The Lost Girls Love Adventure LifeAdventure Travel, Kenya, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Peru, Staying There, Tours & Attractions, Travel Philosophy, Travel Products & Services, Volunteering & Giving Back, Websites and Blogs — By Holly C on July 3, 2009 at 12:39 am
When Jen, Amanda and I made it back home after our yearlong trek around the globe, the place that stuck with us the most wasn’t the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand (though both are breathtaking), but rather a small farm town in Kenya called Kiminini. We had the chance to work with students at a local school through the Village Volunteers program. We read Harry Potter to the girls and they instructed us on how to do laundry by hand. We wrote a play for the students to perform and they taught us how to play cati (a game that’s kind of like dodge ball). Spending time with the kids and their teachers reminded us that the people we encountered along the way would change how we saw the world more than any landmark ever could. The program also taught us that what we leave behind is as important as what we take away.
So we’re looking for companies that emphasize travel is a two-way street between the visitor and the locals. One we’re loving is Adventure Life. The company focuses on small group tours to Central and South America that have a positive impact on the local culture and environment, all the while making sure travelers get a unique experience hard to come by with typical package tours.
Started 10 years ago by Brian Morgan, a University of Montana grad who was just 24 years old, Adventure Life has been recognized by National Geographic Adventure as one of the best adventure travel companies on earth for two years running. They use local guides and family-run hotels (which might mean building a homestay into your tour, or staying at an Amazon lodge owned and operated by an indigenous community).
“I worked in Peru, and spent several weeks interviewing local guides,” says Brian. “I would ask, â€˜If a friend of yours was visiting your country, what would you show them?’ Those that got excited and had ideas beyond typical tour stuff were the ones we hired. One guy thought the best way to understand his home city of Cusco was to show visitors the cemetery. You only get to do this if you’re with this guide.”
If you’d like to do a volunteer vacation, but don’t have a lot of time or money, Adventure Life offers a great solution: philanthropic extensions you can add on to your trip. Ranging from four hours to five days, these volunteer options let you rub elbows with the locals and give back to the place you’re visiting.
“One of traveler’s biggest responsibilities is to understand the local community, and one of the best ways to do this is to volunteer next to the people,” says Brian. “It’s hard to find meaningful experiences that could create a long-term change and also help our travelers understand the local culture.” So Adventure Life spent lots of time researching opportunities and interviewing people from the area, and have come up with some great add-ons for their Peruvian adventures. You can spend a day combating deforestation with a native tree-planting trip. Or fight illness by delivering hygiene kits packed with soap and toothbrushes to poor villages. Or help restore homes battered by the harsh Andes’ elements by working side-by-side on renovations with local families-and spending the night.
“We also offer a healthy breakfast program for students at the Cachiccata school in the Andes. Our travelers visit a market with a local guide to buy food and learn about what’s sold-rather than simply taking pictures. Then they cook and serve breakfast to students who may have walked more than an hour to get to school.”
Adventure Life is now working on volunteer extensions in Ecuador and Costa Rica. “We don’t want to pretend going on a trip will save the world, but these extensions are a unique way to say thanks to the community for the hospitality, leave a positive impact, and to increase your understanding of the place you’re visiting,” says Brian.