A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Volunteering as We Travel

Anne's Thoughts on Voluntourism

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
(Aesop, "The Lion and the Mouse")


I think of volunteering on our world trip not as a chance for us to change the world – it is more like giving the world the chance to change us.

Why Volunteer?

I came upon this compulsion to volunteer quite naturally. It may be genetic. My parents are Peace Corps Volunteers (I don't say "were" because even though their actual volunteer time was over before I was born - I've always considered it an integral part of their characters). My three sisters and I were raised in a home brimming with guests from different cultures, exchange students, and expectations of community service. Their stories of volunteering in Malasia (Mom) and Thailand (Dad) were filled with anecdotes of how much they had to learn - rather than accolades of what the locals learned from them. I have taken that to heart.

Volunteering provides a unique opportunity to get involved in something bigger than ourselves – to forge relationships and open portals to understanding. I do believe that we have something to contribute, but I expect that the line between teaching and learning will be blurry at best. I am most looking forward to the people we will meet and the experiences we will share. I have SEEN things that have changed my perspective - but it is in the DOING, that risky leap of faith, the willingness to LEARN – that changes lives. I want that for myself and for my family. We can stretch ourselves to be more than tourists. For me, volunteering as we travel is more important than merely “seeing the world”.


Can you be a volunteer and a tourist at the same time?

Yes, of course! However, all you have to do is Google "volunteer thailand" to come face to face to face with the overwhelming number of options out there. I've found that narrowing them down requires time, patience, and clear personal "want/don't want" criteria.

While researching volunteering possibilities, I've found the term "voluntourism" or "VolunTourism" used predominantly by tour operators marketing a "unique experience" and a chance to "give back" to the communities involved in their specific trip. The package deals seem to cater to mostly "gap year" backpackers and retired folks - but some accommodate families - and look really cool. It is certainly tempting to have someone else in charge of arrangements - but I would say that paying to have the volunteer experience quickly went on the "don't want" list. There is no shortage of free or almost free volunteering opportunities the world over - they just require a bit more creativity and planning to arrange.

Our Version of Voluntourism

Well, we ARE on a budget, have limited time, and are travelling as a family - so we pretty much need to piece together our own opportunities. If we can do it - anyone can! Here is the WHERE, WHEN, WHAT, and WHY of the volunteer experiences we have lined up so far . . .

  • PERU July - October 2012

Cusco - We have made a personal connection and enrolled in 6 weeks of classes at an immersion Spanish School (AMAUTA) and their affiliate Travel Agency (DOS MANOS) in Cusco, Peru. We love that they have arranged for us to stay with a Peruvian family, the rates are super reasonable, and that Alex and Leah will have a teacher all to themselves. They also have contacts with local volunteer projects including a school. After 6 weeks of class we will be free to decide how to spend our time and where to stay - we'll be leaving ourselves open to opportunities. I'd especially love to put my ESL Certification to good use. Our hope is that spending four months in Cusco will give us time to participate in the community, learn some of the language, and appreciate the culture more richly.

  • CAMBODIA March/April? 2013

Ponhea Kraek - Our sponsored child, Neng, lives in this rural Cambodian village. We have been exchanging letters for the past 2 years and are excited to meet each other in person. We are asking Plan to make arrangements for us to spend time volunteering at the local school and hanging out with Neng and her family.

  • THAILAND May 2013

Chiang Mai -
Elephant Nature Park Oh, yeah, the kids are super excited about this one!
To volunteer here as a family we submitted an application, were accepted, and signed up months ago for our two weeks in the middle of May. This experience will be not only about the elephants. We will be living in a hut with no running water, getting up early, helping prepare communal meals, and putting in full days of labor - How could we not learn and grow from that? There is a fee associated with volunteering but the money goes directly to supporting the rescue and advocacy efforts of Elephant Nature Park - so I'm OK with that.
More articles about the Elephant Nature Park:
The Nation (Thailand)

  • CHINA June 2013

We are still working on setting up specific arrangements for volunteering in China - but we have a couple of great contacts there who have offered to help us with placements at:

a Panda Sanctuary outside Chengdu, and

an Orphanage near Beijing

Staying Connected

It is inspiring to read about the adventures of other travelling families. The Earlywines are my favorite. Here is a link to their blog about volunteering in Peru. Vagabond Family is also proving to be a great tool for connecting with families engaged in long term travel. Special thanks to BootsnAll for their Indie Travel Challenge and "giving back" blog posts that inspired this one.

I hope that we will all catch the volunteering bug during our trip - and don't recover from it when we return to our life in Seattle.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to your comments.

Posted by annevl 15:33 Tagged peru thailand china spanish family volunteer teaching esl language_school Comments (6)

"Must Have" Travel Gear

Anne's Favorite Things


As we prep for our trip - my ears have been to the ground for news of gear and products that could make our travel lifestyle easier.
Behold some of my old tricks and new discoveries!

Staying Fresh

I always travel with body powder (I get sample size bottles of Gold Bond) as a quick fix for moisture issues. It really helps with stinky shoes and sweaty backs AND can even get stubborn sand off your feet. I had not, however, heard of a powder shampoo. Turns out there is such a thing and it actually works! Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo is perfect for transforming that day 3 without a real shower greasy hair into a more fresh smelling and presentable look. Love it!
Wet Ones Wipes and Pocket Pack Kleenex hang out in my purse whether I'm travelling or not but I have found them especially wonderful to have in scary bathrooms and napkin free eating situations - definitely "must haves".

Water Bottles

- Our house favorite is from contigo. You don't have to unscrew the top or squeeze the bottle, it doesn't leak, is PBA free, and the top is a built in clip.

Sun Protection

Protecting our fair skin is really important and not something to skimp on while travelling. We will bring and acquire the bigger containers of sunscreen lotion - but I've also found a good portable towelette for those times when we forget to bring lotion or need to reapply. We tested the SunX 30+ Towelettes this summer and I'm thinking they will come in handy for faces, necks etc. when we are exposed to the sun but not hanging out on the beach.

An Australian friend recommended these sun hats (Outdoor Research Oasis Sombrero), and although I feel a bit odd wearing them here - supposedly they are a standard wardrobe item down under. She insists that they are less expensive to buy in the US than "back home" and she was stocking up! Who knew?

Washing Up

Travelling light means there will be times when we'll be washing our clothes in the sink. Success in this endeavor comes down to 3 things in addition to quick drying clothes. . .

  • stopper for the sink - Any "universal plug" will do - but I've heard that they can be hard to find overseas.
  • soap/detergent The "Tide" Travel Sink Packets work pretty well and don't need to conform to the liquids requirements for carry-on luggage.
  • a drying system - We got the Rick Steves' Travel Clothesline which is basically a braided stretchy line that requires no clothespins.



Living in Seattle means we are all about comfort and layers - a good fit for travel, I'd say. Conveniently, we have both REI and ExOfficio stores nearby - so I can troll the sales. It is hard to believe that one (carry-on friendly) set of clothes will work perfectly for a Cusco Winter, Great Barrier Reef Summer, and a Mongolian July - but here is what I have collected so far . . .


ExOfficio Storm Logic Coat Love Love Love this coat! It is light (20 oz) but warm, has great pockets, and even folds into a built in stuff sack to become a travel pillow!
Ibex Women's Shak Vest - a soft-shell, stretchy, and less bulky option to the fleece vest. I've been wearing mine for both work and fun for over a year with virtually no wear and tear.


ExOfficio - absolutely the best.
Long Underwear - Lands End Silk



  • Women's BugsAway® Baja™ Long-Sleeve Shirt - I bought this on clearance and was then tickled to see primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas in Borneo wearing the same shirt while hanging with orphaned orangutans in the "Born To Be Wild" movie - took that as a good sign.
  • Tank Top with built-in "real" bra - These are great for those of us who need more than the elastic "shelf" provided by most tank tops and want the connivence of an all inclusive lowest layer. I have the Perfect-Fit® Cami but am still on the hunt for a more perfect fit . . .

Also bringing a couple of light cotton T's - just because . . .



Royal Robbins Discovery Skirt (23in) -- Has a flattering fit, just below the knee, quick dry, lots of pockets, modest but still light - seems like a good choice.
ExOfficio Women's Nomad Roll-Up Pant - Had the best fit for me of all the convertible travel pants I've tried.
Women's Go-To™ Palazzo Capri - So comfortable and versatile I wear them to work AND use them as PJs. I think they will be perfect for jumping on scooters and nice enough to wear out to dinner.

BIG QUESTION -- Jeans or No Jeans? Please weigh in on this important decision!


A buff!

Yes, like "Survivor". I know, it seems a bit gimmicky - but Leah and I both got one for Christmas and have become converts. Here is Leah modeling her's:
Pashmina Shawl / Wrap / Stole - I've had enough veteran travelers tell me that this will be an indispensable accessory (blanket, scarf, pillow, etc.) that I went ahead and bought one. I'll keep you posted on its usefulness during our trip.


I've been testing out a number of different brands and styles and found 2 that top the list (Both Men's and Women's) for durability, comfort, and breathability :
My favorite darker, cool weather sock: smartwool (wool blend)
A great lighter, warm weather option - that feels like cotton but holds up much better and wicks moisture is ecosox (made of bamboo fibers).


Help! I am at a loss here. Can I travel in my 18 year old Sambas?
I don't plan on packing hiking boots and have heard that flip-flops work well for SE Asia, but is there such a thing as an every day sturdy shoe that can look presentable with a skirt and still survive the Inca Trail? I bought these Jambu Cherry Terra Sandals on Sale at REI but am open to suggestions.
What are your favorite shoes?


A valuable piece of advise I received from a travel savvy friend was to "test drive" and "beat up" our luggage before our trip. New luggage becomes a target and untried gear, a liability she said . . . I believe her -- So -- behold our luggage!

  • Travel Purse --Pacsafe MetroSafe 200 Shoulder Bag -- Juanchi gave me this for my Birthday and it has been my "go to" purse ever since. It has everything I need -- cross shoulder, medium size, not too many pockets, security features- basically a great bag :-)
  • Noah as the big Daddy gets to shoulder the responsibility of our biggest bag. It is flexible -- duffel, wheeled bag, or backpack-- but will need to be checked when we fly. The High Sierra 26 Inch Drop-Bottom Wheeled Duffrite can carry our liquids and overflow items that wouldn't otherwise fir in our carry-on bags.
  • Convertible Carry-Ons (can be a wheeled bag or a backpack)

The rest of us have carry-on sized luggage - 2 Eagle Creek bags and 1 Tumi. It was fun to shop Ebay for the best deal.

Packing Cubes

In addition to a supply of ziplocks, we will be attempting to pack efficiently with cubes, etc. We have a couple from Eagle Creek and LewisNClarke. I especially love the colorful ones my sister sent.

Little Gifts

We are looking forward to volunteering and working with children in Peru and SE Asia and wanted to bring along something (NOT candy) to share with them. It helps to have a school teacher in the family. So far we've collected pencils, stickers, and blow up globes.

"Down Time" Gear


E-Readers & Portable Activities

We like that the Nook Simple Touch Reader has 2GB of internal memory and that we can expand that memory with a microSD card (up to 32 GB) -- That’s a TON of books! Noah figured out that we could get FREE e-books directly from the Seattle and King County Public Library and other sites - even overseas (I had my sister in Singapore try it out). We can also share the same book on multiple devises.

A lesson learned from our travel experiences so far - there will be time to kill - so come prepared! A deck of cards is a "no brainer" but here are some additional easy to travel with games/activities that can be pulled out in the airport, train, bus station, cafe, etc.

Rory's Story Cubes and Rory's Story Cubes - Actions
Crossword Cubes
Zeus on the Loose
Apples to Apples
Magnetic Travel Chess

How We Feel About Our Gear at the END of this Trip Will Most Likely Make for an Amusing and Informative Tale. Can You Hang in There Till Then?

We Have Officially Booked our Flights From June 2012 through January 2013 (Peru, Chile, Easter Island, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia) with the Remaining Adventures (Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, and Russia) to be Arranged as we Go. It is Feeling REAL!

Please Share Any Thoughts and/or Insights! We Would Love to Hear from You!

Posted by annevl 21:11 Comments (5)

Career Break

from Noah

“Then there is the most dangerous risk of all– the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” — Randy Komisar, The Monk and the Riddle

One of the top 3 questions that I get when we talk about the trip is "what about your job?" (specifically, my mom asks me this a lot). She doesn't like my answer that I'm taking a Career Break, which is probably why she continues to ask me this question over and over again.

Fortunately, I work in a field that is project-based, meaning that my professional life has a cyclical nature. This makes it relatively easy to take time off of work - I can finish one project, take some time off to travel, and then come back to the next project. Of course, this is just a working theory up to this point - our upcoming trip will be the first time we put this into practice (hopefully it won't be the last time...)

Taking time off of work has always come with its share of challenges. Besides the obvious impact to your income, the prevailing wisdom is that gaps in-between jobs on your resume showed that there's some sort of "issue" with your ability to hold down a job. Therefore, leaving a job to travel (or do something otherwise non-job-related) was a potential negative for employers to identify as they reviewed your resume.

What we are seeing now is the start of a movement towards taking a "Career Break". Similar to a Gap Year for students (which is much more prevalent in Europe and Australia than the US), a Career Break is an opportunity to take time off of work (think "sabbatical") for any number of reasons, some of the most popular of which are for travel and volunteer work.

Taking time for yourself (or your family) gives us the opportunity to reflect, to learn new skills, to share our experiences, to give our time to something that is important to us. While most all of us need to work in order to keep on top of the mortgage etc, I would wager that almost all of us would not list "going to work" at the top of the list of things that we want to be spending our time doing.

You're right though, these are tough economic times that make it difficult to contemplate doing something other than working. Anne and I have been thinking about, discussing, and planning this trip for a couple of years now, so although the timing around the job market doesn't seem optimal right now, it's not going to stop us. Besides, we're both lucky to have built very strong networks that we are looking forward to leveraging when we come back to Seattle and get back into our professional careers (if we choose to).

I've been happy that the Internet has made it possible to have found a strong community of other like-minded Career Breakers. There are a number of people who are dedicated to helping people like me (and you) dream, plan, and take a Career Break. Meet, Plan, Go! has some great resources (and is also a fantastic bunch of people); same with the Career Break Secrets site. A quick search will net you a ton more sites.

I admit - getting ready to spend 13 months on the road is both exciting and scary, and I will be quite interested to see what it will do to/for my professional career. I do know that I fully agree with the following quote though -

"Nobody will say on their deathbed: 'I wish I had spent more time in the office'."

- and gauging by the interest and feedback we've gotten from the people that we talked about our trip with, we're not alone. One of the many outcomes I hope for from our trip is that someone else might be inspired to take a Career Break of their own. Why not you?

Posted by noahv 22:15 Archived in USA Tagged career_break Comments (6)

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