Friday, May 13, 2011

Lend a helping hand.

A lot of my travel is for me. But travel can be more.

I just came across a fantastic idea that a friend of mine posted to Facebook.

It's called Hope Floats and it allows cruise passengers to volunteer in several port cities. I love this idea. To me, a cruise isn't really traveling. But, so many people eagerly set sail that it's a great opportunity to volunteer abroad in areas that need it. My mom once asked to go on one of my crazy "adventures," but later admitted she'd rather go on a cruise because all your lodging, meals and, well, everything is sorted for you. That takes all the fun out of it, I told her.

There's a fair chance I'll cruise the Greek Isles one day or Alaska, but the only other way you're likely to get me on a cruise is a fantastic deal or a chance to volunteer with a project like Hope Floats.

When we travel, we learn so much and even if we don't take any tangible objects, we take so much home with us. We experience, we see, we hear, we feel, we live. To me, traveling is a sure fire way to see that it's a big world and I'm just a small piece in the big picture. I'm not rocketing to space or anything, but even a near-mishap in random foreign countries can teach you to not sweat the small stuff.

To get the most out of travel, we have to leave a little of ourselves in exchange for all that we take from the experience.

Volunteering in some way is a great way to do that.

When I studied in New Zealand for a semester, the program I was with offered a volunteer weekend at a few locations. We had to apply and only a few were chosen. I applied to volunteer on Quail Island off the South Island and we spent the weekend weeding, planting and other conservation type work. It was exhausting and I ate fish. If you know me, you know I hate fish, but when it's all there is to eat and you hauled trees up the side of a very steep hill all day, you'll eat fish.

The experience was great. New Zealand gave me so much and I gave just a little back. It was my home for six months, the least I could do was help out whenever possible.

There's something about giving without asking anything in return that I just can't put into words, but it puts a smile on my face. Sure, we all have bills to pay, but when an opportunity to help presents itself, I surely hope I'm a good enough person to always hold out my hand and help.

So, to you cruisers out there, check out Hope Floats. It's a great idea and I hope it's successful.

Some other volunteer options I've come across lately are helping out at animal shelters and working on organic farms. Quite a few people did the farming thing in New Zealand and who knows, maybe I'll try my hand at farming one of these days. Check out WWOOFing for more info. Here's another organization that offers volunteer opportunities in a variety of areas, ACDI/VOCA. There are tons of animal shelters and humane societies worldwide that offer volunteer opportunities and the same goes for orphanages and medical related work.

Next time you jet off somewhere, think about helping out. The place becomes your home, even if for a short time, and we can all benefit from a helping hand every now and then.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Meeting the locals...at home

I went home to Yorktown to spend the Easter weekend with my family.

We dyed eggs on Saturday and had dinner on Sunday at a family friend's house. The family friend's house included my mom's good friend, my little sister's best friend. I used to babysit there and petsit the dog, Angel, and the cat.

This time, they had a guest for the semester, a girl from Estonia.

Seriously?!

I don't know if I believe in signs or coincidence but these kinds of things seem to happen a lot in my life and I've learned to take note.

The girl, Anett, is a high schooler and in my hometown attending my high school as part of a Rotary International program.

As soon as it came up that I was going to Estonia, her and I became fast friends and chatted the entire time about my visit.

To my relief, she told me that most speak English, so I'd be fine. I'll still learn a few words of Estonian though. It's just the proper thing to do as a traveler.

She said October will be cold, but still a good time to visit. Anett already offered a place to stay and that she'd play tour guide and show me around.

Anett is giving a presentation on her country as part of the program and she shared it with me to learn more about my next destination. By the end of the weekend, I was even more excited about my trip.

Another fun Estonia fact: The president grew up in New Jersey.