With economic doom looming and the festive season large on the horizon, many of us feel in limbo, torn between the head’s reasoning for frugality and the heart’s desire for enjoyment and festivity. In one ear you have the kids begging for the latest computer game or a new bike, in the other the voices are telling you how your husband really needs that soft cashmere jumper you saw last week on the Broadway. And what about the mountain of snacks that are so urgently needed to be ingested in order to be fast tracked straight to the hips – preferably your visitors’ and not yours? Nothing wrong with any of that, because if Christmas isn’t about giving, what is it really about?
No wonder that the thought of booking a luxury holiday in this climate might give even the worst of scrooges a hint of guilt in the face of the challenges of so many. But what if there was a way to get the best of both worlds, allowing yourself and your family to spend some quality time together, combining sightseeing and relaxation in a gorgeous holiday destination and spending a few days doing something truly good? And what if it gives the kids a chance to experience that there is a whole wide world out there beyond the Xbox where life is truly tough and where they can actually make a difference?
Welcome to the exciting and immensely satisfying world of voluntourism!
So how about peeking under the surface, not just scratching it: help that African girl have a safe place to live, teach hospitality skills to the Colombian coca leaf grower so he isn’t reliant on an illegal trade for a living, or help conserve elephants in Thailand. In so doing you will find yourself immersed in local life, championing a cause and learning new things, all combined with sights that you want to see, led by an expert local guide.
Jennie Page and her family have only recently arrived in India and are still getting used to the sensory overload of noises, smells, colours and the sheer volume of people and cows in the street. Amidst the mooing and rattling of bells, call outs from street hawkers and admittedly an ever present smell of sewage, they make their way through town in their van – towards the slums.
Today is their first day working on a project with street children and they are a little apprehensive. But nothing could have prepared them for exactly how deprived the kids are. Living under bridges, picking through rubbish dumps to find anything eatable to allow them to stay alive for another day. What baffled Jennie and her family the most, however, was how happy, smiling, laughing the kids were, now and again spontaneously breaking out into a dance. Perhaps we all have a lot to learn from them.
Jennie sums it up perfectly: ”We were all in complete awe of what the locals do. Every day they do hard work, yet they remain joyful and incredibly positive – we couldn’t help but be swept up in their abundance of happiness, something that has lasted till today, two years later”
You might think right now that this is way out of your comfort zone and a little bit scary. That’s only human – we all feel nervous the first time we do something, but rest assured that the satisfaction you will experience will only be exceeded by the gratitude of the people you will help plus you will reap the rewards in terms of confidence in yourself.
Travelwise is partnering with Hands Up Holidays, a luxury travel company with one big difference. They want you to have a remarkable experience that you will treasure forever by combining expertly-led sightseeing with meaningful community development through volunteering or philanthropy. In short, you get the opportunity to touch lives, including your own.
And even better – at least 10% of the profits are donated to the Hands Up Foundation whose funds go directly to things like clean water facilities, school supplies and micro-finance initiatives.
Rest assured that your safety is the top priority, Hands Up has a 100% safety record. “I felt completely safe the whole time I was in India, thanks to our wonderful guides and of course the locals who were just happy to have us there”, Jennie says.
We in the West can offer a lot to disadvantaged communities, and we make this happen whilst staying conscious that it is not our right to impose our value system. Often we have just as much, if not more to learn from the communities we help.
Travelwise has been selling holidays in Muswell Hill for over 30 years, we are North London’s premier travel agency and we strive to give you the opportunity to experience not just the luxurious but also unusual, safe family destinations.
If you’re interested in making a difference with your next holiday then come along to Travelwise, 51 Fortis Green Road, Muswell Hill or visit our web site www.travelwiseuk.com. If you prefer to speak to someone and can’t get to us, we are there, on the end of the phone on Tel: 020 8444 4444.
edit by Katrine Carstens