My friends, Jane and Travis, just got married. Initially, they were planning on a cruise in the Caribbean for their honeymoon. They’ve never been on one and Jane thought it would be the best of both worlds: legitimately fun and kitschily ironic. Travis was on board (so to speak) but he had reservations. He is a community activist in our city and he kept worrying that a cruise was just too wasteful, predictable, and commercial. I agreed with Travis but since it wasn’t my honeymoon I stayed out of it. Then I remembered: they’d never been on a cruise before! I, on the other hand, have been on several. Each one was a family vacation, paid for by my grandparents, and each one seemed more quintessentially American than the last. The ships were like giant malls complete with expensive cocktail bars, clothing shops, and fake plants. Sure, the accommodations were comfortable but it all felt so generic, so spring break, if you know what I mean. My experiences have left me rather jaded about the whole cruise thing and I didn’t want my friends to be disappointed. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to say something.
Luckily for me, I didn’t have to. After doing some research online, both Jane and Travis decided a cruise was way too boring and bland for the most important vacation of their lives. They decided they wanted to do something more meaningful, something that would make them feel strong and healthy, that would start their marriage off on the right foot. They decided to volunteer. They are both passionate about conservation and about social justice and they wanted a program that addressed both. They chose a program through World Endeavors, a volunteer organization I’ve profiled before. Their program was in Brazil working on a wildlife conservation project. The project helps to protect Brazil’s biodiversity, important for the planet and for the local economy. The local people depend on the forest and the wildlife for their livelihoods and the wildlife is incredible—Brazil is home to some of the most interesting and understudied creatures in the world.
Jane and Travis spent two weeks living with a family, learning Portuguese, working with animals, and exploring the city. They came back tanned, full of incredible stories, and smiling like crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two happier, more beautiful people. (It’s neither here nor there but Jane and Travis are already dead ringers for Lauren Bacall and Cary Grant and the glow of the trip launched them into the stratosphere looks-wise, another added bonus of volunteering). I think the trip showed them both the importance of spending time wisely—of filling vacations with rich challenges instead of mindless alcohol-fueled beach combing. They’ve already planned their next trip to South America, this time to work in a school teaching children English.
If you’d like to learn more about the wild and free world of adventure travel and volunteering, check out World Travel Buzz. It’s a youthful, edgy online magazine with lots of great articles for the vibrant volunteer.