faith, interview, resources, writing

Three Things to Read


I can’t wait to share what adventures I’ve been up to lately! But my computer is in the repair shop, so until I get it back and can share the photos I took, here are a few things that can take up your reading time.

Packing for a Bus Trip?

Overnight Greyhound Bus
Good Ol’ Greyhound

This is my second time being published on Travel Fashion Girl. I wrote a packing list for long-distance bus travel. It seems like lately I’ve been writing a lot about long-distance bus travel. The last time I rode a bus was in August, going from Barcelona to Nice. (Well, I guess I rode Istanbul’s city bus in October, and while it seemed like it took forever to get across that city, I’m talking about true long-distance bus travel!) But between July 2014 and August 2015, I rode the bus a bunch! I took a bus trip to Niagara Falls, rode the Greyhound across America, and used Eurolines bus service instead of Eurail for my first month in Europe.

Meet an Italian Girl!

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This is me in Italy, but I’m not an Italian girl. 

I actually wrote three articles for the April/May issue of Pristeen Magazine. While it’s a fashion-based magazine, I got to write more about adventure-based things. My first article on page 10 is “Who in the World is Fanny Crosby” a historical figure I look up to. But the really exciting stuff starts on page 56. I wrote about my experience in Italy for the “Around the World” column. Then I interviewed Osayi, a 17-year-old from Rome. Although I haven’t personally met Osayi, it’s possible that we were in the same church service once! I got connected to her by e-mailing a pastor at an English-speaking church I attended in Rome. You can read all about Osayi, Rome, and all of Italy by reading Pristeen for free here!

Travel the World, Then Change the World!

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I took a day away from my Niagara Falls trip to serve at an inner-city ministry.

I don’t always write about travel. But I do believe that travel is one way to help better understand the world, and therefore know how to change it. Some of these principles are applied in each and every issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, which you can subscribe to for FREE! As Girlz 4 Christ’s editor, I love submissions from how people are impacting their communities. In the past issue, I got to write an interview with actress Cozi Zuehlsdorff, a documentary review and interview with an adopting family, suggestions for those times you have to stay put but want to take a “bookation”, and a collaboration of five previous cover girls to celebrate the magazine’s fifth birthday. I’m working on the next issue which will feature a famous Christian on the cover, and even include some adventurous articles inside!

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Suggestions for the Travel Industry, travel tips

Tales of a Tall Traveler

I’m six foot one. And I’m a traveler. These two things don’t typically work hand-in-hand.

Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture!
Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture! (And I was only sixteen here!)

Wouldn’t it be great if tall people could travel without running into any height-related problems. Wouldn’t it be great if travel-related companies could expand their reach by better catering to the tall population? If so, take note! Here are six things I can’t stand as a tall traveler, as well as ways I try to deal and simple ways the travel industry could help.

HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.
HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.

I Can’t Fit in Twin Bunks! Actually, the only beds that are truly long enough for me are XL twins and California kings. Since I have never owned either of these types of mattresses, I have gotten used to curling up in order to sleep. But there are definitely times when I toss and turn and just want to stretch out in bed. There are two things that REALLY help in this case. One, having plenty of space above me. It seems like when I’m on a bottom bunk, the top bunk is only two feet above my head. If I’m put in a top bunk, the ceiling is only two feet above my head. I really appreciate dorm rooms that take things like sitting up in bed into account by ensuring that the ceiling is high enough and using beds with ample headroom. The other thing that really helps is not having any sort of blockade at the end of the bed. If I need to stretch out my legs, I’m okay with my feet hanging off the edge. What I’m NOT okay with is if there is a wall on both sides of the bed. I slept in an RV for a month where the length of my bedroom was exactly one inch shorter than I was. Even though I still had a twin bed when moving into my next place, the freedom to hang my ankles over the end of the bed made all the difference. If hostels offered XL twin mattresses, I would be willing to pay a little extra for that luxury.

Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.
Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.

I Can’t Fit in Coach Seats! I’m not sure how I’ve made it through every flight I’ve ever been on. I guess that’s why I only fly when it’s the only reasonable option. I got a tip from another tall person before to request an aisle seat so that you can stretch out your legs in the center aisle of the plane. I do this whenever I’m going somewhere without a view (otherwise being cramped in a window seat might be worth it), but there is the drawback of people walking down the aisle who step on your feet and flight attendants ramming into your legs with the beverage cart. When boarding buses, I hope and pray that it will be empty enough that I can get two seats to myself, and therefore sit kind of sideways. I’ve never had a plane ticket where I was able to choose the economy plus seats with extra leg room (or even an emergency exit row), but if buses offered the option of paying extra for more leg room, I would definitely take that into account. Trains of course are a problem as well, but on one leg of an Amtrak ride, the woman sitting next to me got us switched from seats in the middle of the car to seats in the front of the car. Not having a seat in front of me did provide a little extra leg room, and there was even a bar sticking out of the ground so we could still put our feet up. However, the train probably bothers me the least since you can always go to the observation or dining cars.

Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet's leg room,  the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!
Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet’s leg room, the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!

I Can’t Wash My Hair! I can only think of one time in my travels that I thought the shower heads were at the perfect height so I would have no problem washing my hair. Oddly enough, that was in Peru, when I was at least a foot taller than most of the locals. Most of the time, the stream from the shower head doesn’t even get on my face. In the tub showers, I can usually back up and then bow my head so my hair will get wet. But this seems to be more of a luxury, as many showers in hostels and camps are boxed stalls where there’s hardly enough room to turn around, let alone squat low enough to get water on my head. This isn’t as big of an issue in my own home if my shower head is too low since I install one of those shower heads on a hose. That usually adds enough height, and if for some reason it doesn’t, I can take the shower head off the wall and adjust it to where it needs to be. I’m guessing accommodations wouldn’t want me to do even basic plumbing on their bathrooms though, but if lodging owners added these shower heads themselves, it would be a small one-time expense to pay for years of happiness from their tall customers. When designing or renovating accommodations, staff should also keep in mind that no one, regardless of height, wants to feel crammed in a bathroom. Allowing more room to move in the shower, by the sink (make sure the mirrors are set high enough!), and around the toilet (so legs don’t run into the wall or toilet paper holder) is a subtle yet effective way to make guests’ stays much more comfortable.

Me with my now-retired carry-on. I'm slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it's not because my backpack's heavy.
Me with my now-retired carry-on. I’m slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it’s not because my backpack’s heavy.

I Can’t Reach All Rolling Suitcase Handles! For years, I used the same little black carry-on rolling suitcase. I usually didn’t have to walk it more than around an airport, so I barely noticed that the extent of the handle was just a bit too short for my arm’s reach. When I started doing more backpack-style trips, this became more noticeable. Last year when I arrived in Niagara Falls, I had to walk just a little over a mile to get from the bus’ drop-off point to my hostel. About halfway there, my back felt so out of whack that I decided it was easier to carry it by hand for the rest of the way. I decided there was no way I was walking it across the border to Canada (I crammed everything I would need for those days in my backpack and begged the hostel owner to store my suitcase until I came back to America). I also decided I should probably buy a new carry-on before going on any more backpacker trips. Last fall, as I was researching suitcases online, I noticed that almost none of them had the specifications for how long the handle extended. I even asked that question on a few of the Amazon purchasing pages. None of the manufacturing companies even bothered to answer that question, and the community answers just said things that were of no help. Seriously, I got a response to the degree of “It’s pretty long. I’m 5’7″ and don’t have to hunch over or anything.” Without exact measurements, it was impossible to tell if someone six inches taller would still consider it “pretty long”. Having important stats like this could really help online luggage sales.

That's three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn't put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)
That’s three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn’t put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)

I Can’t Fit Into Traveler Clothing! This might be more of a “I can’t fit into ANY clothing” complaint, but at least with my day-to-day street clothing, there are enough stores and brands so I can shop around until I find the right fit. With fewer companies specializing in women’s travel clothes, I haven’t found any article that fits and flatters me just right. Many outdoor stores only carry up to women’s size 10 (US) in shoes and sandals, leaving me with the option to either risk ordering online or instead going with the clunky men’s shoes. I’ve had to go to plenty of water-based events where one-piece swimsuits were required. Since I have never found a one-piece that would fit me, this means I bulk up my bag with at least three different pieces of swimwear so that I would be modest enough. (My tummy shows even with tankinis.) Pants are too short, long enough shirts are too baggy… you get the picture. It can take hours of determined shopping to find even one piece that will sort-of work. I know there are high-fashion clothing lines designed for tall women, and all styles of clothing for tall men. I wish someone in the clothing industry would figure out that tall women like to travel, too.

The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people's heads)! The bad news: you'll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!
The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people’s heads)! The bad news: you’ll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!

I Can’t Avoid Hitting My Head on Things Suspended from the Ceiling! Yes, the dining room looks beautifully decorated with a glass chandelier. But it’s bad room feng shui to place it high enough to be out of my line of vision, but not so high that I won’t run into it with my forehead. And the antique doorway that hasn’t changed in 200 years? You must realize that the average person was much, much shorter back then. I don’t even know where to start when it comes to those tiny prop planes. Decorators and designers need to keep in mind that they are probably not the tallest people that will be in that area. For things that can’t be moved or removed, a warning, both in the planning guide and in person, would be appropriate. Someone yelling “Be careful! Watch out!” right before the incident (or worse yet, right after) is not responsible. I’m actually surprised I have never heard about a lawsuit over something like this. For now, I guess the best solution is to make sure I get plenty of calcium so that my cranium is strong enough to protect my brain from all these impacts.

The travel industry has found ways to better serve overweight people, short people, and handicapped people. Isn’t it about time that travel becomes inclusive to tall people, too?

Accommodations, destinations, road trip

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The Desert

Do dinosaurs still roam the Earth? Is there beauty in the desert? And what happened in the desert that would cause me to write my first angry review? You’ll find all that out in today’s post, but first, you may want to read what happened first on this road trip. 

After our night in Sacramento, my mom and I ate breakfast at the hostel and were back on the road by 7:45. There really isn’t much of anything on the I-5 between Sacramento and the Greater LA region. Besides rest stops, our only break was at a Ghiradelli outlet in Lathrop, where I enjoyed a free sample as well as an expensive-but-worth-it chocolate chip cookie. We arrived at my grandmother’s house in the afternoon and spent the night there. The next day, all three generations of us set off on a unique part of our journey.

Twentynine Palms Desert in California

I grew up hearing stories about my mom’s childhood memories of “the desert”. Despite hearing about these experiences, I never went to the desert myself, and never even thought to ask where exactly it was! But my mom thought it would be a great idea to take my grandma out to Twentynine Palms where they used to vacation in order to relive old memories, and introduce me to what they’ve been talking about my entire life!

Desert View from Holiday Inn Express in Twentynine Palms

Before we got to our hotel in Twentynine Palms, we made a couple detours along the way. The first one was at the store for Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon. It’s a pretty similar concept to Harry & David in that it’s a mail order gourmet company selling mostly local foods. But there was one thing that really made Hadley stand out, and I’m not even talking about the wide selection of free samples. They are known for their specialty date shakes. As I was ordering my shake, I realized that I didn’t even know where dates came from. (I then learned they came from palm trees. Who knew?)

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The next stop was also in Cabazon, just down the street. My mom excitedly asked me to take a picture of a giant sign that said “EAT”. So I did. She had told me about dinosaurs and was looking forward to seeing them again.

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I didn’t realize this until after the trip, but the t-rex looked pretty familiar to me. It has become pretty famous on Pinterest as an iconic roadside attraction. In fact, he’s pretty famous since he was in other media, too.

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But the first dinosaur here was the even larger apatosaurus. My mom remembered that for years it did not have its “skin” on and was just a metal skeleton! There was a picnic table in the shade under the apatosaurus’ belly that would have been nice for a picnic, and apparently there was a museum entrance in his tail that probably would have been interesting, but it was a full day of plans with places to go and things to see, so we said good-bye to the Cabazon Dinosaurs and journeyed on.

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There was a long stretch of road that was very windy, so at least they were making full use of it by setting up thousands of windmills. Is it just me that enjoys driving by a bunch of windmills?

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After driving through a few small desert towns and seeing a Joshua tree for the first time, we checked in at the hotel and then set out to find lunch. My mom chose a burger and ice cream shop that she was sometimes treated to as a kid.117

Oh, but the stories of her childhood did not end there! As we drove around town, she pointed out that the military base looked a whole lot bigger than it used to, and showed me the pumpkin carriage that used to be her favorite playground toy, and all kinds of little things like that!

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But the biggest walk down memory lane happened on Goodie Lane. The people in that area always referred to it as Goodie Lane long before it officially got a street name, because two brothers with the last name of Goodie each had houses across the street from each other. (My mom’s family referred to them as Goodie One and Goodie Two!) But this is also the street where my great-grandparents had their desert house, where my mom, grandma, grandpa, and three uncles would stay on their desert trips.I took pictures of that house, as well as both of the Goodie houses, but since we have no idea who owns them now, wouldn’t it be strange to post pictures of their houses online? It was weird enough that we we got out of the car to take pictures on this underpopulated dirt road!

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After plenty of sightseeing, we went back to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express of Twentynine Palms. Now, I know I’ve said on here before that I hate hotels, but this particular Holiday Inn Express was not a normal hotel. First of all, it had a wonderful, friendly staff. At check in, they told us that they would be popping popcorn in a few hours if we were interested in any! When I turned on my room’s television, none of the channels worked, so they sent up not one, but two staff to get it fixed! While they were working on it (which in this situation turned out to be a not-so-easy task), they kept a smile on their face as they recommended restaurants and places to go. But besides the staff, the hotel had little “extras” to make it especially memorable. In the evening, they had a guest reception where they provided so many snacks, we didn’t even have to go out for dinner! And at the continental breakfast, there was this cool contraption that I have dubbed “the pancake printer”!

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Our experience with the Holiday Inn Express staff and resources was wonderful, but unfortunately, the next place we visited did not have such great values. Yes, I am about to complain. I don’t like to do it, but I believe in this case that it is necessary, and even I am surprised that I have to complain about a National Park.

I haven’t mentioned this, but my grandmother has been handicapped for as long as I can remember, and since I last saw her four years ago, she has switched from crutches to a wheelchair. When my mom was planning the desert leg of this trip, she made sure that everything would be accessible for her. She got grandma a handicap-accessible hotel room, and the Holiday Inn Express not only did a great job in furnishing that room, but making sure all three of us were doing well. When researching Joshua Tree National Park, she found out that the Oasis Visitor Center had a fully-paved, handicap-accessible nature trail. We were excited to go. But when we got there, we found this:

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Now, construction can be annoying, but it’s understandable that everything needs improvement at some point or another. But it is NOT okay to blockade the one and only wheelchair ramp leading from the parking lot to the sidewalk! And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Despite the Joshua Tree National Park’s website touting that the path was accessible (and it didn’t note any changes relevant to that in their construction announcement), the temporary path entrance was made of sand. FYI, wheelchairs cannot be pushed through sand without getting very, very stuck! But the part that really got to me was how rudely we were treated by the park staff regarding this (especially since we were so polite in light of the situation at hand)! Joshua Tree National Park, your staff needs an improvement just as much as your Visitor Center trail does!

I sent the park a message via Facebook several days ago including even more details about our poor experience, and so far I have not received any sort of response. If you are interested in finding out if and when they respond to this, you can check out the message by clicking here. (If it leads to a broken link, then it means they must have deleted my comment instead of using decent PR to respond!)

My grandma insisted that she stay behind while the two of us took the trail, and while we were both still incredibly frustrated at the experience so far, we decided to go ahead and take a look at some of the scenery anyway.

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It had changed a lot since my mom was little, and is now just several yards off a road and contained lots of dead plants. But we did come across a lot of cottontails, which were fun to find.

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And being the desert, of course there was cacti. In the following picture, I asked my mom to pretend that she had just sat on the cactus!

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We then made our way out of the desert and back to grandma’s house, to rest up for more adventures that lay ahead!

I hope you enjoyed hearing my perspective on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert! But going to the desert was not the end of our road trip. I have a couple more posts planned for the next few stops. If you’d like to get a preview of what’s to come, I posted some pictures on my Instagram account!

saving money, travel tips

Should Travelers Have Pets?

It’s a valid question: should travelers have pets? As I mentioned in my post on cheap living for travelers, pets cost money that will inevitably eat at your travel fund. Here are a few other reasons why pets aren’t traveler-friendly:

  • Traveling with pets really limits your choice of accommodations, and you may even have to pay an additional pet fee.
  • If you don’t travel with them, pet-sitters and kennels can cost a lot. You may also be worried for your pet the entire time you’re gone.
  • Even if you find pet-friendly accommodations, you’ll be limited on all the other aspects of your trip. You’ll have to plan carefully trips to restaurants, attractions, and stores.
  • Pets require time that you could otherwise spend exploring your destination.
  • Because you’ll have to make tough decisions and sacrifices with your pet, you could become the kind of pet owner you (and most other people) hate. Like the one who leaves their pet in the car. Or the one who takes their animal into a building that only service dogs should be allowed in.
  • Even low-maintenance pets can prove to be lots of work while traveling. Keep reading to find out more.

As you can see, I find it to be far too much of a hassle to have pets. And yet a week ago I adopted these two:

fish

These guys, along with hundreds of other fish, were unpopular prizes at the harvest festival I had volunteered at. I didn’t want anything to happen to them if no one wanted them, so I did what I could and took two with me. What else could I have done?

Fortunately, goldfish are probably the least expensive pet. Of course I got these fish for free, but if I wanted to I could have picked them up at the pet store for a quarter. I already have a bowl and rocks from previous fish ownership, and of course the few gallons of water they use is a negligible cost. So the only expense for these guys right now was a little over a buck for fish food, which looks like it will last a long time.

Still, I’m concerned for these fish. My last few pet ownership experiences took a turn for the worse as soon as I decided to travel. My previous pets were two hermit crabs named Ferb and Shelldon. I owned these two fellows when I was living in Nebraska. They acted just like any other normal hermit crab would, and I took pretty good care of them, making sure that they always had a moist tank and a variety of food. I took two trips when I had them, but fortunately, I knew some girls who were eager to pet-sit. But then I wanted to move to Ohio, and somehow, they knew. I hadn’t even started packing yet. In fact, I hadn’t even received a job offer, but both of them died within a few weeks. I guess they really didn’t want to move to Ohio!

Ferb the Hermit Crab

Before that, my previous four pets were goldfish when I previously lived in Oregon, which I kept two at a time. The first pair died the day I left for a choir tour. I guess they just missed me too much! The second couple was a little better. One of them died a few weeks into ownership for an unknown reason. The other one was much better, and lived for a couple of years. When I moved to Nebraska, I couldn’t take him with me, so he became my family’s pet. He lived several months longer, but eventually gave up on living.

Now that I have learned more about animal care, I’m determined to keep these little fishies swimming for as long as possible. Just this morning, I saw the gray fish laying on his side at the bottom of the tank, barely moving. Many people would just flush him (or her?), but I figured this was something that could be remedied. I guessed that there was something wrong with his swim bladder, so after moving him to his own container, I went online and did a few quick searches. Indeed, he showed the symptoms of a swim bladder disorder, and I made some changes that would help him heal. Not much later, he bounced back after a quick recovery!

fish

They seem to be okay while I’m here, but what about when I travel? As I mentioned before, I’m currently taking a travel hiatus, so these two fish will spend that time growing bigger. They’re small feeder fish now, but they have the potential to grow up to several inches long! When I do inevitably start traveling again, they’ll hopefully be big enough that I can introduce them to the other goldfish in my parents’ pond. They’ll then spend the rest of their days socializing with other fish in a semi-natural environment.

But for now I am committed to raising them to be strong, healthy goldfish! The sad thing is, I haven’t even chosen names for them yet. So today, I’m making a call-out for friends, family, and even strangers to suggest names for these two critters.

What should I call the gray and orange goldfish?

culture, resources, travel tips, voluntourism

Should You Become a Voluntourist?

Most of my travels are not simply vacations. On the contrary, I like to use my travel experience as a way to give back to the communities I visit. It all started with a mission trip to Cieneguilla, Peru, back in 2007.

Volunteer in Posada de Amor Peru Orphanage
My friend Erika and I with our little Peruvian friend Melissa.

My high school youth group went to the Posada de Amor orphanage and their neighboring Eliel Christian School. We did construction and painting projects, taught English, and spent quality time with the children. I had such a great experience, I returned two years later.

Playing games with the Rayitos group at Posada.

In 2010, I heard about another church that owned a mission in Carmen Serdan, Mexico. They offered trips for people to help out with the handicapped orphans they care for. I went along, and although we didn’t see even one touristy thing, I had a great time!

The orphans at the Mexico mission were all ages, such as 41-year-old Lupe.

Even though I haven’t gone on another “mission trip” since then, I have incorporated volunteering into elements of my travels. Ever since I was old enough to help, I’ve loved volunteering at camps offered by the Girl Scouts and churches, like this time at Camp Tadmor near Lebanon, Oregon.

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Some of the nine girls in the yurt I was in charge of.

When I went to Nashville in 2012, I realized that was the headquarters of a nonprofit magazine that I write for. Before going, I e-mailed the editor asking if we could meet. She responded, saying I was coming during important planning days for the magazine, and I was invited to help with this. I was glad to help out!

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In the building where we worked on Devozine.

This past summer in Niagara Falls, I learned about a ministry called the Magdalene Project, which helps homeless people, prostitutes, and low-income families. I called up the director and asked how I could help. After asking me about my skills and passions, she offered to let me help chaperone a trip with their kids’ club.

Niagara Falls 2014 507
Daisy and I touring Fort Niagara.

After all this volunteering in my travels (the buzzword for this is “voluntourism”), you’d think I would encourage everyone to go out and try to volunteer on all their travels, right? Well, sort of. I’ve learned a lot since my first trip to Peru, and I’m now more selective about how I voluntour.

Before I volunteer afar, I volunteer near home. I taught a local youth group a game where they got to slap peanut butter bread on me!
Before I volunteer afar, I volunteer near home. I taught a local youth group a game where they got to slap peanut butter bread on me!

I think the most important rule is this: if you wouldn’t volunteer at home, you shouldn’t volunteer while you travel. Hapless volunteering is a terrible way to try to make your trip meaningful. If you want to volunteer while you travel, find a local charity to work with before your trip. This will help you gain experience and make sure you’re cut out for the job. Don’t want to help near your home? I hate to break this to you, but this indicates that you shouldn’t volunteer afar either. If you want to help your destination’s community, you can still make a difference by purchasing from family-owned shops, staying at local accommodations, or sending donations to worthy causes. You must be dedicated to give your time.

Comparing heights with little Angela and her tutora. This is one of the local women who are hired to care for the orphans, thus forming a long-lasting and mutually effective relationship.
Comparing heights with little Angela and her tutora. This is one of the local women who are hired to care for the orphans, thus forming a long-lasting and mutually effective relationship.

I’ve also learned that just because an opportunity exists doesn’t mean I should go for it. In fact, this can potentially hurt their community! For example, our Peru trip leader told us that two of our tasks were to play with kids and do construction. The problem was, I never picked up a power tool before! I should have at least learned the basics before going. Better yet, the money spent on my plane ticket could pay local experienced construction workers to do the work. Then, instead of just helping the orphanage and school, we could help local impoverished workers as well!

Now, while I’m no construction expert, I do know how to play with kids. But was that beneficial? The kids did have fun playing with us, but I know it hurt everyone emotionally when we left. Volunteering long-term, or at least keeping in touch through letters and frequent visits, would be a less harmful way to form relationships.

Looking back, I think the one thing we did that was of real value was teach English. This is a sought-after skill in business, thus breaking the cycle of poverty. Since we were the only native English speakers in that area, we were best suited in this department.

The kids in this program were told I was just helping for one day to prevent attachment. I was able to utilize my childcare and health skills in the pool and at the park. (The kids also got the treat of sharing my waterproof camera in the pool!)
The kids in this program were told I was helping for just one day. I was able to utilize my childcare and health skills in the pool and at the park. (The kids also loved sharing my waterproof camera in the pool!)

Contrast this to my recent voluntourism experiences. Before I went to Niagara Falls, I talked with the ministry director and offered to help in any way needed. (I also worded it so she wouldn’t feel obligated to place me if it was a hassle to get me involved.) She did what all charity leaders should do: asked questions! She wanted to know about my past volunteer experience, profession, church involvement, and even my hobbies! With that information, she could find the role where I would be most effective, which happened to be chaperoning a field trip.

Same thing goes with my experience in Nashville. If I hadn’t spent several years writing for Devozine, I would have been more of a burden than a blessing. In addition, I didn’t waste money by making special volunteer trips. I’d already planned extended travel in these places, so I was able to maximize my buying power by staying in locally-owned small hostels, buying from local businesses, and spending time learning about the actual culture and needs of the area.

Are you still interested in voluntouring? If you’ve read this far, I assume you are. The above wasn’t meant to scare people from voluntouring (because it CAN be a meaningful and helpful endeavor), but rather to just get people thinking about how they voluntour. I could continue to provide information on other things to think about, such as your ability and availability, safety limitations, legal requirements, and how to find worthy organizations to voluntour with, but all this information could fill a book! Instead, I’ll refer you to someone who already wrote a book! I learned a lot from Kirsty Henderson, a worldwide traveler who has volunteered in several countries. She wrote The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. The eight chapters are filled with essential information, such as why you should (or should not!) pay a fee to volunteer, different types of volunteering, and a guide with a country-by-country breakdown of organizations you can help and what they provide their volunteers. I used this to discover a few opportunities that I’m looking forward to being a part of!

I would like to thank Kirsty Henderson for providing me with a digital copy of The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. And no, she didn’t pay me to say nice things about it- I just really like her book!