Posts Tagged ‘service travel’

Carnival Cruise’s Fathom Line – Cruising With a Social Mission

Adonia for Fathom Carnival Cruise

The Adonia

The cruise industry gets lots of grief for the huge impact they have on the environment, burning vast reserves of fuel to move their skyscraper-sized vessels through the seas. There’s also lots to pick on about port villages created just for them and the impact that has on local communities and cultures, the insane amount of food waste on a sailing, and more…but I’m a firm believer in pointing out what companies are doing right, wherever I find it. Especially when it concerns making a positive difference in the world.

Carnival is launching a new cruise line called Fathom Impact + Travel, with the specific mission of taking guests on vacations where they will volunteer at social projects. The first voyage will be on the 710-passenger “Adonia” bound for the Dominican Republic in 2016. Once they arrive in the D.R., passengers will participate in projects including English language instruction, reforestation initiatives, water purification projects, and help harvest at a women’s cocoa co-op. Their model of “Impact Travel” is scaled for growth in subsequent years, with a target of 35,000 volunteer visitors in year one.

Fathom Cuba is also the line that will handle the new cultural exchange voyages to Cuba, specializing in person-to-person experiences and cultural immersion with humanitarian projects.

I, of course, have concerns as I do with any large scale drop-in volunteer gig, about the sustainability of projects and community impact in the down times when no boatloads of passengers are there. I’d love to go on a Fathom voyage and get a deeper understanding of the long-range plans for the brand’s evolution. If you go–please let me know about your experience in the comments below or contact email. I love that the company sees that the market is there for this kind of travel on a large scale. That says something positive about travel in general, and our priorities as members of a global family.

Best Shark Week Finale – Volunteer for Sharks

shark turning in shallow dappled waterWe’re coming into the home stretch of Discovery Network’s Shark Week, that ratings bonanza that strikes gold in the channels’s viewership numbers and strikes fear in the hearts of some swimmers (though we know you are waaaayyyy more likely to die of the flu or crossing the street than of ever having a dangerous encounter with a shark). Let’s face it, if they wanted to, they could snack on us quite a bit, but they are absolutely human averse. They could never really even the stakes, however, considering  the millions of sharks we slaughter every year for their fins and cartilage—often unnecessarily cruelly.

so let’s look at some ways to counter the Da-Dum, Da-Dum Jaws soundtrack that thunders in your head every time you dip a toe in the surf (or jump in a pool or fill your bathtub). Volunteering with this world’s amazing shark populations is a great way to counter the press-inflated stories about shark attacks and understand these magnificent creatures. I’ve been lucky enough to have experiences with different sharks, from Great Whites to Whale Sharks to nurse, black-tip reef, and others…and look forward to many more. Sharks rock!

Enkosini Eco Experience in Gaansbai, South Africa, as well as White Shark Projects (who I dove with, in that same shark-heavy zone of South Africa near Gaansbai, known as “Shark Alley”) are eco-focused, environmental leaders, and have lots of openings for dedicated volunteers.

I’ve had the memory-of-a-lifetime experience of being in the water with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and can’t recommend volunteering with these folks enough. Science rules the excursions, but the pure joy of encountering such grace will be what you carry with you long after you get home (see previous blog posting here).

I’m a big fan of Earthwatch, and find myself extraordinarily intrigued by their shark study volunteer expedition in Belize.

Frontier Gap has a shark conservation volunteer program in Fiji, helping research species and increase international awareness and understanding.

How about a volunteer gig at the Bimini SharkLab – it’s a biological field station always looking for dedicated volunteers.

This is just a small sampling of shark volunteer options around the oceans of the world…dive in and find one for your next vacation. Tell Ian Ziering and Tara Reid we’ll meet them there.

Earth Day Volunteering – Sierra Club Outings

man sitting on wall enjoying view of city belowIf you’re looking for a way to honor the planet and all the things living on it for Earth Day (April 22, though, doncha kinda feel like every day is Earth Day?), the Sierra Club has a whole slew of volunteer outings and responsible travel options for you to explore.

The Sierra Club is one of the largest and most effective grassroots environmental organizations we’ve got, and the fact that they lead trips all around the globe with the intent to get people passionate about the world we all share, is our good luck. The trip leaders are incredibly dedicated volunteers who just want to share experiences and expertise with you. The mission of all the organization’s explorations is to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.

They boast destinations all around the world, in several categories for all ages and experience levels.  Categories for trips include: backpacking, base camp, bicycle, canoe, international, kayak, lodge, raft, sail, scuba, service/volunteer, ski/snowshoe/dogsled, supported trekking, and training events.

Trip descriptions are thorough so you know what you’re in for, and as I am always strongly advising people really investigate the organizations and organizers of volunteer travel, I love the Sierra Club policy of making all their leaders available by message or phone so you can get all your questions answered.

I’ve got my eye on a few amazing trips coming up: Spring Service in Arches National Park, Utah; Farm Service on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Trail Repair in Denali National Park, Alaska; Light Station Service in Big Sur, California, and Western Maui, Hawaii eco-service. If I want to explore more than work (and everybody wants that sometimes–we work HARD for our vacation time!) I’m all about Hiking the Hidden Kingdom in Bhutan; Japan Ancient Buddhist Trails, Rainforests, and Volcanoes in Kyushu; and Trekking the Turquoise Coast of Turkey.

I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find more than one trip to pique your wanderlust, and do a little good while making amazing cultural connections. Bon Voyage!

Brand New Service Expeditions from Earthwatch

owl face with amber eyesIf you’ve been following or reading here for any length of time, you’ve likely come across previous posts about this organization…Earthwatch is one of my favorites for really delivering value to volunteers who are vacationing, while being sure that the work they do is truly impactful for the project–most often environmental and animal scientific research programs but also cultural and archaeological science expeditions.

Needless to say, they have been on my short list for some time–I’ve yet to be able to do an Earthwatch Expedition, but know so many people that have, and several that return to explore trip after trip, being so satisfied with their initial forays.

Earthwatch has announced six new expeditions adding to their already impressive repertoire of opportunities around the world. The new ones are: Conserve Endangered Rhinos in South AfricaMonitor Ocelots in TrinidadProtect Whooping Cranes and Coastal Habitats in TexasConserve Tiger and Elephant Habitat in IndiaConserve Wild Bees in Costa Rica; and Follow Flammulated Owls in the Western U.S.

If they would just combine them and allow me to do a trip where I follow flammulated elephants in Trinidad, I’d be on a plane today…I’d love to be on a plane today for any of these plus the many, many more they offer. They also have specific expeditions catered for families, or teens, or kids–all with a profound new understanding if science just waiting for you (and world-class scientists just waiting for helpful and hard-working volunteers).

As you begin planning your next vacation, give the website a whirl–something is bound to jump out at you–perhaps something flammulated. (*I love learning that new word–it means having flame-shaped markings, as in the plumage of certain birdsI)

Free Book: Adventures Less Ordinary

book cover by Inspired EscapesReady for a cool freebie?

Adventures Less Ordinary is a virtual book, brought to you by Inspired Escapes, about responsible voluntourism and service travel around the world. It is a collection of writings from several experts in the field of travel to do good, how to proceed when choosing a giveback adventure, and warnings of what to avoid when trying not to be scammed or accidentally doing more harm than good.

Those who want to have authentic travel experiences and genuine cultural connection will glean a lot from 24 insightful authors— travel industry insiders, travel writers, philanthropy experts, and foundation leaders.

As time has gone on and voluntourism and service travel have become more popular, the road has grown more treacherous with false companies trying to make a buck off your best intentions and other pitfalls. When I first began writing about this topic, there was far less need to be wary and far fewer folks preying on giving hearts.

Whatever you do, don’t be turned off to the idea of making a difference, just be sure to seek deep knowledge about how volunteer programs are created, who initiated the project and decides on metrics for success, where money you spend goes, and other smart questions you would want to know about any kind of travel.

The free download link is here.

Cuba Opening—Is it Time to Volunteer?

cuba-flagYesterday’s historic move toward making Cuba an accessible destination for US travelers opens the door to a lot of other things, and not just cigars.

There are some fantastic volunteer opportunities in Cuba, a country that has faced lots of economic hardship but with provided healthcare, high literacy, low infant mortality, and tremendous cultural pride, many Cubanos insist there is no need for outside volunteer projects. It is important to look for trips with organizations that are culturally connected, have a spotless track record, and prioritize projects initiated from within communities, not those led by outsiders who think they know what is best for others (these are precepts appropriate to ALL volunteer vacations and service travel!)

Jakera has volunteer programs and Spanish immersion for visitors to Cuba. A Venezuelan-based company, they have been closely connected with Cuban communities since 2003.

Animal Research International, while an international organization, has legitimate, scientific field-based volunteer programs focused on bat research and conservation.

Real Cuba has a robust travel presence and expertise helping you find volunteer placement as well as travel off the beaten path to get you beyond Havana, crowded beaches, and the normal circuit for tourists.

Go Eat Give has sustainability and organic farming volunteer placements in the Cuban countryside.

Ethical Traveler hosts a people-to-people interactive arts-based trip with Cuba travel experts and deep cultural connections.

There are lots of other folks offering volunteer experiences in Cuba, and more will crop up in a hurry. Let your research be deep and thorough–you can almost guarantee that as the demand for this previously unattainable passport stamp grows, plenty of opportunists will hang shingle and try to convince you that with them you can make a difference. Be steadfast and insist on going in with eyes wide open.

Ken Burns and National Parks Volunteering

Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island looking to the harborEverybody is going gaga over the newest Ken Burns series, The Roosevelts, An Intimate History, on PBS. I’ve yet to see it but will carve out the 14 hours, perhaps in bits and pieces, to get caught up–I have never been sorry to get into a Burns piece of work.

One of my favorites of his in-depth studies is the 2009 film on our wild lands, The National Parks, America’s Best Idea.

I forget, in my hurried day-to-day life, that the wondrous wild places I so fondly remember visiting (and look forward to many more visits) on family vacations and cross-country driving trips, are more than just stunning vacation spots–they are smoothly run enterprises of commitment to community and culture and the environment…AND…they have extensive volunteer programs.

As a National Parks volunteer, you can pop in for a one-shot deal to help with a program, or if you’re lucky enough to live near such sacred spots, there are ongoing opportunities. Kids, families, individuals…all will find rewarding service work in the parks. If you’re super motivated, and volunteer 250 hours of service to the parks and/or other federal agencies that participate, you can be eligible for the Annual Volunteer Pass. This pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

To find your V.I.P. (Volunteers in Parks) opportunity, from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, the Everglades to Mount Rainier, you can search by park, state, or zip code. Many of the needs are seasonal, but some are year-round, and while a certain level of fitness or endurance may be required for some gigs, there is plenty to volunteer for that requires less energy as well. Visit the Park Service website and look around a bit, get re-inspired for some next visit plans, and find a way to be the boots on the ground folks who keep the parks the treasures that they are.