Voluntourism: Take a Trip, Make a Difference

The famous playwright Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”

Those who travel know this well. The places we visit — whether it’s a state park near home or a safari in an exotic locale — have the power to change us in many ways, both simple and profound. We learn about ourselves and others, about being able to deal with uncertainty, about gratitude, about being in the moment and appreciating the world and extraordinary people around us.

What if your next trip could not only change you, but change the world for the better? Have you considered taking a service-centered vacation?

As our world rapidly shrinks due to connectivity and easy access to information, we are becoming more aware of life outside of our small, comparatively privileged bubbles. More and more people are asking how they can make a difference.

Also known as “voluntourism”, service-based trips offer the opportunity to spend your vacation time, skills, and dollars with those who need them most. They’re also great opportunities for kids (and adults!) to learn empathy and gain a perspective on today’s most pressing issues like global poverty, the environmental impact of climate change, the well-being of children, and conservation of animals and the natural world.

Here are a few tips to get you started and help you make the most of any volunteer vacation.

Go with heart, but plan with your head. Like any kind of travel, voluntourism is vulnerable to scams and fraud. I can provide you with names of reputable and responsible companies. Make sure you know what to pack, which vaccinations are required, which fees might apply, and what challenges (if any) might be present in the area or the work you’re about to engage in.

Look for opportunities that encourage relationship. It can be easy and somewhat tempting to pop in someplace, make an appearance, and then leave. Your feel-good emotions are triggered, and you don’t have to commit much of yourself to a place or a project. But that shortchanges both you and the recipients of your good intentions.

The website www.govoluntourism.org puts it like this: “A balanced engagement alternating between voluntary service and tourism activities allows for a reciprocal relationship with communities. The economic impact of tourism is blended with the social impact of volunteering: recipients become servers and servers become recipients.”

Know yourself. If you’ve never been exposed to extreme poverty or the pressing plight of some of the globe’s endangered species, be aware that trips like these can be extremely emotionally demanding. Talk to people, research, ask questions, and be prepared for what you might see and experience.

Especially where kids are involved, always opt for good training and a true time commitment. There are many people who have a deep heart for the suffering of children worldwide, and they want to do something to lift spirits and support good work. Again, look for reputable companies that understand the complex issues associated with working with children and other vulnerable populations. For example, breezing into town and spending an afternoon at an orphanage and then leaving the next day can be very distressing for kids who are already dealing with the pain of leaving and loss. A good volunteer organization will tell you exactly what is required of you to have the greatest positive impact on others’ lives — and you can decide if it’s a commitment you want to make.

Take time to rest and process. When your engagement is over, take at least few days before leaving to get to know the community you’re visiting better (many organizations will build this into your trip), to rest, and to write or talk about your experience with others. Many people are surprised by how life-changing these trips can be — in the best possible ways! — and it can take a while to integrate that new perspective into your everyday life.

Stay in touch. Even if you never visit that particular location again, it’s a good idea and can bring your experience full-circle if you stay connected to the organization you volunteered with. Sign up for newsletter updates; share photos you took; write a note or email a few times a year.

Looking for some more ideas? Check out books like this one, or check out this list to see more trusted organizations. The world is a big place — but you can make a big difference!

As always, I’m thrilled to be in a business that helps connect people with the best places and the best parts of themselves. If you’re ready to plan your next adventure, you can reach me simply by clicking here.

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One in Five Americans Will Be Scammed When Booking Summer Travel

Don’t be that one!  Summer travel should be all about rest, relaxation and fun.  Unfortunately, cyber-criminals are targeting travelers in a variety of ways including on sites designed to steal personal data and hard-earned money.

A just-released study by McAfee found that one in five Americans have been scammed or nearly scammed when booking summer travel.

Additional concerning findings revealed in the study, which involved surveying 1,000 Americans, included:

— 30 percent of travel-related scam victims reported they lost between $1,000 and $3,000 as a result of the fraudulent activity.

— Nearly one-third (31 percent) of vacation scam victims were defrauded after spotting a deal that was too good to be true.

— Nearly one-third of consumers (31 percent) are leaving the door open to fraud because they do not check the authenticity of a website before booking a trip online

— Despite 36 percent of people expressing concerns about having their personal data stolen while on vacation, almost half (42 percent) said they either do not check the security of their internet connection or they willingly connect to an unsecured network while traveling.

The report from McAfee also identifies what it calls the riskiest destinations, places most vulnerable to booking scams.

The findings show that popular summer destinations in Mexico, Europe – and, surprisingly, Canmore, Canada – generate the riskiest search results when people are hunting for vacation deals online.

Here are the top summer destinations hackers are targeting via potentially malicious sites:

1. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

2. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

3. Amsterdam, Netherlands

4. Venice, Italy

5. Canmore, Canada

Taking advantage of the high search volumes for accommodation and deals in these popular destinations, cyber-criminals drive unsuspecting users to potentially malicious websites that can be used to install malware and steal personal information or passwords, according to McAfee.

Meanwhile, a small group of victims (13 percent) shared that their identity was stolen after sharing their passport details with cyber-criminals during the booking process.

The majority of survey respondents (80 percent) said they worry about having their identity stolen during the research and booking process or while traveling abroad for summer vacations.

But despite these worries, less than 25 percent of people feel that they have the right security in place to prevent their identity from being stolen.

“The last thing that consumers should have to deal with during or after a vacation is an identity scam or personal privacy issue,” Gary Davis, McAfee’s Chief Consumer Security Evangelist, said in a statement “While cybersecurity threats, unfortunately, exist during most stages of the booking and travel experience, consumers can take proactive steps to protect themselves and minimize the risk to ensure scams and other nefarious activities don’t spoil summer travel plans.”

So how does one keep their data safe? Here’s what McAfee suggests.

Only access verified websites

Only click on websites that your security software has identified as being safe. For example, McAfee WebAdvisor will identify safe websites with a green checkmark and will block malware and phishing sites if you accidentally click on a malicious link from your search results.

Use trusted platforms and verified payment methods when finalizing your bookings. Fraudsters may try to lure you away from a trusted platform with the promise of discounted rates. Remember to keep all your communications and bookings to trusted platforms and verify the site before entering payment information. This will help protect you from phishing and other cyber fraud.

Utilize an identity theft solution

With all this personal data floating around online, it’s important that you protect your identity. Use an identity theft solution to help protect personally identifiable information from identity theft and fraud.

Always connect with caution

If you have to conduct transactions on a public Wi-Fi connection, use a virtual private network (VPN) to help keep your connection secure.

Enjoy your summer travels and stay cyber-safe!