¨You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.¨
Why I Love Learning Vacations and Volunteering
Learning vacations and volunteering are my favorite type of travel experiences. These experiences have given me a one of a kind, insider’s view of daily life in many destinations throughout the world. While participating in these experiences, I have met numerous long-standing friends, including a couple of girlfriends and my ex-wife. Also, thanks mainly to these experiences, I can communicate in French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian.
I have discovered more about myself, my interests, and my passions by participating in volunteer and learning vacations than perhaps anything else in my life. Memories from volunteering and learning programs have also left an indelible imprint on my life.
What are Volunteer and Learning Vacations?
Learning Travel Programs refers to an organized course that you take away from home for personal interest. Usually, tourists in these programs also live with a local family while taking the course.
The variety of learning travel opportunities available is astounding. Classes are available in nearly every aspect of life (culture, history, economics, politics, art, language, cuisine, etc.) in another country.
I have studied, for example, Tuscan landscape architecture in Florence (through the British Institute) and Elephant Training in Lampang, Thailand. The most common type of learning tourist experience involves cooking and language classes.
Volunteer Travel occurs in the words of Coghlan and Gooch whenever tourists:
¨undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments, or research into aspects of society or environment¨.
There are many types of volunteer travel, as well. I have, for example, participated in programs:
- Doing the grunt work (washing dishes) to put together a multicultural festival in Collechio, Italy (Emilia-Romagna) (Volunteers for Peace).
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Kaliningrad, Russia for a year (WorldTeach).
A Couple of Comments About Volunteer and Learning Travel
As you will discover throughout this course, I am a huge fan of learning and volunteer tourism. It is important to note that:
- Learning and volunteer tourist opportunities are available all over the world and typically last from one week to a year.
- Some learning and volunteer tourist experience are available only to people with some background in a given field and/or the ability to speak the local language.
- Some learning and volunteer tourism experiences also involve traditional tours and stay in hotels in their program. (Global Volunteers and Amizade are two great examples. I taught English and helped restore a classroom through an Amizade program near Cochabamba, Bolivia).
- Some are free or low-cost; others can be relatively expensive. (Some volunteer programs are also tax-deductible in the US and Canada).
- Many volunteer and learning tourism opportunities also include opportunities to stay in locals’ homes (and often eat meals there as well).
- Learning and volunteer vacations have taught me not just language but a lot of other things as well. The teachers are well-informed people who are eager to help students learn about their homeland. Thanks to these teachers, I have uncovered information about the history, economics, politics, music, literature, and art that would be hard to find elsewhere.
- In addition, I feel privileged to be included in the lives of the learning and volunteer programs’ host families. Many of these families have become friends who have given me an invaluable appreciation for what it feels like to live in their hometowns.
Volunteer and Learning Vacations Have Been Overall the Best Part of My Travels
- Watching turtles lay eggs; learning about rural Mexican life; hanging out with fun young volunteers; and consuming way too many tequila shots as a volunteer in Colola, Michoacan, Mexico (Volunteers for Peace).
- Being spoiled rotten as a teenager as a Youth for Understanding exchange student in Yaizu, Japan.
- Studying French and French culture in a beautiful gite (apartment) with my private guide and language teacher (Parfum de France) in Fontevraud L’Abbaye, France.
- Improving my Spanish, partying, living in the hipster Palermo neighborhood, and trying to learn the tango in Buenos Aires. (By the way, I still have two left feet). (The school is unfortunately out of business).
- Staying in a beautiful, spacious room in Siena, Italy; eating copious and tasty home-cooked meals, and learning basic Italian quickly- (Saena Italy–one of the best-organized language schools I’ve attended).
- Living in a beautiful large room (with my bathroom) in a 15th-century apartment in Venice; polishing up my Italian, and getting to know this spectacular city through the eyes of locals. (Venice Italian School).
- Counting different dolphins and other species in the Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica through Earthwatch. (The Golfo Dulce is one of only three tropical fjords in the world)..
- Want to learn Spanish? Let me help.
- Want to learn more about my experiences learning foreign languages
Overall, despite a few relatively small bumps in the road, I wholeheartedly recommend that all Fifty-Plus Nomads check out volunteering and learning vacations. (Sometimes, I think I loved the programs partially because of the problems). They are the best way to get under the skin of your destination and learn new skills while getting to know yourself better.
They also are one of the budget vacation options available. (My experience in Colola, Mexico, cost me less than $200 for two weeks). I believe that once you give learning vacations and volunteering a chance, like me, you will be glad you did.
The Downsides of Volunteering and Learning Vacations
While volunteering and studying vacations are my favorite experiences, they are not always the most fun or comfortable experiences. I have had the following ¨bad¨ experiences:
- Stayed in some pretty small and not very comfortable homes. I have never been so cold as I was during a three-week homestay in May, winter in the Southern Hemisphere, in Cuzco, Peru.
- Spent five weeks in Milan, Italy, with a woman who I never really learned to like very much. She would go on hour-long diatribes about fake news stories in rapid speed Italian without ever hearing a word of my conversations.
- Attended classes that were way over my head. Don’t ask me why I ever thought that I could learn how to surf in Costa Rica.
Some Additional Posts About Lessons that I Learned Traveling Round-the-World
- Fifty Plus Nomad’s Exclusive Traveling and Living Abroad Seminars: Let Me Help You Put Your Dreams Into Flight (Coming Soon)Take one of my two Fifty-Plus Nomad seminars in my home in Merida, Mexico. Benefit from my sixteen years of experience traveling and living around the world. Learn how to travel around the world long-term and live in different countries.
- My Temporary Home Base in Montreal: 10 Reasons I Loved Coming Home During My Five Year Trip Around the WorldDuring my round the world travels,, I was glad to spend tree months every year at a home base in Montreal. Not only did I grow very fond of Quebec and Eastern Canada but it was fun to just do day-to-day activities with friends.
- How To Avoid Loneliness During Your TravelsWhen I was traveling around the world as a young man, I frequently got lonely. When I was able to travel around the world again long term, I deliberately participated in group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations to avoid loneliness. It worked wonders for me.
- How Too Much Togetherness May Ruin Your Long-Term TravelsWhile too much togetherness hasn’t been a serious problem during my travels. I have met couples who had problems with too much togetherness during their long-term, round the world travels.
- Justifying Your Fifty-Plus Nomad Lifestyle: An Unexpected ChallengeI was surprised how often I had to justify my existence when I traveled around the world. Here are some tips in case you find yourself in the same situation.
- Paying More than Locals As a Foreigner: How to Deal with and Avoid ProblemsWhen I was younger being charged more for things than locals used to piss me off. Now I simply acknowledge it as part of traveling in third-world countries. I find the less it bothers me the less I attract aggressive vendors, too.
- Culture Shock: The Greatest Challenge for Long-Term Travelers and Expats?By far the biggest issue I had while traveling around the world as a younger man was culture shock. It even resulted in me making some major decisions, most of which I regret in retrospect. In my experience, many people suffer from culture shock while traveling around the world or living abroad but most don’t even know they are suffering from culture shock.
- Backpacker Syndrome: Why Travel Burnout is Usually Part of a Nomadic LifestyleI think every long-term traveler regardless of the budget will occasionally suffer from backpacker’s syndrome. I deal with it by slowing down, staying in my hotel for a day or two, or scheduling some new activities.
- Church Overload Syndrome: When You Just Can’t Stand Seeing Another ChurchDuring my five years traveling around the world. I occasionally suffered from mild travel burnout. Only once did I succumb to church overload syndrome because over time I have learned how to appreciate churches. However, church overland syndrome used to bother me frequently and it seems commonplace among other long-term travelers.
- Consider Resorts, Cruises, Festivals, and Amusement Parks in Your Long-Term Travel PlansWhile many travelers pooh-pooh resorts, cruises, festivals, and amusement parks, I enjoy them in small doses. It is fun to see the creativity of the developers and event planners. It is also a nice break from more serious and intellectual activities.
- Learning Vacations and Volunteering: The Most Overlooked Travel OptionsMy favorite type of group travel is volunteering and learning vacations. No aspect of group travel has so influenced who I am as a person and how I view the world.
- Independent Travel: Advantages and DisadvantagesDuring my five years traveling around the world, I spent about half my time traveling independently and the other half on group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations. I love the freedom to explore things in depth that comes with independent travel. However, I find exclusively traveling independently to get exhausting and lonely if done for months at a time. I also love the diversity of experiences.when I mix group and independent travel.
- Don’t Avoid Group Tours and Cruises During Your Round-the-World TravelOne of my biggest surprises in traveling around the world for five years was how much I enjoyed group tours and cruises. It is nice to have other people deal with arrangements. Many of the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. My fellow travelers were usually kind and interested in learning.
- Traveling in Developed Countries: Why it is a Myth that Traveling to Western Europe and Other Developed Countries is Boring and ExpensiveOne of my biggest surprises when I traveled around the world for five years was how much I loved traveling in the developed world (USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Western Europe, Singapore, Japan, the UAE, etc). Until I began to travel around the world for a long term, I always thought the developed world was less interesting than in the third world. Now I find both equally interesting and enjoyable.
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Third World TravelI believe that everyone who has the opportunity to travel round the world should visit countries in both the developing, third world and the developed world (Western Europe, USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, etc.). This post outlines the advantages and disadvantages of third-world, emerging country travels.
- Round the World Travel: My Top 4 LessonsI learned four lessons from my five-year journey around the world: 1) Mix group and independent travel; 2) Travel to varied parts of the world; 3) Avoid travel burnout, and 4) Have a home base.