What I Wonder While I Wander: Why Don’t I Want To Volunteer?

Posted on 13. Jan, 2013 by in Travel Reflections

That’s right. I said it. I know that I should want to give back and volunteer, and yet I just can’t make myself add it to my To-Do list.

This bothers me down to my very core, but I am pretty sure it won’t change.

Why so sure? Because if I were going to volunteer, I would have by now. I have been traveling for over 2.5 years through places like Cambodia, Laos and India, not to mention I spent my early 20s living in Central America, younger and more naive than I am now.

And yet I never volunteer.

That’s not entirely true. I actually have volunteered, like when I taught English in Costa Rica to a group of local businesswomen in a small mountain town called Grecia when I was 20. I enjoyed the experience and in the end I think I got more out of it than they did, since I was in the middle of completing a BA in language teaching and this was my first experience teaching.

Although intellectually I know I should want to, I just can’t figure out why I have no urge to sign up for a few weeks somewhere.

jess and kidsPart of me keeps telling myself that I am at a point in my life where we are building a business and I don’t have the time to volunteer. Sure, Dani and I are free to, but we are making a go at creating something really sustainable with GlobetrotterGirls.com, and as a bootstrapping start-up that is time rich and financially poor, the only asset I have to continue to build this is my time. See – so I just caaaaan’t volunteer. Right?

On a lot of levels, that is a legitimate thought process, and I think this is one reason that the majority of people out there who could volunteer, don’t volunteer. With work, or kids, or life in general, we can all find some semi-legitimate excuse as to why we passively decide not to help others in need.

But that means that like most people, my understanding of volunteerism is that the only way to make a difference is to choose volunteering as a career path, or at least dedicate a period of my life to it.

Which is entirely untrue, and I know it.

I could easily dedicate a few weeks a year to helping a community in some way, especially because my location independence allows me to travel through just the kinds of places where people volunteer – you know (and please read sarcasm into this next part) third world countries filled with our socially constructed versions of ‘the other’, the poor other who needs our European/American assistance to survive.

Santa catarina girlsOne thing that has always kept me from volunteering is that I have a fundamental disagreement with many of the organizations out there which, in my eyes, patronize the groups of people they set out to help. The whole attitude of ‘let us show you how to do that’, ‘we know better’ attitude that I have heard so much about through my friends who volunteer. Because, the thing is, I have loads of friends who volunteered in their 20s and now that we are in our 30s, run NGOs and lead organizations around the world.

And don’t even get me started the concept of ‘voluntourism’, when those organizations out there make volunteers pay huge sums for the privilege of volunteering under the guise that the money goes to the community, but really just feeds back into the organization and lines pockets.

But those are weak excuses for someone who doesn’t want to do the research to locate and work with a legitimate, positive organization. I realize that now, after reading our very good friend Shannon’s recently published The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook. I read it from start to finish, and to be honest, the book inspired me so much that I really, almost, really, wanted to start volunteering more.

Almost.

Jess with dog & cat at Dona Ana's houseUgh, but I still don’t put it on my plan for 2013. Why?! I have the time, the freedom but more importantly, I have face-to-face personal experience with people around the world. I am not sheltered. I travel full time and have been living abroad my entire adult life. So what is holding me back from volunteering my time to causes I have personally experienced?

One good excuse I have managed to think up is that much of volunteering takes place in rural environments (right?), and I have a pretty huge fear of insects. I seriously freak out about spiders, plus there are those urban (or should I say rural) legends about bugs taking root inside of ear canals or giving fatal bites. The thing is, no matter how irrational that all sounds, bugs love me and feed on me like a buffet – especially mosquitos, which is why I was unlucky enough to experience Dengue Fever first hand when we traveled through Belize and Guatemala in 2010 and never, ever want to experience the ‘bone crushing’ fever again.

Okay, so I here is where I admit that I am more of an intellectual, urban type. This makes me feel like a wimpy a**hole of the grandest proportions, especially because we all know that there is plenty of volunteering to be done in cities, too. There was a good part of a year I dedicated to working on a then-budding, now massively awesome project called Spirit of Football and it felt incredible to be a part of the organization which sought to bring awareness to issues of multiculturalism and integration in the former East Germany through sport, specifically, through football. That was an amazing experience for me, and one that I regretted ending my work with when I moved to England in 2006.

I also am fully aware that I can volunteer from the comfort of my own Macbook Air, even. In fact, back in 2004-2005 (from my Dell)I also did some online volunteering writing copy for NGOs. I am fully aware that I could use skills like writing, blogging and social media to help organizations now. But when Dani and I went through our 2012 annual review and plans and goals for 2013, volunteering was not on the agenda at all, again because of the excuse that I want to focus on growing our business and also self-indulgently travel the world and have an awesome life.

Globetrottergirls @ work in bocas del toro PanamaI could grow my business AND volunteer, but that might take away from the time we spent doing amazing photography tours, drinking coffee in stylish cafes, hiking volcanoes. I mean, in the next six months, I am going to visit Patagonia, the salt flats of Bolivia, hike Machu Picchu, and balancing that with growing a business is already too much to have on my plate.

So whatever the excuse is, can I really live with the idea that I just don’t WANT to volunteer?

I suppose that is what almost all of us do, just live with the awareness of people, animals, entire ecosystems in need and just continue on with our own agendas.

Donations are an option, but when I think about donating money, however, it makes me think of this quote I read on Facebook the other day.

(That’s right, on Facebook, where I spent extra hours every week not volunteering. Oh, smack me, will you?)

The quote said: “You can’t tell by what I am wearing, but I have excellent fashion sense. I just can’t afford the clothes.”

I feel the same way about donating. You can’t tell by my lack of action, but I have a huge heart and would love to donate. I just don’t make enough money. Which of course isn’t entirely true either. I know that if everyone donated $10 to a cause it would completely fund it. I know that.

Boys of chichiThe problem is, I really do have a big heart, and have a genuine interest in helping people. I made the decision to quit teaching in 2006 to get a Master’s Degree under the misguided assumption that I needed to ‘grow up’, ‘jump on a career path’ and be more ‘financially secure’. At the time, it wasn’t clear to me how fulfilling it was to walk in to a group of people everyday and help them accomplish their goals, and there has been a distinct hole in my life ever since. Working entirely for myself now, that specific type of rewarding feeling is gone.

Could it be argued that I enjoy helping people, as long as it is in exchange for money? How awful.

I do not regret the decision to go in another direction, because Dani and I say to each other on almost a daily basis how incredibly happy we are. But I suppose there is an increasing awareness of how little I do for others compared to how much energy I have to give.

That’s not to say that I am not fulfilled with what I am doing now. Almost every single day we receive an email from a reader who is grateful for the advice and assistance we put out there related to travel.The connection we have with our community here feels amazing, especially knowing we built GlobetrotterGirls.com from scratch. In fact, we’ve even inspired a few people to volunteer right here.

My friend Angie runs Community Connection International in the Dominican Republic and after we did a profile on CCI in 2011, one of our readers not only went down to volunteer short term, but is leading a fundraiser to return for six months and implement a much wider-reaching program there through CCI. (You can donate to Michele’s project here).

Even just playing that role of connecting those two people and the way it will affect that area of the Dominican Republic feels fulfilling to me. And yet here I am, going on about how I don’t want to volunteer. Am I just narcissistic and over-privileged, whining about my #firstworldproblems?

Doggie & JessieI am writing this today, I suppose, for two reasons. First, I don’t know exactly how I feel but I am sure that having to defend myself from the onslaught of negative comments bound to come my way will help to clarify for me how I really feel.

But also, I want to know how other people feel about this. Do you volunteer? Does it drive you crazy that people like me don’t? And if you don’t volunteer – why not? Are you willing to go on record to say what it is that keeps you from volunteering?

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45 Responses to “What I Wonder While I Wander: Why Don’t I Want To Volunteer?”

  1. Steve C

    13. Jan, 2013

    Ooooo, no comments yet. Am I the first one to jump into this? I’m in sorta the same camp with you as I’ve not actually done hours of volunteer work, but I have donated money to various places. When I traveled around the world, I made the decision before I left that I would not be giving any money to beggars, ever. We would be traveling on a tight budget and once you start, where do you draw the line. It could be endless. I just wanted to be an observer, not someone who was out to solve all the worlds problems, one handout at a time.

    Here’s one way to look at it: Ya know when you’re sitting in your seat in an airplane and the cabin loses pressure? They say to save yourself first by putting the oxygen mask on yourself, then you’ll be able to help others.

    Also, financial advisers always recommend saving for your own retirement first, than save for your children, like costs for education, etc.

    I’m not working now and haven’t made any donations or volunteered for anything. I’m too busy trying to keep my own head above water. I sympathize with your conundrum though, as it’s also mine.

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      14. Jan, 2013

      Glad to hear you get what I’m saying, Steve. When I read your reference to saving ourselves first before helping others I think, yeah, that’s right. But then immediately I go into a thought process about how lucky I am to have been born where I was and a whole onslaught of ideas along those lines. A conundrum it is, indeed.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Stephanie

    14. Jan, 2013

    I hear you! When I first started travelling, I thought I would HAVE to volunteer to afford it, but then my freelance business kicked off and has been growing ever since. I could take some time to volunteer, but then I’d just be working and working, never enjoying travel. I’ve been trying to work + study part-time + travel and even that was a recipe for disaster.

    And yes, I agree to the countryside thing… I’m an urban type, too, and freak out after 3-4 days in the countryside. Not that I need fancy stuff, but reliable internet, warm water, places to go out at night and good public transport are preferred.

    So in short, don’t feel bad. We’re only human :)

    … or are there people who actually work and volunteer at the same time?
    Stephanie recently posted..Where’s the hassle, India?

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      14. Jan, 2013

      Thanks for your support, Stephanie :) You’re right, we are only human and can only do what we can do. We’re working more and more than ever before, so in order to just fit in the travel along with the location independence is already intense! And thanks for understanding about the rural thing, warm water is important, internet too, and of course, for me it’s also about the bugs!

      Reply to this comment
  3. Lourdes

    14. Jan, 2013

    My take on this, no one can hurt you without your permission. It’s nobody’s business but yours. Your website is a great service for thousands of travelers like myself and that’s good enough.

    Like Buddha said, “with no expectations come no disappointments.”

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      14. Jan, 2013

      Lourdes, thanks so much! Your compliments are really appreciated and I definitely have to have a bit more mindfulness surrounding my issues with expectations of what I ‘should’ be doing vs what my path is journey is all about.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Vera

    14. Jan, 2013

    I was so surprised how this can be an issue! Why would you want to volunteer if that’s not your thing? Who said that in order to be a good person, you have to volunteer? Never even crossed my mind! If someone volunteers, good for them. There’s more than one way to be a good person, though. And if you say you’re happy, thankful and have a big heart, then I don’t see why you shouldn’t be one of them. Not everyone can be a Mother Teresa. If you feel you’re not giving back, think again – you’re just doing it elsewhere. I have not ‘volunteered’. Man, I have helped my ass off on more than one occasion in various fields, and have also spent money – just right there where it was needed, and not on some organisations’ bank account with a piece of paper to prove it. The person who tells me that doesn’t count because I’m not wearing a volunteer-badge will have to listen to the story of my life and of those of many other people I know who all never ‘volunteered’ but deserve freaking medals for doing awesome things. This might sound like a rant now, but far from it! I just think everyone does his/her best and there really is no need to judge any of these different efforts. It may be a donation, it may be helping out a few hours in your free time, it might mean adopting an animal from a shelter, it might mean volunteering for 6 months teaching kids… It might mean giving your seat on the tube to a pregnant lady. It might mean making people feel good because you’re always smiling because that’s just you. It might meaning writing a blog-post that inspires someone. I know very well what it feels like when you think you’re not living up to a better version of you – but if it that version is not truly you, then you’re gonna hate living it, anyway – and man, much more damage can be done when you’re miserable than when you’re happy-go-lucky. Volunteer yourself to a nice glass of wine and just go your way:)
    Vera recently posted..The friendliness of the Thai people (& a hostel review)

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      14. Jan, 2013

      Amen, Vera! Thanks for your rant…err…comment :) and you’re totally right about everything you say. My issue, I suppose, is that having been in such proximity to volunteers for such long periods of my life, I get down on myself for not volunteering as well. But I think I am confusing unnecessary ‘shame’ for not volunteering for what is really an extreme respect for volunteers who do dedicate themselves to it. It’s a matter of being the best ‘me’, I suppose, isn’t it, and not the best ‘person’ in general.

      Reply to this comment
  5. kelli

    14. Jan, 2013

    Instits an interesting problem…the idea of volunteering. i live in el salvador and would have to say those people who show up for a week or two to “help” often do more harm than good. its my opinion that real change only happens through education and you cant get a grasp of the culture youre working in and the best way to teach people something new in a short amount of time.

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      14. Jan, 2013

      Hey Kelli, that is definitely true and a lesson that has been learned time and time again by so many communities out there, unfortunately!

      Reply to this comment
  6. Charli

    14. Jan, 2013

    I completely agree with your concerns about voluntourism. I find it hard to support charities that make a business out of giving aid and support to others less fortunate than ourselves. In the modern society we are all so wrapped up in our lives driven by consumerism and greed that packaged charity holidays are an easy sell to the masses. For me the whole experience is so clinical, I would rather give my time to a worthwhile cause that affects me and my community.

    During our time living in Costa Rica I volunteered as a veterinary assistant for a charity that invested every penny they raised into caring for stray animals. Not one person involved – other than the trained veterinary staff who took payment for travel and equipment costs only – was paid.

    I think real charity comes from within, not from within your wallet. Vera makes a good point about charity appearing in many forms, don’t beat yourself up trying to clarify your thoughts on volunteering. We give in many forms to those we feel deserve our time and energy. I’m sure there are thousands of people who would argue that by pouring hours and hours into this amazing travel site you a volunteering, keep up the good work!

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      16. Jan, 2013

      Thanks Charli! You’re right about these packaged charity holidays. What drives me insane is that so many people do these paid-for volunteer holidays in some tiny African village, but don’t volunteer at home for free. I know there are plenty of people who volunteer in their own communities, but what if we stopped looking externally and instead focused on helping at home first! That’s convenient for me to say, of course, since I am completely and totally homeless :)

      Reply to this comment
  7. Sharon

    14. Jan, 2013

    Oh, Jess. Dear Jess. I was smiling (and laughing a bit) while reading this (honesty, thy name is Jess)… it was really just like sitting across a table from you and listening to – well, what was I listening to, exactly?
    Someone very thankful and conscious of being blessed by this sweet life, someone passionately believing in giving something back to the world, someone that the universe is talking to at the moment (maybe a little nudge, maybe just a whisper?), someone who has a really structured idea of what that giving back means…
    The world and what it needs will find you, never fear – and when it does, you’ll know… and you’ll be ok with that (and it probably almost certainly won’t involve bugs in ears).

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      16. Jan, 2013

      Ha, ha, thanks Sharon. Glad you could hear my confused voice so clearly :) It’s true that I have definitely recognized lately that hole of helping others, like actually being able to put my finger on it and say that I love this living for the moment, creating our business type thing, but I miss giving back, I really do. I am sure there are plenty of other people out there who experience a real level of happiness, or contentedness, and then feel like they want others to experience the same thing. I think that’s where I am at and why I have started to feel guilty maybe about not wanting to volunteer.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Forest Parks

    14. Jan, 2013

    Respect to you for putting these thoughts out there. I have never committed to any large block of volunteering but try and do a bit here and there. I would love to work on some projects but like you have some fundamental issues with some of the organisations. Development is often a business too, even if labelled as an NGO… It really is sad.

    That being said there are a lot of good organisations, some grass roots, some set up by passionate individuals. I would love to seek them out one day but also have the “my business is in the way” feelings at times!

    So, how can we help? Well first off I need to state that volunteering isn’t leaving my list. I just need to be financially stable and able to travel, so that is putting myself first :).

    What we can do though is put the money and time we do spend into the communities we visit. Talk to locals, eat in their restaurants and use their services. I see so many foreigners dining in McDs when you can get a decent bite to eat for the same price or less at a local joint around the corner. Granted McDs employs people locally but much of the money drains outward!

    We can also take the time to talk to locals, get to know them, share tea and stories when we can.

    It’s not going to save the world but it’s a start!

    I totally agree about the patronising nature of many a volunteer… I have met quite a few people with grand plans to save the global south from their own stupidity! Still, they are trying to help even if they have it all wrong and in many cases they do leave better people than when they went in.
    Forest Parks recently posted..Budget Bus Travel in New Zealand: My Comprehensive Guide

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    • Jess

      16. Jan, 2013

      Definitely agree with so much of this. It’s cool to see how many people feel the way I do about all of this. I am completely down not only for eating local, but also for spreading the word about local spots. Now, we’ve been known to drink greedily at a certain coffee chain, but not exclusively and other than that we always prefer to spend locally no matter where we are in the world!

      Reply to this comment
  9. Im not sure how to write this so I’ll just blabber on. I think you’re just making excuses and none of them are valid. If you really wanted to volunteer you would make the time, regardless of your business commitments. There’s no way you couldn’t find a day here and there – even if it was just to listen to a child read English and practice their spelling. If you really wanted to help a good cause you’d do your research, find out who holds similar values to you (and upholds them) and find a few bucks to donate to them. No one said everyone has to donate their time or money or resources. Some do, some don’t, so what? By connecting volunteers with organizations you’ve done an amazing thing you should be proud of. By being aware that not all causes are doing the right thing you’re so far ahead of those who blindly give every time they see a dirty child on TV. Be proud of what you DO do and the awareness of the world you have. Be sure that you don’t want to volunteer and understand your reasons why. Just don’t feel like you have to find excuses for others. You know who you are and what you stand for. Keep up the great work!
    Tracey – Life Changing Year recently posted..The Best Of Our 2012 Life Changing Year!

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      16. Jan, 2013

      Hi Tracey, thanks for your kind words here. I just want to re-iterate that the post is meant to show my utter awareness that I am making excuses and that none of them are valid. Every excuse I give throughout the post I swiftly bash myself. One thing I am realizing about why this tends to bother me so much is literally the ‘weight of the world’ issue and what I mean by that is we have traveled now for so long, and have seen such a chasm between rich and poor, healthy and sick, etc, and witnessing it in so many places, particularly for someone overly sensitive like myself, it’s hard to take, knowing what so many others take for granted. I don’t know if that makes sense. Traveling has been so life-changing, which I am sure you are well aware :) and I guess what I am grappling with is the desire to ‘help’, but not necessarily volunteer. Thanks again for taking the time to comment, Tracey!

      Reply to this comment
  10. Michael Hodson

    15. Jan, 2013

    I’m with ya. Not my thing. And the “paid volunteer” thing that I ran into a lot in Africa really turned me off.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..You should, you shouldn´t, and it must go away

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    • Jess

      16. Jan, 2013

      I haven’t been to Africa yet, but I think aspect will probably be hard for me to take, for sure. I’ll have to really educate myself on the positive stories of projects for self-sufficiency just to balance that out. I know there are many.

      Reply to this comment
  11. Leigh

    16. Jan, 2013

    I run a volunteer organization here in Salta, Argentina, (http://cloudhead.org) and I completely understand.

    Seems to me, also, helping isn’t always about picking up the shovel and digging. If you’re highlighting groups and people you believe in, that’s plenty.

    One question… would it be different for you if there wasn’t a time commitment? If you could join a group for one or two days and just meet some locals, teach writing, sit around and chat in English. Is that something you’d consider?
    Leigh recently posted..The best of the best: 30 breathtaking books to read in 2013

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    • Jess

      16. Jan, 2013

      Great to hear that you get what I mean, even though you run a volunteer organization. And yes, totally, I know that language, writing, fluency, reading classes are a great way to give back and something I am really capable of in the future. I’ve actually always thought that I’d do a free English course once a week in whatever city I end up living in. My problem is that being nomadic (read: homeless), that’s not really an option right now. That’s why the whole hands-on building wells type of volunteering, the kind I really just don’t want to do, seems like the only option at the moment…make sense? We are going to be in Salta, Leigh, and would love to meet you! We should be there by mid-March – will you be around?

      Reply to this comment
  12. John Bardos

    16. Jan, 2013

    This is a difficult issue for me as well. I’ve never really volunteered much before but I’m starting now. It’s hard to donate money or time when you feel organizations are inefficient or wasteful. At the same time, most voluntourists are more of a burden than a help to organizations. It might make people to feel good about themselves to donate a couple days of their vacation to a charity, but they are not really contributing much.

    On the other hand there are great causes accomplishing great things. I would like to help them as much as I can. In this age of affluence, it’s not right that hundreds of millions of people don’t have basic rights of clean water, food, education and personal safety. These issues are completely solvable if we as citizens demanded it. I want to do my part in that regard.

    I can’t give much of my time yet, because earning a living is still a priority, but I do find that doing good is very rewarding and brings a lot of meaning and fulfilment to my life.

    It’s hard to volunteer though. NGOs certainly don’t make it very easy to find volunteer opportunities, and even then, I doubt the efficacy of what many of them are doing. Maybe it’s better to contribute in my own sphere of influence?
    John Bardos recently posted..Interview with the House Sitting Couple

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    • Jess

      16. Jan, 2013

      John, that is what I am thinking, too. Maybe it is better to contribute where I already have an influence, like with GlobetrotterGirls? It’s great to see that you have essentially the same exact feelings about this as I do, too. It represents a wider conundrum I think many of us feel. I saw your post on donating to CharityWater and I know that for me, personally, water is one major area I think I could really throw myself into and get involved with, so that was interesting! But still, it’s always us first, right, earning a living is a priority…

      Reply to this comment
  13. Amanda Halm

    16. Jan, 2013

    Don’t beat yourself up. I also hate the attitude of those “poor people – we must show them our ways.”
    I just read a Cracked Magazine article about how sometimes people who volunteer in developing countries after a natural disaster take more than they give as they are using up precious time and resources.
    Anyways, I volunteer at two places and work but before that, I was a volunteer drop out.
    I recommend looking for something you love and something you don’t have to commit to every weekend for six months. It’s easier to do say…one weekend once every three months then once a week. But focusing on you is fine – who says it’s not?

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      29. Jan, 2013

      H Amanda, I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind! And you’re right, no one says there is anything wrong with focusing on myself! :)

      Reply to this comment
  14. I have never volunteered either. Even when I was on sabbatical for 20 months and had the time, I still was picky about what I did with that time. It seems difficult to find good opportunities that also fit my interests or skills, and I know I was just lazy for not looking harder.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The stupidest thing I did in 2012… and the photo to remember it

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    • Jess

      29. Jan, 2013

      Or maybe you’re weren’t lazy, just like me and you just don’t wanna! The question is – is that really such a bad thing? :)

      Reply to this comment
  15. Kate @ 30Traveler

    22. Jan, 2013

    Being in a relationship with someone who is very committed to donating large amounts of money and to volunteering, I sometimes feel like she’s the warm, caring one, and I’m the cold, heartless one! I get where you’re coming from in this post.
    Kate @ 30Traveler recently posted..Apartment Hunting in Buenos Aires – First hand account from Stephanie of Twenty-Something Travel

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    • Jess

      29. Jan, 2013

      Hm, interesting yes. That is hard, but even I can see that you are not a heartless or cold woman, instead you have surrounded yourself with giving, open-hearted people who certainly wouldn’t have you in their lives if you were cold. Your values much match each other’s on a deep level, right?

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  16. Shannon O'Donnell

    23. Jan, 2013

    Thanks for the book mention Jess, and I understand your quandary a lot, as well as the skepticism from most of the people commenting that good work is even being done by a lot of these organizations. One of my big things is that sometimes if it doesn’t resonate with you to actually give time, then giving money through responsible tourism FAR better than 1) feeling guilty and 2) feeling obligated to do something you don’t full enjoy. You guys have traveled at the local level all over the world for years now, and that has put money and jobs into the hands of locals — that is a big and noble thing too, to spread out your money and use it in that manner, and often even better than weekend projects here and there. That being said, next time we’re in the same city I might just hunt down something we can do together! ;-) xo
    Shannon O’Donnell recently posted..A Little Nostalgia … A Reason to Love Southeast Asia

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    • Jess

      29. Jan, 2013

      You know, it would definitely help to work alongside someone I know and trust, like you, to really understand and enjoy the volunteer work I’d be doing. Whenever our paths cross, we can definitely consider this as an option. But of course, given my quandary, I can’t commit :) Yet. Maybe.

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  17. Janet Austen

    27. Jan, 2013

    I am new to your website so haven’t spent much time here yet, but the title of this article piqued my interest. And I’d like to put forward the idea that there is time for everything. I practiced law for 30 years, raised two children (a lot of it as a single mom), and now (in my 60s), I am having a wonderful time as a volunteer. I taught English in China for 2 years through an organization called World Teach, and am now teaching English in Ukraine through the Peace Corps. I highly recommend volunteering at this stage in life! It’s a great way to get to know another culture and people.

    Reply to this comment
    • Jess

      29. Jan, 2013

      Hey Janet, what a cool comment – that’s really interesting that you started volunteering later in life. I was always thinking that I just don’t have it in me because I haven’t done it despite many chances, but it looks like I have been shortsighted in the fact that I have plenty of life left to live!

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  18. Mindy and Ligeia

    28. Jan, 2013

    I have made it a habit of always doing some sort of volunteering wherever I have lived and the biggest thing I have discovered is that I always got more than I gave. I don’t just mean that the act of giving was so great for me either. I mean that they gave free food, invitations to free things…once I even got free baseball tickets. I volunteered for a year in Berlin, Germany with Holocaust survivors, at a Women’s Shelter in Toronto, Canada, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and now with the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to name a few.

    It might be that volunteering actually helps with your business, rather than detracts from it. It could certainly give you lots to write about. And perhaps, that could be the topic of your next book – The Ultimate Guide to Volunteering. :)
    Mindy and Ligeia recently posted..A Long Weekend in Chiang Rai

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    • Jess

      29. Jan, 2013

      Hi guys, I think you get more back from volunteering than just those material things as well. I really get that. It’s definitely something that is on my mind, but the best guide ever on volunteering has already been written by Shannon, but I can always use the experience as material, for sure.

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  19. Good for you for actually writing about this. If volunteering for a few weeks here and there is not how you make a difference, then you shouldn’t feel any guilt or conflict about doing it. As you point out, there are other ways — like connecting others — that you can make a difference. Or, perhaps you will find your perspective changes on this issue after you have built your business more. Volunteering is definitely nothing to take lightly as there are many organizations or volunteer projects that do more harm than good. Instead of helping to empower local communities to help themselves and meet the needs of their own communities, they come in and just fix everything for them. Not only is that insulting, but it creates dependence.

    That being said … I have volunteered overseas three times (Uganda, Egypt, and Myanmar), and each of those experiences have proven to be my most cherished travel experiences. Those experiences, more than any other, have allowed me to see, understand, and appreciate how the rest of the world lives. Although I’ve traveled much through other developing countries and impoverished areas, I remain more closed to it when I’m not actually directly engaged with the community in some way. I find that my perspective on life has been challenged and changed as a result of each of these experience. I certainly don’t say this to imply that I think you should volunteer, but rather just to offer my thoughts on the impact it has had on my life, for whatever it is worth.
    The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) recently posted..7 places I never thought I’d want to visit in Asia (but I do!)

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  20. Willow Martin

    02. Feb, 2013

    I donate money to causes I believe in but I don’t volunteer personally and there’s an awesome reason why – it’s not my calling. Everybody has a calling, something they’re great at that helps society as a whole. Working with the needy, underprivileged, sick and suffering is not mine. I don’t have the temperament for it nor do I have the personality. There’s a reason why some people are nurses and some are accountants. Some people have that loving, caring, feed a sick puppy personality; I don’t. I’ve spend so many years of my life worrying about what I should do, who I should be, how I should act. Thank God, I’m over it. I’m an amazing friend, a good mother, a decent person and for me that’s enough. I’m here to support the ones on the front lines, the ones in the trenches, the ones getting up close and personal for the cause. That’s my role. Because of me, they can do what they’ve been called to do. I’m finally ok with that.

    That being said, I’ve given $5 a month to my soup kitchen every month for the past year. $5. It doesn’t require much to help the next person.

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  21. Carolyn

    04. Feb, 2013

    Hi, You don’t need to reply to this, or post it, for that matter … but I have been thinking about this article since you first posted it.

    I tried to read it but it is just too lame. So long, so self-involved. All that is needed is to get up off your rear end and do something for someone else.

    You come across as a spoiled white girl who gets to travel and lounge and write things … and loud and clear, that you don’t have much feeling for those less fortunate.

    That you feel fine taking up people’s time reading a long post about it just shows how your mind works. Sorry to be blunt, but my suggestion is to get up & do something or just be quiet.

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    • Jess

      05. Feb, 2013

      Hi Carolyn, honestly I can’t believe you’re the only one to react this way! I thought there would be many more, and then I got used to so many people actually somehow supporting what I was saying. At first when I read your comment I felt pretty embarrassed because essentially, you’re right. It’s an assy, over-privileged thing to navel-gaze about. The question is, why talk about it? Why waste your time making you read about it and think about it and get mad about it and comment about it. And the truth is, I wrote it because in the grand scheme of things, 99.9 per cent of people are either like me or worse than me in terms of not giving a cr*p about the rest of the world. The point of the piece is to use myself as an example for a wider question about people who travel and don’t ever volunteer or help out in any way. It’s not about not caring about other people, that’s really not the case with me at all. I was a teacher for a long time and I feel a deep sense of emptiness taking and not giving back. But that doesn’t matter to you. You would prefer I don’t say anything about it at all. THe thing about that is, people have sent through some really interesting emails and a couple have even been pushed over the edge to volunteer because of it. Am I taking credit for their decision? Not at all. But what’s the point of having a website like this, and living these experiences, and not discussing things like this, even at the risk of coming off like a ‘spoiled white girl who gets to travel and lounge and write things’ if not to honestly express genuine feelings – especially when so many think the same way. If you never talk about it, nobody thinks about it and nothing changes.

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  22. Paulina

    11. Feb, 2013

    Hi Jess,

    first of all, respect for your courage of tacklyng the TABU topic of “Why I don´t one volunteers” and you also tackled it courageously in a personal way. Although I am on another side of the discussion, probably being able to give hundreds of reasons for volunteering, since if done properly, volunteering “workforce” can do change and support comunities, and also it is beneficial for volunteers (yes, volunteers benefit a lot from doing their jobs for free, and many times no other experience can replace it). However, I totally agree that volunteering IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. I saw one comment above mentioning the sad reality of unreliable NGOs and their projects. I can add to that businesses that charge loads for matching volunteers with the projects abroad. The volunteer work has become a global MARKET, where you can both find GOOD and BAD-DOERS. So, being cautious is highly recommended.
    Being a life-volunteer myself and an idealist, I have started my own NGO (funded from Chilean governmental programme) called VOFAIR.ORG (stands for VOlunteer FAIRly) that verifies and certifies good volunteer projects. I have to be honest, I am at the begining of a long and difficult path. Therefore, via this forum, I´d like to call for people who would like to help me on the mission – to bring transparency to the world of volunteering. Many thanks for this article again. It definitely broke the tabu :)

    Paulina at vofair.org

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  23. Paulina

    11. Feb, 2013

    Hi Jess,
    first of all, respect for your courage of tackling the TABU topic of “Why one doesn´t volunteer” and you also tackled it courageously in a personal way. Although I am on another side of the discussion, probably being able to give hundreds of reasons for volunteering, since if done properly, volunteering “workforce” can do change and support comunities, and also it is beneficial for volunteers (yes, volunteers benefit a lot from doing their jobs for free, and many times no other experience can replace it). However, I totally agree that volunteering IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. I saw one comment above mentioning the sad reality of unreliable NGOs and their projects. I can add to that businesses that charge loads for matching volunteers with the projects abroad. The volunteer work has become a global MARKET, where you can both find GOOD and BAD-DOERS. So, being cautious is highly recommended.
    Being a life-volunteer myself and an idealist, I have started my own NGO (funded from Chilean governmental programme) called VOFAIR.ORG (stands for VOlunteer FAIRly) that verifies and certifies good volunteer projects. I have to be honest, I am at the begining of a long and difficult path. Therefore, via this forum, I´d like to call for people who would like to help me on the mission – to bring transparency to the world of volunteering. Many thanks for this article again. It definitely broke the tabu
    Paulina at vofair.org

    Reply to this comment
  24. Naomi

    14. Feb, 2013

    I don’t think it is bad to not have the desire to volunteer. You have your purpose of running this blog. I’m sure many readers would be interested in reading your volunteer experience, but I wouldn’t force yourself if your heart is not into it. As readers, I think we appreciate your honesty ;)

    Also, trying to find the right program may be difficult. I’m sure you will meet many people on the road who have volunteered that will recommend programs. But to find something that fits in with your purpose may be a challenge. I wanted to know more about farming so did some WWOOFing in Japan. Unfortunately I had a terrible time. We only weeded for 2 whole weeks, 6 days a week , 6 hours a day and never got to the farming ;( Since then, I have been “traumatized” of volunteering. I guess I got an unlucky host. Since time was limited, I sorta forced myself as well.

    I think when you are ready, the right opportunity will show up for you ;)

    I noticed both of you guys have the same computer. Looks travel-lovable and small. What model is it?

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  25. Linda

    16. Feb, 2013

    For me in my travels, the important thing is to give back – there are many ways to do this – volunteering is just one. I try to give back through my time, through my wallet, and through my heart. I consider networking – putting people who are doing great things together with other people and resources to strengthen all their efforts – a very very valuable way to give back. You are already doing that. Awareness of others’ work and good causes (spreading the word) is like throwing a pebble in a pond – it creates ripples and grows. Keep up the good work!

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    • Jess

      18. Feb, 2013

      I always really like that analogy about the ripples, Linda, it’s a shame I don’t think of it more often on my own. But you’re really right about ripple effects of everything we do! Thanks for commenting!

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