are physical demands on the trip, begin an exercise regimen accordingly. Most volunteer vacations aren’t very rigorous, and most don’t require special skills. But at the very least, you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking.
• Travel with an open heart and mind. Be prepared to listen. Most outfitters send volunteers in groups—you’re not going to be alone. You’re in this together, and will likely make new lifetime friends from it.