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Ideas that Spark

Take a Working Vacation

Sitting on the beach with a good book is relaxing, but for a meaningful, memorable and affordable fa...

Pam and Darin Bowers had their hearts set on using their vacation time to take their healthcare skills—Pam is a nurse, Darin an ophthalmologist—to people truly in need of them. And they wanted their children to be part of the experience. Bringing eye care to the remote country of Honduras, meanwhile, was not their three daughters’ idea of a fun summer getaway. For six days, the Lynchburg, Va., family treated patients in Roatan, an impoverished island off the Honduran coast. “It was extremely hot and 180 people came through on that first day,” says Pam. “But every day, after we left the clinic, we’d do something fun. Every evening, there were these beautiful sunsets. The water was clear and we’d often go snorkelling.” In the end, though, the trip far exceeded all of their expectations because it meant so much more than a good time.

According to a survey conducted by the Canadian companies Planeterra, Gap Adventures and The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), approximately 60% of more than 1000 respondents in more than 70 countries said that during a one-week vacation, they would be interested in devoting 40-80% of their time to volunteer activities.

Travel agents, resorts and volunteer organizations are promoting so-called volun-tourism, making it the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. Interested? Here are just a few of the many volun-tourism options out there:

Take a Hike and Talk to the Animals Volunteer projects suitable for kids are often tacked on to more traditional vacations, according to John Stacy, owner of the online travel agency It’s Your Trip Travel & Tours. One of his company’s most popular vacations combines National Park tours with two days of caring for animals. Travellers visit Zion and the Grand Canyon and then veer off to Kanab, Utah, home of Angel Canyon and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where thousands of rescued cats, dogs, horses and other pets live and where visitors can provide some all-important attention.

Resort to Something Different In today’s economy, resorts are eager for your business just like every other business. Many have teamed up with local charities and organizations to guide guests to volunteer opportunities nearby. In return for reaching out, some resorts give back with coupons for lunch or a spa visit. The Marriott in Wailea Beach, Hawaii, recently worked with Habitat for Humanity to offer discounted rooms and meals in exchange for hours on Habitat’s building sites in Maui.

Cultural Immersion Mainstream sites like Travelocity have partnered with GlobalAware, Earthwatch Institute and other programs to meet traveller demand for trips that make a difference, even trips as short as a week. For families, Cross Cultural Solutions offers 20 programs in 12 countries—including Thailand, Morocco and Brazil—suitable for kids as young as eight.

The Bowers family has gone to Roatan every year since that first trip in 2004, and the girls are completely on board, planning their calendars around it. Because of the experience, Katelyn would like to go to medical school. “We went to Honduras with the idea that we have a lot to give back,” says Pam. “But we learned so much. By our standards they have nothing and yet they are such contented people. We come home feeling as though our lives have been so enriched.”



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