Book Review: The Voluntary Traveler

by David Miller Aug 20, 2009
Just released, The Voluntary Traveler mashes up diverse and inspiring travel narratives with a guide to volunteer programs around the world.

“Having been mostly disappointed with my university classes, I needed my internship to be meaningful, educational, and an experience that would prepare me for my future.”

–K. Angel Horne, “Finding Sanctuary,” a chapter in The Voluntary Traveler

Full disclosure: I just received this book and am still finishing it. It’s huge, nearly 500 pages, almost two dozen stories from around the world. What I’ve read so far I’ve loved.

Although the structure of each chapter (a firsthand account of volunteer / travel experience followed by program and contact information) is the same, the stories themselves are remarkably diverse. There are tales of everything from playing with street kids in India to teaching in the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica to helping street dogs in Lebanon.

One thing which interested me in particular was the different motivations behind people’s decisions to begin their volunteer experiences. For some it was the love of a certain place. For others it was missing a certain place, such as contributor Colleena McHugh. She missed her native desert southwest, saying “Even though I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I still have cactus in my heart.” She writes about how, after a quick online search, she found Los Médicos Voladores and was, literally, flying down to Mexico just two days later, where she was able to help administer dental care to local people in Hidalgo.

“You recognize, perhaps in a way you never quite understood before, just how integral service is to the well-lived life.”

For others it was the simple but profound recognition of–as Matador’s own Julie Schwietert articulated–“just how integral service is to the well-lived life.”

But regardless of their motivations, everyone in The Voluntary Traveler seems to be having a damn good time, or at least staying positive and keeping a sense of humor even when dealing with places, situations, and issues which are super serious–poverty, environmental degradation, lack of education and opportunities.

The only drawback with this book is that it’s so voluminous, packed with so much information, much of it would simply be easier to utilize via internet. It would be helpful to have a cd-database that was included with the book.

That said, The Voluntary Traveler gives wonderful insights into life as a volunteer traveler as well as what it means to face up to real problems and issues at ground level. Most importantly, it provides great points of entry into some of the most inspiring programs (and people) around the word.

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