Why you should volunteer and give back is a tricky question, because on the surface we all tend to have this notion of helping out others is “good,” but acting on that, and understanding the motivation behind service is harder to pinpoint. I left to travel back in 2008, and at that point I planned to volunteer throughout my travels, but I had no concrete understanding of the specifics—I just knew I needed to integrate service in some way, to connect on a deeper level with each place, and also as a way to show my gratitude for the circumstances of my own life, that allowed me to travel.
Once you set out on the road and travel, it’s immediately apparent the similarities among cultures—we all have the same basic wants and needs, similar goals for life: education, work with dignity, and freedom to provide for our children. There’s a commonality there that I didn’t understand until I left, and once I found this shared thread among all people and cultures, it deepened for me the understanding that we are all on a shared journey. We are connected by our humanity and in that connection there is a responsibility to take care of one another, and the environment—our shared home.
In the early days of travel, I mostly confined my service activities to volunteering in a handful of places and letting that suffice as my way of giving back—and it was a good way to be sure. But the longer I have traveled, I have realized there are smaller ways to create social good and change at every step through responsible travel and supporting small, local communities through tourism and business.
I realized along the way that giving back is a mindset, not just actions, and it is this mindset that I think has the ability to allow all travelers to have a deeper travel experience and a more profound understanding of their place in the world.
In 2011, I launched Grassroots Volunteering and began writing free responsible travel guides because I wanted to empower travelers to connect more deeply to the people and places they visited. This database lists out social enterprises—small, local businesses with underlying social missions—as well independent, grassroots volunteer opportunities. It’s these travel experiences, where we are incrementally and slowly embodying the change we want to see in the world through our actions, that I believe we have an obligation to support.
So much in my life has been given merely through circumstance of birth. My education was free all the way through until I graduated University, I live in one of the only dozens of countries where being a female does not hamper my ability to live a life on my own terms, and I have access to resources that are beyond those of the majority of the world’s population. Wealth and resource disparities have created significant chasms in the opportunities each person has on this planet, and we each have a duty to find ways to serve others—even the small integration of a service mindset has the ability to catalyze positive change in ourselves, and in the world.