If you're anything like me, you've experienced some form of uneasiness while traveling. The feeling is akin to that of taking a second helping of food before everyone else has had their first plate. While you're busy taking in the local sights, sounds, and flavors, a staggering number of people live without the basic comforts that we sometimes take for granted.
Nearly every foreign destination I have toured suffers similar third world crises. Problems such as inadequate housing, inconsistent public utilities (which are sometimes absent altogether), and poor infrastructure for education and medicine are tucked away from the tourist's view. After visiting several continents I realized I wanted to change the way I travel.
This is where I found Build Abroad and construction volunteering to be just what I was looking for. They recognize that more and more tourists want to have a vacation that is more than just indulgence and relaxation. As a part of my trip I was in a group of 11 awesome individuals that shared an interest to make an impact in addition to exploring an exciting destination.
The trip was split into two parts - first we stayed in a volunteer dorm that was operated by a local non-profit. We worked for 4 days to dig a foundation for a small home that would be donated to an elderly woman. The work was difficult, but our days weren't long. We would work a maximum of 6 hours a day. Most of us were not construction workers, so we had to pace ourselves and we took care to stay hydrated. We had plenty of food and water and transportation to the job site was a breeze.
The work ended up being pretty fun. One of the trip members had a small speaker and we took turns playing music, joking with each other and our construction site foremen, and building camaraderie with each other. At the end of the four days we were surprised to see how much work we had actually done - we ended up getting ahead of schedule so we did a little work at another job site on our last day. Since our days weren't too long we always had time for another activity in the evening. We went to a local soccer field to scrimmage other volunteers, had a cook-out with dancing and music, and even went on a Costa Rican pub crawl. After a hard day of work participating in the activities was even more rewarding.
After our time volunteering we headed to the beach for three days. Our time there was truly incredible - we didn't want to leave. We stayed at a chic hotel just a short walk from the ocean and the rainforest. We had two pools to relax in, drink service, and plenty of amazing food close-by. Our trip organizers had set up a few activities, none of which were mandatory, but since we had all become good friends from working together we did the activities together. My favorite was the catamaran dinner cruise. We saw dolphins, went to a swimming hole where we jumped off the upper deck of the boat, and enjoyed plenty of awesome cocktails made at the boat's bar. Truly unforgettable.
Now, I will admit, tourists can't solve all the complex poverty driven problems that face third world nations today. However, it is possible to make a real difference in someone's life and give back some of the good fortune that we all enjoy as travelers. It's more about being a responsible tourist than trying to fix all the world's problems.
That said, this trip was more fun than any other vacation I have ever been on, save for one particularly epic winter trip to Whistler. So even with moral justification aside, the format and execution of this trip was truly excellent. Not only do I highly recommend Build Abroad for your next trip, but I'll be taking another trip with Build Abroad again in the near future.. Maybe I will see you there :)