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Travel While You’re Young and Help Make a Better World

  • Sarah Fielding
  • 24 October 2013

A great many people believe that everyone should experience travel at some point in their lives. Of course, travel (even extended trips) can and probably should be enjoyed at any age, but I believe there are many excellent reasons to travel while you’re young and help make a better world.

Sylvia Mohabir, a WWOOFing voluntourist, dabbles in some gardening at the Odula family

Learning Experiences

When you’re young, the chances are very good that you don’t yet feel the burden of responsibilities that can weigh you down as you head into your late 20s and early 30s. When you’re young, you probably have no children, you can take a break or sabbatical from your education or career, and you don’t have a mortgage or huge debts. You can indulge your wishes to travel as far and for as long as possible.

But travel shouldn’t just be about escape, about putting off cares and concerns. It can also be a critical step in learning how to accept them, how to integrate them into your lifestyle and learn from them. When all the right elements converge, travel can even be the lens through which life plans become clear.

For instance, recent university graduates may not know what to do or where to go next. Time taken on the road can be essential in developing the vital life skills that help you make these tough decisions. Travel can teach you how independent you really can be, relying on no one and nothing but your own initiative and the kind of resilience needed for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Tutors with English students in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Tutors Susan and Eliza with English students Celyflor, Eulalia, Zoila and Crispina in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Susan Bean Aycock

Broader Horizons

It goes without saying that immersing yourself in new cultures and absorbing new experiences truly broadens your horizons, whether through the discovery of different religions and cultural sites or just observing and absorbing how people live in different countries.

Travel helps you to expand as a person by laying the foundations for a story that you take pleasure in telling and in which other people will be interested. You may find that you become an inspiration to anyone who didn’t have the courage to take the travelling plunge.

Take the example of Sylvia Mohabir, a young professional who spent time volunteering in Kenya on Lake Victoria’s Rusinga Island, where the Odula family runs a small organic farm and orphanage. Or Cynthia Ord, who applied to spend time at Sustainable Bolivia through their artist residency program. Or Rachel Eagan, who helped build safe, sustainable housing for underprivileged families in Nicaragua.

Hula Hooping with Performing Life members, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Cynthia Ord hula hoops with Performing Life members in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Photo courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society/Cynthia Ord.

Although inspired to travel for different reasons, each made an active decision to engage with the world in a direct and meaningful fashion by taking on responsibilities in a foreign culture. And they were all as touched by their experiences as the impacts they made on the host communities that welcomed them.

Get Practical

As the examples above show, one of the best ways to tackle the world head on is by finding ways to lend a hand. Volunteer vacations, aka ‘voluntourism‘, are some of the best ways to do so, especially for young people long on passion but short on work history.

Whether you’re looking for short-term volunteer opportunities or ways to prolong your travel through work exchange or thinking of full-on volunteer holidays, there are many (oh so many) ways to get involved.

Another excellent way to enjoy an authentic welcome is by taking part in microfinance tours. These are tours that turn travel cash into microcredits by reaching deep into local communities and helping people who often don’t even have access to classic microloans from traditional banks by sharing the proceeds of the tours with them.

building local schools

The building blocks of education - short-term voluntouring is often focused on building local schools. Photo courtesy of Acacia Africa

Always keep in mind that no matter where you want to go, whether your budget allows you to focus on cheap holidays or pursue the best that luxury has to offer, there are plenty of ways to follow the kinds of best practices that are as beneficial to travellers as they are to hosts.

If Possible, Don’t Delay

At any time of your life, in any country or city you visit, through every experience you have and from every person you meet, you will never stop identifying clues about the shape of your future. But when you’re young and relatively free from family attachments and physical baggage, invest time in travel.

Not just any travel, though. Open yourself to the kind of travel that does right by both you and the world. You will learn more than you could imagine about how life works, you’ll improve your street smarts and many of the experiences you have will benefit your life back home. You won’t regret it, especially since one day you just may find that time is no longer on your side.

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ecotours, how to, opinion, voluntourism, whl.travel,

One Response to “Travel While You’re Young and Help Make a Better World”

  1. Cynthia Ord says:

    Thanks for the mention, Sarah. I posted about traveling in your 20s recently, and you echo a lot of the same thoughts: http://cynthiaord.com/wp/blog/2013/07/26/ten-other-trips-to-take-in-your-20s/

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