When I was growing up, I don't remember the phrase volunteer vacations. We had mission trips. As junior high and high school students, we would raise money and go someplace else in the country (via long van rides listening to someone else's choice of music) to do manual labor. Ontario, Western Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, and South Dakota. Five summers in a row learning to roof, paint, build fences, and on occasion wearing a big yellow "God's Gang" button. The trips had many purposes and it was more for building friendships and seeing new places as doing the work.
In college I had the opportunity to do my first international trip, a week doing vacation Bible school in rural Costa Rica. I didn't speak much Spanish, but was able to have fun and build relationships with kids, just the same. Our church was big with stained glass windows. The Methodist congregations in C.R. met in open sided buildings decorated with hibiscus blossoms.
Fast forward one year and we worked in West Virginia with Appalachian Service Project.
Time passed and work trip opportunities didn't present themselves for a while. In 2005 the church I was attending in Indy had a partnership with a church outside of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This trip was a mix of both. A chance to relax on the beach and go out to dinner, visit Mayan ruins, and volunteer at Vacation Bible School (or E.B de V en espanol). Even after moving to Colorado, I took the opportunity to go again and continue those relationships. (You can learn about this partnership through their blog and if you look on the July 2006 link, you'll even find some of my commentary).
This year, I was able to cross one more state off my list of places to visit on a short work trip to New Orleans. Our work was coordinated through PDA. Again the balance between using a crow bar and drinking a daiquiri on Bourbon Street.
Three months from today, I'm embarking on a volunteer vacation adventure with Cross Cultural Solutions. In the past year I've been trying to determine a way to spend an extended period of time in another country while still keeping my job. I want to be more than just a tourist. Having a house, dog, etc. makes it a bit more challenging to just pick up and go. I'm going to Trang, Thailand with CCS for a 3 week program. I'm not sure yet what my project will be although it seems most likely that I will be helping in a school in some capacity. It will be my first time to Asia. I'm excited about doing it on my own. I will be living and working with other volunteers when I get to Trang, but it's different than traveling with family or friends. I know I'll be keeping a journal, blogging and taking a ridiculous amount of pictures while I'm there and who knows....maybe I'll learn something new about myself.
If you're interested in sponsoring me for this adventure, click the "sponsor me" icon to the right of my blog. For more information on organizations that do good around the world, check out this article from Budget Travel.