What Type of Traveler Are You?

Why Your Kids Need to Travel: Reflections From Haiti

Since 2010, my company, Elevate Destinations, has been running “Urgent Service” trips to Haiti — helping communities rebuild infrastructure and staging a mobile “leadership camp” for youth. Last week I accompanied 10 other volunteers to the island of Ile a Vache, off the southern coast of Haiti.

2014-07-29-SimonRussellPhotography42.jpg

This time was our first foray to Ile a Vache, but we stumbled upon the community riches endemic to Haiti as a whole — a resilient and joyous spirit, 52 youth curious and eager to learn what we could teach, and days filled with laughter about matters great and small.

Our accommodations were rustic, but turquoise waters, silted with limestone, fronted our hotel. The island also boasted the ultimate luxury in soundscapes: There were no cars.

2014-07-29-SimonRussellPhotography52.jpg

For a week we ran classes in leadership, English, art and music. When, on the first day, we took a poll on what instruments our students liked, we quickly realized that in spite of selecting violin or piano — these kids had no musical instruments available to them at all. Their dream, however, was to create a music video. Could we help them?

In leadership class, we polled our students on their hopes and dreams. Everyone aspired to a profession — doctor, nurse, accountant, policeman — but hunger and lack of funds to pay school fees (between $50-$100 per child per year) were reported as challenges to completing an education.

The bags of art supplies we had brought were immediately devoured by the younger kids, who began a weeklong marathon of painting landscapes in luscious colors.

2014-07-29-IMG_2358.JPG

Encouraged by the spontaneous rendition of an original song by one youth, we decided that yes, we could create a music video for them in three days! A zealous team set to hiking the island with a video camera we had brought; one of our Haitian translators began to rehearse a troupe of girls who wanted to dance in the video; and an Oberlin volunteer began to assemble the musicians and search for items that could create a beat: a swash of palm leaf, a rusty can he filled with beans, two sharp rocks from the many bleached on the beach. These substituted for traditional instruments, and long recording hours began.

We provided lunch at the camp while we were there. For some of our students, this might have been their main meal of the day. They waited uncomplaining and patient no matter how long it took to prepare.

2014-07-29-SimonRussellPhotography78.jpg

Our week was an exercise in improvising resources we didn’t have, in partnership with people of a different culture and language, in a completely unfamiliar environment with a group of strangers who fast became family.

As the founder of company that customizes volunteer trips in emerging world destinations, I am frequently on the phone with parents desperate to give their kids perspective on their lives: “We need to get them out of their bubble…into the real world…off their phones.”

Many parents are right to be terrified about their kids’ level of oblivion. Scheduled to the max, and investing their down time in an electronic matrix, many kids are lacking a skill we used to take for granted — the ability to meet circumstances and challenges outside the lives that have been staged for them.

A new asset map has emerged: Kids in developing countries have freedom, live connection creativity and resilience because their lives are less structured by bloated systems. Kids at home have more goods and services but these threaten to stifle their independence and resourcefulness. My trip to Haiti this past week brought some of these issues to the fore.

Sitting beside me on my return flight was a 10-year-old boy returning from a vacation with his grandparents to Haiti. I asked him if he liked it there. He said: “I like it because I am freer. At home I can’t leave the house to get a soda without an adult. In Haiti I can go wherever I want all day long.”

From my vantage point, I hear parents who are tuning in to what’s missing in their kids lives. In an effort to be the best parents possible, they have plied on educational priorities, extra-curricular activities, state of the art technology and other packaged, “consumable” experiences. What their kids are missing is down time, and the opportunity to invent what they don’t readily have.

This is the new cry for help from clients. Parents remember a time when connecting didn’t mean just online and a time when they had less, but were a lot less exhausted. We are tired from having more. We need to return to our center and locate the self in our “selfies.” Parents know their kids need to change environments to locate what they have lost and they are traveling with them to do so.

But it is as hard for parents to let go of their habits as it is for kids. They want to let go of the leash but they themselves are wound so tight that they are apprehensive about any uncertainties in their proposed travel schedule. Perhaps they sense that they have lost the habit of problem solving on the spot? Of bringing inner resources to bear when wrestling with unfamiliar circumstances? Mapping one’s world out with such certainty every day — thanks in great part to technological advances — has resulted in our being rusty in the face of chaos, and yet parents — like miner’s canaries — know it’s time to dig wider and deeper.

This is why my inbox is full of requests for family trips. Pleas from mothers who want to take the brat out of their boys or connect with the daughters whom they have lost to Instagram. Each request is like a puzzle — a quest to find the right destination for each family that cannot name what it needs. That is why I like my work.

Our group helped our Haitian students to create an amazing music video. In the process, we spent a week filling our hearts with their laughter and their joy, and discovered we didn’t need much more than that.

2014-07-29-IMG_2446.JPG

Dominique Callimanopulos is the Founder of Elevate Destinations, a philanthropic travel company that gives back to people, communities and the environment. 

Elevate Destinations next trip to Haiti is July 10-20, 2015. For more information, click here or contact info@elevatedestinations.com.

Online on Vacation

My past week in Belize — traveling with a small tribe of colleagues in the travel industry — was a revelation in the ways electronics have wormed their way into the way we travel. Everyone’s electronic devices were within easy reach the entire trip. Even when we were caving or snorkeling, our iPhones came with us.

In the time-honored ethnographic tradition of participant-observation, here are a few descriptions and observations I would like to share:

Behavior: After a patter of conversation, rather than sit in silence or continue to converse, all it took was one iPhone to be whipped out for everyone else to quickly follow suit. Once everyone was engaged with their devices, a sacred respect settled in. No one once interrupted someone who was “looking down.” This also applied to the Mayan community we visited, politely waiting until we were no longer staring at our devices.

Comment: Electronic devices can be used to cover any awkward social moments. Engaging with your smartphone while in the company of others can “message” that a) you need some space to do your own thing, b) you are over stimulated by a live three-dimensional social workout and need to zone out (smartphones as pacifiers), or c) you have an “elsewhere” life that is demanding (and reifying) and can’t wait for your return. For some reason these “cues” are perceived as sovereign and non-negotiable. Few folks will interfere with you if you are checking email or otherwise “looking down.”

***
Behavior: Continual posting of one’s immediate experience to social media. All new experiences — floating through a majestic network of caves on an underground river, swimming with nurse sharks, cooking with Mayans in a village — were immediately fed into online channels, presumably scoring status for the poster, with their exotic content. The context destined for such posts — the social landing page, as ’twere — remained a mystery to the group, since we were not yet part of each other’s social networks.

Comment: How does incessant posting frame our experience of our experiences? What would we find in them were we not angling for a selfie? Are we cheating our friends of the more seasoned recounting we might have if we weren’t aborting our experiences into visual morsels? What is the effect on those around us of attending to remote contexts while in each other’s company?

***
Behavior: This one is on the hotel end. Instructions about WiFi access are conveyed with hurried urgency to guests, mirroring their anxiety about being able to plug in.

Comment: The hunger to establish connection with an online source is primary. Exploring a new environment comes later. This is like a toddler who needs secure access to mom (or mom substitute) and milk before exploring the playground. Hotels and lodges from Belize to Zimbabwe now acknowledge electronic access as a new and essential primary need of guests — to add to a list of accommodations and services that is not short.

As we wove through the lush back-country of Belize and our days settled into a rhythm of chats and laughter, adventure and fine meals, we became familiars — in a sense. The regular silent pauses of online check-ins began to fill with unspoken curiosity about the remote relationships being tended to — the love or conflicts being sorted out, the work some of us continued to do.

Our small devices intimated massive shared pools of connection and purpose that were hidden to our fellow travelers and those we met in-county. Like the mountains or reefs we traversed, we could only see what was above ground — the greater part remained hidden and immense beneath us, hinting at a larger, more redemptive, and perhaps more satisfying existence than the one we were currently living.

***
Conclusions

Most travelers (if not everyone) are now dividing their consciousness between a live, three-dimensional experience with others and a conversation with broader networks they access remotely through devices.

Vacations have long been marketed as a time to connect. But if everyone — from honeymooners to families — is now importing their “connections” in the form of being online while they travel, what is today’s experience of vacation about?

While inferring mystery and grandiosity, our devices in fact continually remove us from the experiences and people at hand — creating a complex of chasms that can be challenging to cross.

What are your experiences of unplugging (or not) while on vacation? Share your comments below!

***
Dominique Callimanopulos is the founder of Elevate Destinations, a company specializing in sustainable and socially responsible travel. She travels a lot — with her computer and iPhone — but is relieved when on rare occasions she finds herself off the grid.

What Kind of Village Does It Take?

In search of African authenticity, the author finds much to reflect on.

It is easy to be struck by paradox during a two-month trip through Africa, but the night I stayed in a small village near Liwonde Park in Malawi brought it all home.

Njobvu Cultural Lodge has been organized by local villagers to host travelers wanting a more authentic African village experience. You stay in a mud hut and sleep on a straw mat. You eat village food. You wash using a plastic cup with holes in the bottom that mimics a showerhead.

2013-11-26-HP2.jpg

When I arrived, small children in rags — well-worn secondhand clothing caked with dirt and dust — vied to slip their small hands in mine. They became my second skin for the afternoon as I was shown around the village. The ones whose hands had lost out trailed closely, like a swarm of small birds, crowing our presence with bursts of laughter.

It was hot and quiet as I peered inside a family dwelling — two rooms where two thin but tidy mattresses lay on the floor — one for the children and one for the parents. To the side of the parents’ room was a storage area for bags of mais, the Malawian staple eaten at every meal.

2013-11-26-HP1.jpg

We sat on steps shaded by a large mango tree, chatting amiably as the afternoon heat dissolved into a sunset. My lady hosts translated for me, introducing me to villagers who wandered into the compound, filling me with stories, while the children poked at still green mangoes with long sticks, willing them to fall and smearing their mouths and faces with them ravenously.

As darkness fell we made our way back towards my hut. Parents were returning from the fields where they had been farming. Smoke mingled with cooking smells. The children ran home to find food and I was served mais, pumpkin leaves, and chicken. It was delicious.

2013-11-26-HP3.jpg

The moon began to rise as we finished dinner, seated on straw mats near my room. Soon the children came back with older teenagers carrying musical instruments. This was a village without electricity. There were no computers or cell phones. Just people communicating the old fashioned way — face to face — the way that puts human beings first and reminds you that being a person and not a Twitter account is what matters most.

I felt like I was in an old Star Trek episode where the crew lands on a strange planet and discovers a parallel civilization. I had found the ultimate eco-village and possibly a kind of heaven.

Like a million others, I am a victim of the new malaise that has crept over everyone in my country who spends a strong percentage of their waking hours on a computer. I send and receive hundreds of emails every week but can count on my fingers the amount of live conversations I have in the same amount of time. Over-networked, yet starved for simpler forms of connection, I have learned to defend my isolation with even more frequent FB posts, because all the live people seem to have disappeared. Does it take an African village to find what we all are saying we want more of: human closeness and simpler and sustainable lives more in tune with natural cycles?

2013-11-26-HP4.jpg

Dancing was a special talent in Njobvu. Once the young musicians set up their drums and started strumming the guitar, the whole village came out to strut their stuff under a bright full moon. Again, there was a Star Trek moment of feeling that I had landed in with another species–where everyone was wired to dance with amazing ability–down to the youngest inhabitant. The joy was fiery and infectious.

Sadly, the dancing ended abruptly when the spring for the drum bust. It was being held together with a tangle of wire and rubber strips. I was amazed it played at all.

I nodded off to a lullaby of crickets, frogs, wind, and the occasional off-the-mark rooster. I felt contented in a way I had not felt in a long time, as we all fell asleep in the same darkness under the same stars, no other lights in view.

I was sad to leave the next morning, but I continue to mull over the fundamental existential and sociological questions my village experience left me with:

1. How can we connect with each other when we are so barricaded by electronics and material “stuff”?

2. Is poverty the only way to level the field so that people can enjoy each other’s humanity instead?

3. Why are we so focused on material accumulation when it clearly has little to do with joy and connection?

4. What are we wired for? How do we regain a capacity for the simple celebration of ourselves and others separate from the possessions that “indicate” our status?

When I was 19 — over 35 years ago — I spent the afternoon with a family in a Mali village. At the end of the afternoon, the grandmother of the clan, who lay on a bedframe on the floor of their mud home, sat up and beckoned me over. With a spidery hand, she pressed a coin into the palm of my hand, smiled and lay back down, satisfied by her generous gesture.

What kind of village does it take? One with heart.

Experience the Njobvu Cultural Lodge for yourself with Elevate’s Malawi Service and Safari.

The Freedom of a Solo Safari (If You Are Over 50)

When I was 20 I vowed that I would never again travel in Africa alone. Jostling overland in the back of a mini-bus, squeezed between two pungent Malian men, each of who vied for a side of me during a nighttime drive to my next destination (who could afford domestic flights and were there even any back then?), I decided that at best traveling alone was at best, highly irritating and at worst, downright dangerous.

2013-11-19-YoungDom.jpg

As an adventurous young anthropology major from a leading East Coast university, I deposited the small grant afforded by my department with enthusiasm and quickly made plans to head for Africa for my research. Having decided early on that I never wanted a job that required I wear pantyhose, women who wore khaki to work (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey) presented an appealing alternative. Africa represented the choice continent of mystery — vast enough to reveal and conceal significant secrets.

My journey began as soon as school let out. I planned to travel for six months through the summer and fall semester. My journey would take me to West Africa and to islands off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Early in my journey it became clear that while my academic orientation had endowed me with a vocabulary of kinship, taxonomies and participant observation with which to forge a focus, my most time consuming avocation became the fending off of unwanted approaches by every African man in my path. I was not beautiful. I was merely young. And white.

It took three months before I decided that the most strategic ploy was to adopt a “boyfriend.” This was the only way to send a preemptive rejection to anyone who might be thinking of a proposition or a marriage proposal (believe you me, in those days a proposal by an African counterpart on first meeting was not a scarcity). You get the picture. I graduated with a BA in Anthropology and a PhD in Management of Foreign Advances.

2013-11-19-cheetah.jpg

Fast forward 30+ years. I have just completed two months of safari travel in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. What I am about to say will be familiar to “women of a certain age” everywhere: yes — you guessed it. Not a single advance, proposal, lewd — or romantic — overture. In my 40s I remember older women saying: “Just you wait. You turn invisible at my age.”

2013-11-19-dom.jpg

When it comes to travel, your cloak of invisibility has advantages:

1. You can do what you want. Nobody cares. Really. You could wear a rhino horn all day, and no one would give a damn. Men are just interested in hot women (read young), and the women they are with only care about you if a) you are a threat or b) you are cool. No one over 50 is really cool, even though your daughter’s friends may kindly say they think you are.

2. You can say whatever you want. A natural follow up to #1, this is because lacking any vested interest in you, everyone has adopted a default interest of Being Polite to you, regardless of what comes out of your mouth. They don’t really care and will forget about you quickly after they leave camp or once you are seated besides the next polite stranger, whichever comes first. The advantage of this to you is that you can ask a lot of questions — be they heady or nosy — without people a) taking offense or b) taking you seriously. Enjoy this neutral airspace provided you for vaunting all your controversial opinions, and ask all those questions you were way too self-conscious to ask in your twenties.

3. Eavesdropping. Rather than having to converse with friends or family whose issues you have already long labored over at home, you can tune in to others’ conversations as you might a flowing symphony of songbirds. Listen to your French cohorts colonize the wildlife around you with pronouns; try to distinguish a South African from a Zimbabwe accent; drop in on stray arguments between marrieds, and be thankful their troubles are not your own.

4. You will meet the most interesting people at each camp. For let us face it, these are not the honeymooners, folks. These are the senior guides and other unaccompanied individuals like lone National Geographic photographers whom your camp hosts will intuitively sit you besides at communal meals. You have graduated from traveling in the protected bubble of a couple or family unit to being one of the oddballs or misfits, who like the old bachelor herds of buffalo you have observed around almost every camp, stick together. In a grouchy but interesting kind of way.

5. No one will get on your nerves. In addition to the pitfalls of traveling solo as a “young lovely” as my friend Jill likes to call women in their twenties, you may in the past have experienced the challenges of traveling as a Married Woman or a Mom. Neither ever provided you with what you most craved in those years — time and space away from your constant companion(s). Welcome to solo travel in your 50s, where you can experience this in spades.

6. The Fantasy Suite. About a third to midway through your trip, you may experience a yearning for the “Fantasy Suite.” This reference is taken from the obsessive ABC series “The Bachelor” which has grown an audience in the millions by replaying its winning formula twice a year. A dishy guide… a young host you mistake for a soulmate… at some point in your trip you will develop a minor crush on someone, and this is a chance to fantasize about them in the privacy of your suite. Please don’t risk exposing yourself by foolishly making any real life advances or you will become the subject of another Huffington Post.

2013-11-19-lion.jpg

Needless to say the above advantages all underscore one thing: Freedom. The freedom you have yearned for — from a spouse, a family, from a job, from social strictures — is now yours to experience. And what better place than on an African safari, where you are assured of a room with a fantastic view, amazing food and fine wine, and a staff whose livelihood depends on making you the center of their attention?

You’ve heard the call of the wild, now answer it.

How to Take Better Travel Photos – Tips From a Professional

By Lisa Limer, professional photographer and travel guide

As a professional travel photographer whose work often appears in nationally-acclaimed magazines such as Conde Nast TravelerThe New York Times, and Sophisticated Traveler, I have had the privilege to travel and work in over 48 countries. The circumstances are often stressful, and time is always limited. To ensure a successful shoot, I always follow these five steps:

1. Educate yourself about the location before leaving home.

The more I know about the place I am traveling to, the more clarity I have as to what, when, and where I need to be during my visit. The same will be true even for those guided on a tour. Learn what you can about the country, its culture, and landscape.

Find out about any particular events or festivals taking place during your travels. Are there important monuments and architecture that might interest you.? Communities you want to visit?

Then do an Internet search of images based on your research. It’s helpful to see the work of other photographers as a means of scouting the location beforehand.

You will quickly see what the stereotypical images are and what you may want to avoid, as well as some new ideas to consider.

2013-10-31-palermo.jpg

2. When you arrive at your destination, take a deep breath and give yourself time to experience it.

No need to pull your camera out of the bag the moment you arrive at the Taj Mahal!
Remember that photography reflects your experience and you need time to “see” your destination.

Think about what catches your attention and how best to capture it. Let the process evolve. The longer you are at a site, the more of a chance you will have to discover a personal response.

2013-10-31-mosque.jpg

3. Establish contact.

Particularly when photographing people, invest the time to communicate with the person you want to photograph. Sometimes it is just a gesture, but making someone comfortable with your presence makes a big difference with the success of your image.

If you are shooting digitally, you can play back the result. Or shoot a Polaroid. Making your subject comfortable and complicit not only makes your photograph better but also makes your trip more memorable.

2013-10-31-bellydancercopy.jpg

4. Be conscious of the quality of light.

Photography depends on light and the understanding that being in the right location at the right time of day enhances the quality of your photograph.

Not only the bewitching hours of early morning and late afternoon count… perhaps it is dusk, or in the fog, or the harsh sunlight that creates dramatic shadows. What is important is your awareness and sensitivity to light.

2013-10-31-tokyo.jpg

5. Enjoy the unexpected and be prepared for the unexpected.

Traveling requires that you give up on a certain degree of control. Good travel photography requires all of the above plus tenacity and a great amount of flexibility. Bad weather, transportation delays, etc. are inevitable. Perhaps it is raining and it ruins your plans for the day. How can you turn this into an advantage. Perhaps find an interior location that interests you. Did you bring a tripod?

Take the day to scout locations for the next day when the weather clears, and you will know what time is best for the light. What is important is making the most of whatever circumstances come your way.

2013-10-31-fog.jpg


As a contributing photographer for Conde Nast Traveler Magazine for over 15 years, Lisa Limer has a deep regard for the dual concerns of experiencing the highlights of a country and culture along with a passion for photography. She will be running a photography tour to India this spring.

Upcoming Events: Cycle + Service India

India Cycle & Service Event at Ferris Wheels!
Thursday, September 12th – 7:00-8:00 Eastern

If you’re in the Boston area come join us for a night of drinks and Indian style appetizers at the favorite local bike shop in Jamaica Plain.  We will be giving a short presentation and answering questions about our amazing Cycle & Service trip to India over Thanksgiving.

Directions here

Cycle and Service Webinar
Tuesday, September 17th – 12:00 – 1:00 Eastern

If you can’t make our event in Jamaica Plain, join this webinar to learn more about our Cycle & Service trip happening over Thanksgiving.

Register here

See the full cycle and service itinerary

 

 

Traveling on Thanksgiving – But Not to Grandma’s

It’s getting to be the end of August, and thus the end of summer. It’s that time of year when people are breaking out the boots, jeans, and flannel on “cool” 70 degree days in eager anticipation of fall weather. Nostalgic thoughts of Thanksgiving creep in, and plans start to be made for making the trip to relatives’ homes in November. Memories start flooding back of succulent turkey and stuffing cooking in a beautiful kitchen while your family gathers around the dining room table like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Wait a minute…did that happen to anyone last year? Or any year for that matter? What if this year we called in a reality check, before it’s too late and we’ve all committed to those outrageously expensive plane tickets for the most miserable travel day of the year? If your family celebrates Thanksgiving, odds are that at least three of the following five things applies to you:

  • You will quickly be reminded why you moved to the opposite coast for college. And never moved back.
  • You will spend eight hours cooking and two hours cleaning for a meal that takes approximately 45 minutes to consume.
  • You and your sister will start passive aggressively attacking each other within an hour of being reunited.
  • Your parents will ask when you are: getting married, having children, and/or finding a “real” job.
  • The holiday will mark the beginning of your “winter insulating layer,” which you will not entirely manage to lose until the end of the following summer.

I am proposing a Thanksgiving revolution! Traveling over Christmastime has long been a peak time for vacationers, why not Thanksgiving? It’s less expensive, less crowded, and you need the getaway just as much. This year instead of feeling guilty for how many slices of pecan pie we ate, let’s demonstrate our thankfulness by exercising our bodies, seeing the world, and giving back to others in need.

Elevate Destinations is offering a Cycle & Service trip to India over the holiday that combines all of these elements, but there are also plenty of other options that would allow you to do something similar on a smaller scale. Here’s a rundown of some ideas:

Cycle & Service to India: Spend two weeks cycling through the Indian countryside, including four days spent volunteering with local non-profits.

Habitat for Humanity: One of the classic options when looking to volunteer domestically. You can select a build site near home, or in another state to turn it into a getaway.

Service in Haiti: Volunteer with the Edem Foundation on Ile a Vache in Haiti. There are tons of projects available here and the directors are careful to tailor them to the volunteers’ strengths. Work with kids, help out in the office, assist with micro-finance projects with women’s groups, and more.

Weight Loss Spa: Do exactly the opposite of what everyone you know is doing and actively lose weight over Thanksgiving. These spas are effectively mini-versions of The Biggest Loser.

Closer to Home: One of the best sites for finding both short and long term volunteering commitments is Idealist.org. You’ll be able to find various Thanksgiving related projects in your area as fall rolls in.

Who Volunteers in Haiti?

I remember the first time I prepared to go to Haiti — I told an acquaintance about the trip and they responded with a sincerely puzzled, “why are you going there?”

I didn’t have a good answer other than that it felt right to take action around the events of the 2010 earthquake that killed over 220,000 people. I had the skills to mobilize people. I could secure needed funds and generate support for community organizations in-country. I also had the backing of a travel organization committed to developing an effective volunteer program.

2013-05-20-elevate_haiti3.jpg

I wondered if there would be interest. Who would be willing to give up the “idyllic beach vacation” or “adventure travel tour” and volunteer their time and energy to help others in one of the poorest countries in the world?

I was surprised and heartened to receive hundreds of requests from people all over the world wanting to give their time and money to help. They were willing to travel hundreds of miles to work hand in hand with people they did not know in a place they had never been.

Three and a half years later, we’re still taking people to Haiti. Our goals are different now and focus on long-term resilience and sustainability. Much of the urgency that followed the earthquake has waned, but there is still real need, which existed before the earthquake ever manifested. People still want to respond to this need, despite the fact that the limelight of recent disaster has refocused elsewhere.

2013-05-20-elevate_haiti2.jpg

We have heard about the typical profile of a volunteer as a holier-than-thou traveler who is interested in saving people, painting a school or two, and feeling good about themselves. Though financial privilege and responsibility definitely come into play, I believe the motivation behind most volunteers has nothing to do with dealing with issues of “white guilt.” Those people may reach out initially, but those that actually go through the process that will get them on the ground and taking action, are acting out of an entirely different motivation.

In addition to forgoing the concept of the perfect vacation and using their paid time off to work, they are committed to fundraising and developing lesson plans in advance of travel. When they get on the ground, they work eight to 10 hour days in the heat of the day on any number of exhausting tasks. This sort of commitment is fueled by the belief that if you have the ability to make a difference, you also have a responsibility to do so.

I talked to volunteer travel expert Andrew Mersmann, who runs the blog Change by Doing, about why he volunteers and why he encourages others to. “Because I can,” he says simply. “I feel like not doing so is a missed opportunity and perhaps a missed responsibility. I don’t have any judgment of anyone who doesn’t know this calling… but I do believe they just haven’t found the right volunteer opportunity yet that will fire them up.”

Tess Patenaude, 23, from Wisconsin, has been to Haiti four times in as many years. She will return this year as a trip leader on Elevate Destination’s summer volunteer trip. I asked her why she keeps going back. “[When I first arrived in Haiti], I couldn’t understand why I suddenly felt as if I belonged there. I felt as if I had returned home, despite the fact I had never been to the country.”

Tess has worked alongside paid Haitian workers and volunteers on construction projects, hauling buckets in the mornings and then teaching English classes and participating in cultural exchange courses in the afternoons.

Tess is not the only one that has played a continued role in international development. Many people I have taken down have remained committed and return to Haiti and other places around the globe. Clayton Colaw, 23, from California, is now working at a school in Cochabamba, Bolivia. “I went because I was tired of hearing all the pity [for Haiti] as the [primary] perspective through which the rest of the world views Haiti,” he says in a post to a closed Facebook group that keeps alumni of Elevate Haiti in touch with each other, with their Haitian non-profit partners, and in the know about Haitian news.

2013-05-20-elevate_haiti1.jpg

I have taken off-duty cops, Hollywood talent agents, students, yoga teachers, financial executives, and countless others to Haiti through the years. All races, genders, ages. People ranging from the age of 15 to 78 have participated. We’ve had people sell their plasma to be able to participate in helping others.

What do they all have in common? From my perspective — these people are “the helpers” that Fred Rogers says to look for. These are the folks that take Dr. King’s quote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” to heart. These are the folks that are taking action and making a difference, in any small way they can, in local and global communities alike.
Andrea Atkinson develops Elevate Destinations’ urgent service travel programs. Andrea is a sustainability professional specializing in community engagement at a local and global level.

Why Young People Should Use Travel Agents

Hello there, fellow young, adventurous travelers. I know you. You probably stumbled onto this post in the midst of reading hundreds of reviews and blog posts in anticipation of your next trip to Peru, or Thailand, or Mexico. You’re planning on booking and organizing the whole thing on your own because, well, it didn’t occur you that there may be another way. Yep, I’ve been there, and I’m here to lead you to the light.

As a 20-something, I am of a generation that has had the internet at their fingertips for every trip I have ever planned, and there have been many. From quick trips up to Maine to three-week long expeditions to Spain and Morocco, I’ve relied on reviews from Trip Advisor, hotels.com, and (who are we kidding, I am still a 20 something) hostelworld.com. If I hadn’t had the good fortune of pursuing a career in travel right to Elevate Destinations’ cyber door, I would probably still be blindly encouraging everyone else to do the same. I understand, I do. The vast majority of you probably don’t know what a travel agent is, or if you do, you either assume that they went extinct right around the time we graduated from car phones, or that they still exist but only in small pockets of octogenarians. Worst of all, you might think travel agents are for naïve sissies who don’t know how to flex their internet muscles – certainly not you.

Here’s the deal, travel agents receive better rates than the general public, sometimes astronomically so. They also have access to unique tiny lodges and hotels that you will never find on the major booking sites. They make money by charging you a fee somewhere in between their discounted rate and the general public rate, often this is wrapped up into one simple quote. This is a huge win for you! You end up with the same, if not better product, with the added value of having someone who knows a lot more about travel taking care of all of the logistics, giving you advice, and making all of the bookings. Perhaps most importantly, if something goes wrong while you’re traveling, you have someone you can call for help instead of being SOL in Timbuktu.

If you’re thinking you have to have a huge budget to use a travel agent, that’s also not true. Different companies have different specialties; there are agencies that only go to Ireland, some that only do cruises, some that only work with celebrities, or a select few like my company that specialize in luxury eco travel.

You’re young, you’re busy, you have more exciting things you could be doing. So stop reading this, Facebook, Reddit, and Trip Advisor, and go call or email an agent (some will even let you text them!). Tell him or her what you want, then go outside, enjoy the spring weather, and let someone else worry about how you’re going to get from Salta to Patagonia in 48 hours.

And remember my friends, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.