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Get Local With Voluntourism

I’ve talked extensively over the last three months about Voluntourism and the amazing benefits of traveling the world to do more than relax on a beach. When done right, being a Voluntourist is a triple-threat in the travel industry. A real WIN-WIN-WIN. How?

Keeping these 3 principals as top priorities, any traveler can easily become a Voluntourist:

  1. Support the local population however you can wherever you travel.

  2. Be a positive impact on the environments you explore.

  3. Always learn about the history and cultures of the places you visit.

A horse-drawn carriage passes Rynek Główny (Main Market) Plaza in Old Town Krakow (March 2022)

Lately, for this Fat Mama, that has been Poland, and more specifically, the city of Krakow.

I supported the local population by actively participating in the tourist economy by choosing a hotel in Old Town Krakow, eating at local restaurants, and shopping at outdoor markets. The local environment was abuzz with humanitarian activity, providing relief for Ukrainian refugees, which I eagerly supported through volunteer work. And through talking with locals, working with aid groups, and learning about the history and culture of Poland (and their close relationship with Ukraine) I better understood the crisis I was there to aid.

An outdoor market I frequented just outside the Old Town Krakow walls (March 2022)

But these 3 principals can be applied to ANY trip, adventure, excursion, or vacation to add greater meaning and depth to your travels. This is just one way you can make a trip into an experience!

Take A Hike

E-Man, Jackalope, and Itsy Bitsy on a hike in Yosemite National Park (Sep. 2021)

Over the summer, many of us will head out into the great outdoors to explore State and National Parks. This is a great opportunity to practice being a Voluntourist. How? Let’s break down the 3 principles.

E-Man and Itsy Bitsy following NPS rules about bears (Sep. 2021)

1. Who is the local population in this case? Why, it’s Park Rangers, Interpreters, plants, and animals, of course! There is no better way to support them all than being a good participant in the park; consider:

  • Making a donation (even a dollar goes a long way).

  • Participating in a ranger program.

  • Share photos and stories about your experiences.

2. In this case, being a positive impact on the environment you explore is easy!

  • Stay on marked paths and roads.

  • Pick up trash and garbage, even if it isn’t yours (always pack your trash).

  • Follow the rules set by the park for your safety and that of the plants and animals.

3. State and National Parks are a great place to learn about the history and culture of an area, as this is part of their reason for existing.

  • As you travel around the park, seek out interpretive sites or materials and interact with the displays.

  • These will be placards, educational boards, viewing stations, maps, ranger programs … anything designed to teach you about the geography, plant and wildlife, or history of the park.

  • Often State and National Parks will run programs for kids. You can find out about these at Ranger Stations, on their websites, or in the daily/weekly newspapers parks publish.

Congratulations! Ducky friends you just learned how to become a Voluntourist right in your own community. After all, you don’t have to go all the way to a State or National Park to be a Voluntourist. Try applying this same approach to an historical point of interest, nature trail, or community park in your own neighborhood.

Voluntourism can ADAPT to Any Situation

I recently received an email from my good friend Julie Coffin introducing me to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the work they are doing to support Ukrainian refugees. In the email LIRS discusses their ADAPT model: Act, Donate, Advocate, Pray, and Teach of service, which I really liked and will appropriate now.

Being adaptive is an important part of any travel plan. After all, things never go quite as you expect because it is impossible to plan for every contingency.

When I first arrived in Poland, I had to ADAPT to the changing situation so that I could be of service (March 2022)

What is the saying? “Woman plans, God laughs, and man follows along dutifully.” That sounds right. But being adaptive is particularly important when doing Voluntourism because you must put the needs of those you are helping before your own thoughts and notions about volunteering (and what that “should” look like).