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Adventures Less Ordinary: Getting an Accurate Snapshot of Travel Generosity

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 15 December 2014

Adventures Less Ordinary book coverThis post is part of my Editor’s Note in Adventures Less Ordinary: How to Travel and Do Good, a free guide to mindful adventures. Drawing on the combined expertise of two dozen leading voices advocating for travel that makes a difference, it is a guide for compassionate people seeking the ultimate adventure – one guided as much by the good you give as the good you get. To order your copy, enter your email address in the form directly below.

When photographing an object in motion, you have three principal options: use an incredibly fast shutter speed for a crisp capture of both the moving object and the background, but not a sense of the motion; pan as the object passes to freeze just the object against an artistic blur of background; or, for background clarity and an object blur, simply snap the object without panning.

No matter what you do, though, something is missing: a sense of speed, or pixel-perfect detail of either the object or the background.

That was the challenge I accepted when I agreed to commission and edit contributions for Adventures Less Ordinary: How to Travel and Do Good: the necessary omission of something essential. Should our snapshots of the ways in which travel generosity can be harnessed provide a clear sense of what’s happening today against the broader state of travel and tourism, but without addressing any sense of the need for growth and change? Or should it focus on one element (the ways for altruistic travelers to give back, for example) at the expense of another (the tourism context inspiring such responsible behavior) and preserve the sense of progress and development?

Two volunteers paint at the Kivubuka Primary School in Jinja, Uganda

Two volunteers, one local and one visiting, paint at the Kivubuka Primary School in Jinja, Uganda. Photo courtesy of Rachael Imam and Soft Power Education

Travel-Inspired Community Service

For decades, high-minded, compassionate and generous travelers have understood the virtues of sharing time and money with worthy projects around the world. Students have offered their vigor and energy. Skilled professionals have donated their services. People of all stripes have made good with their time and money to improve the lot of others less fortunate.

Today more than ever before, there’s a sweeping sense of travel-inspired community service, with a broad embrace of the whole globe as our community. It has prompted growing numbers of free-spirited, adventure-minded explorers to step out of familiar routines and then interact with the world around them in ways that make a positive and lasting impact on the people and communities they visit and of which they are a part.

But while there’s nothing new about the desire to give as much as (or more than) one gets, many of the means by which such charitable assistance can be delivered are quite novel. And these days the knowledge of how best to leverage both big-heartedness and the jargony lexicon used to describe it is constantly in flux. More than just a work in progress, the whole complex of thoughts and actions associated with voluntourism, volunteerism, volunteering, service learning, charity challenges, travel fundraisers etc. is constantly shifting its basic shape and its substance.

Volunteers work with locals on a local water project in Uganda

The Inspired Escapes water safari engages in a local clean water project, shadowing local residents as they build clean water wells in their community. Photo courtesy of Inspired Escapes

This is all the more true as volunteering and fundraising topics are no longer as standalone as they once were. The activities with which they are associated are being integrated into the broad and growing pool of commercial but no less authentic travel experiences so appealing to new generations of travelers.

Acknowledging Complexity

So how could all of this be tackled in one guide, knowingly surrendering to an incomplete picture while hoping to provide as broad and as deep a base of understanding as possible? How could this unwieldy topic be introduced without overwhelming the casual traveler or being too jejune? How could this be accomplished without painting with too broad a brush and misrepresenting the work being done – undermining the good or erroneously overvaluing the bad? How could it be part of a collaborative effort to #MendNotEnd voluntourism?

The trick, I think, has been to acknowledge the complexity of the topic and tackle it from as many perspectives – and with the input of as many voices – as possible.

That is most evident in Part 1 of the guide, called “Good Actions: What’s Being Done,” which is, in keeping with the photographic analogy used above, the snapshot employing a fast shutter speed, freeze-framing topics and their contexts. A chorus of authoritative voices weighs in on a selection of typical activities through which service-oriented and philanthropic travelers have been doing good – working with children or wildlife, shoring up infrastructure and contributing to community development. By tapping these deep reserves of knowledge and experience, this guide provides readers with a critical lay of the land.

Fundacion En Via, Oaxaca Mexico - Conversations

Visitors on an En Vía tour get a chance to have meaningful conversations and make connections with the local people in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Kim Groves

In an effort to reintegrate a sense of percolating change, one that encourages readers to focus on future developments and how best to leverage them, the second section of the guide, called “Good Intentions: What to Think About,” encourages review of what to think about before, during and after taking an action.

Three Core Considerations

In both sections, a point was made of assembling information that covers three core considerations:

* the state of the service-oriented travel industry – contributors were asked to hold nothing back when describing what’s going on, how things work and how successful they have proven to be;

* a sense of the pitfalls of which travelers should be aware – as nothing’s perfect (yet), contributors were asked to explain how to approach service-focused travel planning with a smart and critical eye, teasing out the areas of concern and finding ways to deal with them that help improve the space;

* the kinds of questions to ask when seeking to meet the needs of local communities and the emotional and philanthropic desires of donors – moving toward improvement means giving people the means to root out trouble and then steer well clear of it.

The result is, I believe, a potent resource for compassionate people seeking the ultimate adventure. I thank each and every contributor for sharing in the time and effort needed to develop it, guided as much by the good people give as the good they get.

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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children, health, opinion, personal experience, poverty, responsible travel news, voluntourism, whl.travel, women,

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