A voluntourist speaks out: a first-hand account of helping in the wake of disaster
It's national volunteer week! In commemoration we opened up our blog to Q&A; with voluntourist and travel writer, Terry Ward, who shares the inspiration for her journey to Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, plus advice on how others can follow in her footsteps.
Q: Is voluntourism more like volunteering or tourism?
As a constantly wired travel writer, I hear the terms 'voluntourism' and 'volunteer vacation' everywhere these days. But after two weeks volunteering in Haiti in January with a Boston-based NGO called All Hands Volunteers, I can say that my volunteer experience was more about sweat and hard work than a vacation or traditional tourism.
Q: Was there time for fun?
Did I drink beers at night in Haitian street bars with some amazing people? Yes. Did I lounge on a beach on my Sundays off and eat lobster plucked straight from the blue Caribbean Sea? Yes. I also slung buckets of concrete for seven hours a day, lived in a tent and bathed with a bucket of cold water behind a blue plastic tarp for a curtain. Those days in Haiti were some of the hardest-working—and most fulfilling—of my life. And just what I signed on for. I only wished I could stick around longer to do more.
Q: What inspired you to volunteer?
Disasters, like the one still unfolding in Japan, have a tendency to linger in the conscience a long time—even for those of us not personally unaffected, and even when they happen far from home. The fact that Haiti was just a two-hour flight from where I live in Florida made the 2010 Earthquake there all the more shocking. In the months that followed, I knew I wanted to help in a way other than signing a check. I found All Hands through a Google search. Their ethos--along the lines of 'find your own way here and work your butt off and we'll cover your living expenses'—appealed to me. I bought a plane ticket to Port-au-Prince, met my taxi at the airport and made the 1.5-hour trek to the group's base in Léogâne—the epicenter of the Earthquake and a place where, like much of Haiti, rubble still towers in the streets.
Q: What are the costs for volunteering?
You pay your way there, and then food and lodging are covered.
Q: Where did you stay?
For two weeks, I lived in a tent that I'd brought along and pitched on the roof of the All Hands base (some volunteers chose to sleep on air mattresses in bunks on the base's open-air ground floor, instead).
Q: What were your work hours like?
Our work hours were from 7:30AM until 11:30AM, when we'd return to the base for a simple lunch of rice, beans and salad or spaghetti, then 1:30PM to 4:30PM. Heavy into school building (so many were destroyed during the quake), All Hands views education as a way to empower the community. And during my stay in Léogâne, my volunteer duties included helping pour a foundation for a new school as well as reading to kids in an orphanage and nailing pickets to a fence that the organization was asked to build as a memorial around a mass grave site where 2,000 bodies were buried after the quake.
Q: Would you do it again?
The experience has been hard to put into words to my friends and family. Using Facebook to stay connected with the Haitians, Americans, Europeans and other people I met in Léogâne has helped me stay bonded to the experience and updated with how things progress there. I left Haiti with a strong desire to return. There's so much to be done, and I've seen firsthand that every bit helps.
Q: I want to do something similar. How do I get started?
To learn about volunteer opportunities in Haiti and Japan with All Hands Volunteers, visit www.hands.org. Also, All Hands is just one link in a long chain. Recently, the organization announced Project Tohoku its tsunami response effort in Japan. The idea of pitching in somewhere so far away, and so tragically devastated, is already incubating in my mind. It won't be a vacation if I go. It will be something more. That much I learned in Haiti.
More resources for volunteers:
Grass Roots United is another organization in Haiti offering volunteering opportunities (you pay your way there and per diem living costs).
Volunteer Match allows you to plug in U.S. cities or your particular area of interest (ie. environment, mentoring) and see what opportunities exist for volunteering there.
Projects Abroad focuses on short-term placements for students and professionals (two weeks, usually), with volunteers in 27 developing countries around the world. Fees for participating can be quite expensive.
Daypacking: Travel without luggage
Budget Travel once profiled a man who has traveled for weeks without anything but the (stinky) clothes on his back. It was a young man's thing to do. But, are there any ways to travel with an absolute minimum of weight? Last year, travel writer Rolf Potts proved this point on a 30-day "no-bag" trip. He circled the globe with nothing more than a vest. He stuffed his spare clothes into its pockets, taking advantage of regular laundry washing services along the way. But the most practical option is carrying a very light bag. Some bags are only the size of a "personal carry-on item" for a plane—not full carry-on size. These are often called "day packs." Sixty-ish-year old Wired magazine contributing writer Kevin Kelly has traveled with just a daypack through places as varied as China and Guatemala. In another example, Travel blogger Andrew Hyde will carry only 15 items in his sack for a trip through Latin America. So, what about you? Have you ever traveled without a suitcase or standard carry-on bag? Any lessons learned? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Should D.C.'s museums start charging fees? Europe's biggest tourist traps? Should we tip flight attendants?
Should D.C.'s museums start charging fees?
One federal budget proposal is to end free admission to the Smithsonian museums. If this happened, museums in Washington, D.C., such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History, might charge $7.50 an adult. The bipartisan panel tasked by President Obama to pinpoint policies to fix our national financies would like to add fees for entry to favorite institutions. (See the full proposal. It opens as a PDF; you can download free Adobe software here). A fee of about $7.50 an adult could earn the federal government about $225 million a year, says the commission. To be clear, neither the Democratic nor the Republican party has officially endorsed adding fees to D.C.'s national museums. This idea is merely something being discussed among options. What do you think? Should Smithsonian museums charge an admission fee of about $7.50 an adult? Or should admission to the National Zoo and National Gallery remain free? if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('34f555d2-b452-4f11-81a2-28c8d18684ec');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)What do you think? Should Smithsonian museums charge an admission fee of about $7.50 an adult? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Confessions Of... A Flight Attendant A Flight Attendant Sounds Off About "Rude" Passengers 8 Things an Airline Would Never Tell You
Revealed: America's most expensive airports
Houston is the costliest large airport to fly out of nationwide. Bush Intercontinental tickets cost about $85 above what they should, says a survey. Newark and Dallas are the next worst offenders when it comes to high fares. These are results from an analysis done by Nate Silver. He's the number-crunching superstar who jumped from accurately predicting baseball games to accurately predicting national elections. He now studies airfares, airline violence, and other non-travel mysteries. Here's how the study worked. Silver studied prices for domestic round-trip tickets in coach class. He made an estimate of what a "fair" ticket price should be at each airport. His formula is complicated, but it's based on a simple question: What if no single airline had a near-monopoly at any airport. For example, Delta controls about two-thirds of the traffic at Memphis's main airport. Silver says fares would be about $100 cheaper in Memphis if more airlines competed for business there. (We'll soon find out. Last month, Delta said it would soon cut one out of four of its flights departing from Memphis.) On this score, the most expensive airport in America is Fayetteville, Ark. Its coach-class round trip tickets cost $527 on average. That's $158 above the estimate of "fair" prices. The reason is simple, says Silver: There aren't enough airlines competing to serve local customers there. Here are the largest airports with bargain prices: Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Milwaukee, Wisc. Orlando, Fla. Tampa, Fla. Las Vegas, Nev. These are the five mid-sized airports with the lowest average fares: Atlantic City, N.J. Fort Myers, Fla. Myrtle Beach, S.C. Long Beach, Calif. West Palm Beach, Fla. These numbers aren't perfect, as critics Gary Leff and Seth "the Wandering Aramean" have pointed out. What's considered "fair" by one person may not by another. Yet there are clearly many airports in the country—especially ones not served by many airlines—where locals pay very high prices to fly. The key lesson: Poor Texas! It's stuck with Houston and Dallas as costly gateways. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Should we tip flight attendants? 60 comments Introducing the new 'all you can drink' cruise 100+ Facebook likes Chart: Airplane violence over time
Pet travel tips from 'The Privileged Pooch' author Maggie Espinosa
The author of a new book exploring southern California's upscale pet travel scene offers advice to help travelers on any budget, no matter where they're going. Maggie Espinosa, author of a new book titled The Privileged Pooch: Luxury Travel With Your Pet in Southern California, answers BT's questions below. Say you're in an unfamiliar town, exploring with your dog, and you'd like to find a pet-friendly restaurant. What would your advice be? Are there signs a traveler can look for to tell if a restaurant is pet-friendly? Maggie Espinosa: When my Bichon Frise, Marcel, and I are traveling and we need a food break, the first thing I do is Google local restaurants to see which ones have an outdoor patio. Canine culinary superstars will promote dogs welcome on their websites, as does Park Beach Cafe in Huntington Beach, California. They have a menu just for man's best friend, which includes "Rover Easy" scrambled eggs, "Hot Diggity Dog" all-beef wieners minus the bun, and other selections. Restaurant terraces are common, and the majority are pet-friendly. State Health Departments forbid dogs (except service animals) to enter indoor eating areas of any establishment, whether it be a restaurant, hotel, store, etc. Ask the hostess before entering the courtyard; some places require the pup to be leashed outside the patio. As I state in my book, the only bistros considered pet-friendly are the ones that allow dogs to accompany their owner on the patio. Do you have a preferred airline for flying with your dog? If yes, what is it, and why? ME: Marcel is small enough to fly inside the airplane cabin with me, which alleviates any trepidation I would have about flying him in cargo. Airline websites have a long list of requirements for pets flying in the cargo compartment. There are blackout dates when it's either too hot or too cold for the safety of the animal. Short-nosed breeds such as the Boston Terriers and Bull dogs are to take heed, as they are prone to respiratory problems that can be exacerbated under the stress of flying in cargo. Certain breeds are prohibited due to their aggressive reputations. Airlines are required to divulge the number of pet deaths they've had within one year. You can call the specific airline for this information. Marcel and I have flown on Southwest and Continental. Prior to our flights, Marcel has access to his Sherpa carrier at home. He's comfortable in it, and it becomes his safe haven when flying. His Sherpa is placed under the airline seat in front of me. I can see him, and he can see me. I also carry a health certificate from Marcel's veterinarian. Do you have a preferred brand(s) of hotel when traveling with your dog? What are they, and why? ME: Any hotel that allows pets is my preferred hotel. Certain chains have a blanket pet-friendly policy making it easy to choose where to stay when traveling from state to state. Starwood is one of those companies. They offer a range of hotel options -- Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W, and Four Points -- to name a few. All welcome coddled critters with open arms. Their pet fees are either minimal or non-existent. If a hotel's pet regulations are too stringent with weight limit, access in the hotel or exorbitant fees, I didn't include them in the book because those properties are considered "pets permitted," not pet friendly. What are the toys, food, meds, or supplies you're always sure to pack when traveling with your pet? ME: A few accessories are imperative when traveling with pets. Most hotels require vaccination records confirming up-to-date inoculations. Take along any medications. While bowls are usually provided, it's smart to pack one, just in case. Eco-disposable sugar cane pet bowls or nylon collapsible bowls are convenient. Make sure to take plenty of drinking water and your dog's usual kibble, in case the hotel's pet menu fare disagrees with his sensitive stomach. Deviating from a pet's usual diet can have drastic consequences. A collar, leash, and waste bags are mandatory. Your pet's ID tag should be imprinted with your cell phone number in case the dog wanders while traveling. Last but not least, pack your dog's manners. Barkers, chewers, and growlers will be more comfortable at home. Do you ever use kennels, dog sitting services, or doggy hotels when traveling? If yes, how do you find services that are good and trustworthy? ME: I have not used kennels or doggy hotels when traveling, but I have used a number of pet sitters. Marcel and I stayed at 73 hotels when researching The Privileged Pooch, which warranted a sitter here and there. The hotel concierges or front desk staff have licensed pet sitters on call. The service is not cheap, sometimes running $15 an hour with a four-hour minimum, but it's worth the peace of mind. I was extremely happy with every sitter. Most hotels don't necessitate a caretaker because pets are welcome throughout the property. Often, furry sidekicks are permitted to stay in the room alone, but it's not recommended. Being separated from owners in a strange location can lead to all sorts of "nasties." Finally, what are the most over-the-top accommodations or services you've heard of that cater to the pet travel market? ME: That accolade must go to Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego. They are the proverbial poster child for pet-friendly hotels and are rumored to be the catalyst for the canine travel craze. A "Loews Loves Pets" welcome letter familiarizes guests with the resources, such as pet-sitting, a "Did You Forget" service providing forgotten items such as leashes and collars, and a "Do Not Disturb" sign that lets housekeeping know a dog is in the room. Food bowls, treats, and biodegradable poop bags are standard. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Ask Trip Coach: Top Tips for Traveling With Your Pet Reader Tips: Pet Travel Made Easier Keep Your Dog's Tail Wagging: Travel Tips from American Kennel Club Staffers