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What Is Voluntourism? 5 Reasons Why It’s WAY COOLER Than Just Sitting on a Beach All Day

Let’s start with the definition of ‘volunteering’. Volunteering is exactly what it sounds like, volunteering while participating in traditional tourism activities when you travel. While this sounds so simple, it’s really about so much more. It’s about cultural immersion, participation and exploration. It’s meeting people from all over the world and from all walks of life and participating in something truly unique with them that bonds you in a much deeper way than getting drunk in a hotel bar. While you might exchange a lot of “I love you’s” when you’re drunk, it’s superficial and probably won’t change your life in any real way.

When you volunteer, you fully immerse yourself in the culture by working and even living with the locals. You can hear their stories and learn their history. You can interact with other travelers from all over the world. You can choose a cause that interests you and then participate in it in a unique and amazing way. While you may have to do some hard work, it’s not sitting in a cubicle and watching the clock tick to work. It’s exciting and unique and challenging and it’s for the benefit of those who need it most. By adding tourist activities you can explore the country and just have fun, because you work hard and you deserve some fun!! It’s the absolute best way to get the most out of a country and vacation in a short amount of time.

So if you haven’t tried volunteering yet, here are 5 reasons why you don’t want to miss out!!

1. Cultural Immersion. The days of traveling to another country just to sit in a hotel resort drinking mai tais and baking in the sun all day every day are somewhat over. From terrorist attacks, to tsunamis, to earthquakes, to financial collapses, to social media, our world is getting smaller and smaller. Now we want to engage more, learn more and interact more. Spending a ton of money to fly to a foreign country and never leave your resort now seems frivolous. Through volunteering vacations you can still spend time at the beach and mai tai, but you get so much more. There is no better and faster way to immerse yourself in a culture than to work side by side with its people for a shared purpose.

2. Dispel stereotypes. It’s no surprise that people everywhere have stereotypes. Stereotypes of Americans are not always flattering. Prove people wrong. When you volunteer abroad, you spend a lot of quality time with local people. You can show them what it means to be an American. Be helpful, courteous, polite, respectful and willing to listen and learn. Slowly but surely you will influence people’s image not only of you but also of the culture you represent.

3. Knowledge is contagious. The more you learn on your travels, the more willing you’ll be to continue that learning process when you return home and educate others about what you’ve learned. My first volunteer experience abroad was in Thailand at an elephant sanctuary. At that time I didn’t know how harmful it was to go on elephant rides or see elephants painting a picture. My gut told me it wasn’t good, but I didn’t know how destructive a life these elephants lead to entertain tourists. My point is that I learned from the people who worked at this shrine and came home and shared that knowledge. In this way I influenced what other people participate in when they travel and this shared knowledge became invaluable.

4. It’s good for your health. Volunteering has been shown to help lower depression rates, increase your functional capacity, and reduce your chances of heart disease! We’ve all had bouts of depression where you feel like your life is a mess, nothing is going right and the future looks bleak. There is nothing better to get you out of your head than helping others, be it animals, people or the environment. You may think you have it bad, but I guarantee others have it much worse and could use your help. By helping them, you gain a little perspective that goes a long way.

5. It can change your life. It certainly changed mine.

So whatever your interests, if you want to get a little more out of life and your vacation, consider including some volunteer work in your travels. You will get much more than you give.

Happy & Humane Travels to you!

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