The other day my assistant and I were talking and she started to tell me all about her experience doing volunteer travel in Peru. Peru has always been a top place to visit on my list, but it hadn’t occurred to me to go the volunteer travel route. She continued to tell me how she had grown up doing volunteer travel throughout a good portion of her childhood. She would go to Mexico to build houses, and even just travel out of her own city to help people in nearby towns. I can honestly say that within the first five minutes of our discussion, I was hooked on the idea of taking my family on a volunteer trip. Here’s why …
1. Your Family Can Meet the Community - When you do volunteer travel, you actually work alongside the community. My assistant, Colleen, taught English at an orphanage, but you can even seek out ways to just help on day-to-day projects. Check out lists of Volunteer Family Programs to see what many non-profit organizations have put together for families. This bridges the gap from just visiting a spot and seeing the sights, to now forging relationships with people that live there.
2. You’ll Get off the Beaten Path - This brings me to my next point … oftentimes when you are meeting people that actually live in the town, you can get an inside scoop on where to go and what to see. Colleen got the opportunity to head out of Cusco to a small town called Urubamba to stay in one of the family’s homes. She got to experience a local farmers market and enjoy a home-cooked meal with the neighbors. When traveling with the family, you can take this opportunity to ask about unique activities for everyone — find out about parks and shows that might not be on the standard itinerary.
3. Volunteer Travel Makes the Sights that Much More Special - After being able to connect with the community, Colleen said she had a greater appreciation for seeing Machu Picchu. This wonder of the world became that much more majestic once she had talked to people from Peru about the Andean culture and the history of this landmark. You might find that when you and your family talk to the locals about these famous places, they will have stories and myths that have been passed down through the ages. These aren’t always tales you’ll hear on a tour. Colleen said she saw such pride in their faces when they told her about Peruvian culture. That same pride could be felt once she witnessed this beautiful place herself. This perspective will make your kids appreciate the sights so much more by giving them deeper meaning.
4. You’ll Build Long-Lasting Relationships - Coming home with memories of seeing new places is wonderful all by itself, but volunteer travel can take that to the next level. By working with people from the community, you and your family can create friendships that last throughout time. When you are helping each other, you are bonding on a more personal level; people don’t normally forget the kindness of strangers. As a kid, Colleen and her sisters would become pen pals with some of the families they had met. Interacting with other kids outside of their own sphere can give your kids a different perspective
5. Show the Kids There’s a Bigger World Out There - One of the reasons I especially love volunteer travel is that it’s a way for me to show my daughter how other people live outside of what we’re used to. I want her to see and meet people from different places, and learn that no matter where you’re from, you can all work together. Volunteer travel breaks down the barriers that can sometimes be built when traveling to a new place. It’s great to travel, but to come back with stories of actually meeting and bonding with the people that live there can be even better. In the world that we live in now, with everyone connected, it only makes sense that we connect when we are traveling too, not just behind a computer screen.
Jaime Morrison Curtis is author of the bestselling book Prudent Advice: Lessons for My Baby Daughter (A Life List for Every Woman), follow up fill-in journal My Prudent Advice, and founding co-editor at Pretty Prudent, the premier design and lifestyle blog providing inspiration and instruction to help anyone create beautiful things, food, and experiences for their friends and family. Follow Jaime on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.