Company’s trips combine travel, volunteerism

Travel has a new look these days and Fairfield County families are opting to see the world, while making a difference in the process through companies like the Rye, N.Y.-based VolunTravel.

The new traveling movement, often called voluntourism, encourages participants to get their hands dirty in service projects that help local communities while also affording travelers the opportunity to visit incredible sites around the world.

The goal of voluntourism is to serve, teach and share, and, ultimately to learn and reflect.

Now more can be learned about it at Greenwich Library on Monday, July 9 at 7 p.m. on the second floor.

VolunTravel is a volunteer travel organization founded by a Westchester teacher and former Peace Corps volunteer, which strives to promote cross-cultural learning, a deepening awareness of global interdependence and a commitment to the common good.

Organizations such as Cross Cultural Solutions, Habitat for Humanity, and the Sierra Club, amongst others, have long been offering volunteer opportunities around the world, but VolunTravel sets itself apart by providing a more family-friendly, group volunteer experience to Westchester and southern Connecticut residents.

VolunTravel provides an abbreviated Peace Corps-like experience, where participants travel in intimate groups, interact with the local people, eat at and sleep in locally run accommodations and conduct service projects devised by local organizations in the host countries.

According to the organization, while the reward may seem to lie in the chance to visit the world’s greatest natural and manmade sites, former VolunTravelers attest that their authentic interactions with the local people and the feeling of satisfaction after restoring a dilapidated, trash-filled playground, or providing supplies to and helping out at an orphanage outweighed the awe they experienced while witnessing the splendor of the Galapagos Islands or the majesty of Machu Picchu.

VolunTravel currently caters to families, couples and individuals over 18, looking to do more than just take a cruise-ship vacation. Participants often leave as strangers seeking to a make a difference in the world and come back as a family with the world having made a difference in them.

Trips are geared towards adventurous family travelers who are flexible and socially-minded.

Kids are encouraged to attend three to four pre-service meetings where they learn about the destination and the difficulties faced by the society. They help set goals for the service trip and prepare presentations to teach the busy adults about the local culture, history and goals of the trip in a final, pre-trip group meeting. Community service hours and fund-raising help are also offered to VolunTravelers.

The family and group bonding that occurs on VolunTravel trips is priceless, however, since VolunTravel is a 501c3 non-profit organization, part of the trip is tax deductible, according to the company.

VolunTravel is expanding its operations into Fairfield county, and is actively seeking participants from Greenwich, Darien, Stamford and Norwalk. In 2014, VolunTravel will be taking trips to Havana, Cuba (Feb. 15 to 22) and the Galapagos Islands (April 12 to 20).

Additional information can be found at voluntravel.com or by contacting Craig Dreves at [email protected]

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