I'm sitting at the airport, devastated to be leaving. Today, Boonma sang a gloomy Thai song about the sky crying. To fit the mood, the sky appropriately clouded over and dropped water on us.
I always go through this period of mourning when I leave a place that has become dear to me. To fight it, I make travel plans, and you may not be surprised to know that I have already compiled a list of ten possible volunteer programs to do sometime in the future. Maybe I'll try another continent, or maybe I'll explore Asia again. It doesn't matter that I don't know where I'm going, because I know I'm going somewhere.
I fear that people think that vacations like this are out of reach for them, and I'm going to try to convince them otherwise. Volunteer and adventure travel programs are the ideal travel situation. You are given an up close, brutally honest picture of another culture. You are incorporated into a daily life vastly different from your own. You are allowed to ride elephants, or teach English, or work with orphans. If you'd like, you could probably find a program that does all three.
Parents, think about the last family trip you took. Add up the cost of hotels, food, and activities, and it can get frightening fairly quickly. Volunteer programs usually include all of those things in one price, and many welcome children. Other than the cost of getting there, there are very few additional expenses. That is unless you find a market like Chatuchak, and I highly recommend it anyway.
By no means do I want you to believe that you have to jet off to Africa to do something out of the ordinary. You can save a lot of money on airfare by staying in the United States, and you can still travel in a way that you may not have ever thought of before. You could help build trails in the Appalachian Mountains or work at a nature preserve in New York. You could volunteer at a dude ranch in California. You could build houses for Habitat for Humanity or even ride in a covered wagon train in Wyoming.
There are many ways to save money, but don't immediately write off the programs that may seem a tad pricy. The truth behind some of these volunteer participation costs is this: They keep these valuable programs running. Honestly, the mahouts can get along just fine without me, but my volunteer fee is what helps them pay for food, medicine, and necessary supplies for both themselves and their elephants. They could never keep the program running and the elephants off the busy city streets without this outside source of income. They are incredibly grateful.
Yesterday, as we talked about my imminent departure, Boonma asked me, "What do you get?"
"What do you mean, 'What do I get?'"
Because it seems that I am going home without much more than I came with (He did not see my purchases from the Chatuchak market.), he couldn't understand why I would pay what I did to do what I have done. He feels that he gains more from me participating than I do. Financially, I see his point, but I was floored, if it's possible to be floored while sitting twelve feet off the ground.
What do I get? I get to have the adventure of a lifetime. I get to see my money put to good use instead of going to a large corporation or tourist trap. I get to see people trying to make a difference in big and small ways. If you doubt what I say, take a look at my previous blog posts and try to tell me that this is not a positive program.
Don't ever assume that this is not possible for you. It takes a little research and a big leap of faith, but you will not regret it. I'm willing to bet all of my market purchases on it.