ALL POSTS IN [Voluntourism]

The Runaway Bridesmaids surged ahead in the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City.

This month, newly-hired American Airlines flight attendants got the chance to dump freezing water over the head of their CEO minus the risk of being fired: They were taking part in the viral ice bucket challenge to raise funds and awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease. The trend of flight attendants having fun for a good cause continues next month as male and female travel workers from many of the major airlines will be running in recycled bridesmaids dresses as part of the Runaway Bridesmaids 1-mile fun run on September 27 to raise awareness and funds to help fight human trafficking.

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The mountain village of Furcy, Haiti. All photos by Kathleen Rellihan

“You’re going where?!”

I got that reaction a lot when telling people I was going to Haiti. That, and a long silence … or a raised eyebrow.

As someone who’s been known to plan last-minute trips, sometimes solo, I have been used to people doing double-takes. Usually, though, it’s just my dad who’s shocked, like the time I told him I was skipping Thanksgiving and heading to Iceland, alone, in the dead of winter.  But this time, it was pretty much everyone who was surprised.

Did they think Haiti was too dangerous? Did they have mixed feelings about the voluntourism that I was about to embark on  … that, perhaps, it wasn’t sustainable and, at best, just a feel-good activity. Or maybe my friends and family were just shocked that once again I was skipping Thanksgiving, and this time for an even less likely location … Haiti.

Haiti?

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World Oceans Day

We, as travelers of the world, have a lot to appreciate the ocean for: Travel and trade, food, medicines, communications, and just about half the oxygen we breathe.  And with concerns of increasing impacts linked to climate change, ocean acidification, diminishing overfished populations and endangered species, and polluted waters — we have many reasons to help protect the ocean, especially during travel.  Join the international celebration on June 8, World Oceans Day, by taking action to keep it healthy and beautiful!

Here are a few tips for making your future travels as ocean-friendly as possible:

Planning:

  • Consider Ecotourism options — Help make the local community a healthier, more beautiful place after your visit.
  • Travel shorter distances — Explore the “hidden gem” destinations around your home and appreciate what your own habitat has to offer.
  • Avoid cruises — Cruise ships are notorious for creating major issues with improper waste management leading to pollution, excessive energy consumption, coral reef damage, and other kinds of environmental degradation to regions visited.
  • Consider purchasing Carbon Offsets — Help balance the impact of energy used to travel by funding an environmental cause.

Transportation:

  • Ride public transit — Rather than using your own car or a rental car, consider trains or buses. These options can be less expensive than flying and greatly reduce the pollution caused by driving long distances. Plus, a train trip can take you through beautiful natural environments that you might never see by car.
  • Get around on foot or bike — Walking and biking around your destination can help you get a true feel for a place.

Where to Stay:

  • Consider staying in a “green” hotel or eco-lodge — Show that you support businesses that exemplify environmental sustainability.
  • Participate in water-conservation programs in hotels — Help save diminishing freshwater resources used for washing linens. If the hotel does not have this program, let the cleaning staff know that you don’t need your towels and sheets changed every day.
  • Borrow or rent from a local — Couchsurfing is a free service that will let you find a couch to sleep on during your trip. Airbnb is another popular site, allowing travelers to find hosts renting their extra bed, room, apartment, or house for travelers. This may give you the opportunity to save money, meet natives, and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Packing & Toiletries:

  • Leave little bottles of hotel amenities untouched — Resist the urge to take the small plastic bottles of soaps and shampoos from hotels. These can create more waste, often ending up in the ocean. Instead, use a refillable bottle from body care products from home.
  • Use multi-purpose, biodegradable soaps — Reduce the number of products you need to pack as well as the amount of chemicals washed down the drain or into local streams. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Pure Castile Classic Soap is a biodegradable, vegetable-based, 18-in-1 uses product for cleaning, shaving, shampooing, and moisturizing.
  • Choose and apply sunscreen wisely — Look for biodegradable, organic sunscreens. Also, apply 30 minutes before going into water or else the sunscreen is likely to wash off right away in the water.  Such sunscreens and other skin lotions are made with chemicals and oils harmful to humans and the ocean.
  • Bring your own reusable bags — Avoid disposable plastic bags. Even when disposed of properly, the lightweight plastic can escape garbage bins and find ways into woodlands, storm drains, and water ways. Plastic bags are of the most dangerous marine debris, accounting for millions of turtle, sea bird, and marine mammal deaths by ingestion, entanglement, and suffocation each year. Even worse, plastic bags do not biodegrade.

Food & Drink:

  • Bring a reusable water bottle Avoid adding empty water or other beverage bottles to the waste stream by refilling your own container from larger sizes.
  • Seek local food — Look for vendors and restaurants with local ingredients rather than consuming goods that must be shipped to your destination from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
  • Only eat sustainably-sourced seafood  Consume fish that is local, not over-fished, or is responsibly aquacultured.

Activities:

  • Educate yourself – Enjoy a new place by learning about its wildlife and unique natural characteristics.
  • Volunteer in the community you’re visiting — This could be as simple as picking up litter in places you visit and disposing of waste properly.
  •  “Leave only footsteps, take only pictures” — Try not to disturb native plants and wildlife. Many countries have established eco-parks that allow tourists to see the natural beauty of a country without harming the environment.

Souvenirs:

  • Be careful what you buy — Don’t buy endangered species products such as tortoise shell, ivory, animal skins or feathers. Don’t purchase star fish or turtle-shell related souvenirs or any creature that may have been put to death for the sake of a gift shop sale. These animals may have been killed specifically for tourist trade.
  • Leave rocks, shells, seeds, and other natural artifacts in the wild — This will prevent any contributions to habitat destruction.

Celebrate World Oceans Day this Saturday by making a promise to protect the ocean or find an event near you!

- Lauren Goldberg, The Ocean Project

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Lover’s Island off Ile-la-Vache. Photography by Sebastian Lindstrom.

As an American living in Haiti, the topic of tourism as a way to boost the country’s struggling economy and image, comes up often. So it’s not surprising that NPR’s recent All Things Considered story on Haiti created a lot of attention in my world. Some found it humorously accurate, others, one-sided and misleading.

In the NPR story, Jason Beaubien mainly focuses on what Haiti would have to overcome to tap into the Caribbean tourism market. He highlights Labadee, the private Royal Caribbean hub, whose gated beach and attractions are worlds away from the poverty just outside. Overall, he paints this once-Club-Med country as dirty, dangerous and broken. Warning of elements that could “doom a family’s vacation before they even reach the hotel.”

Is he right? I think the problem here is demographics. Who says Haiti should focus on families in the first place? Is following in neighboring Dominican Republic’s resort-laden footsteps the only way to go?

In my opinion, the answer is backpackers. The same types who flood to Laos, Columbia, Ghana and beyond, searching for the next, untouched experience. These are travelers who crave culture over comfort. Stories over suntans. And who know that chaos often leads to cool.

Historic Jacmel. Photography by Josh Jakobitz.

Take Carnival, for example. In the piece, President Martelly says Haiti’s Carnival is the worst organized, but the most fun. Take it from me, he’s completely right. It’s one of the most amazing experiences, but it certainly isn’t kid-friendly with insane crowds, booty-grinding and general debauchery.

For road-less-traveled types, Haiti is incredible. Head out west to the beaches of Les Cayes. Explore historic Cap-Haitien and climb the steps of the Citadel. Take a rigorous, unmarked hike over the mountains to Jacmel, cutting through a pine forest along the way. Just don’t expect it to be easy. But then again, for true backpackers, easy is boring.

Volunteers play football with village youth. Photography by Josh Jakobitz.

Looking for an immersive experience in Haiti? Spend 6 weeks this summer understanding Haiti with Operation Groundswell (OG). OG is a non-profit that offers travel and community service experiences, which aim to create more socially and environmentally aware backpackers around the world. The 6-week summer trips include a month of service work and 2 weeks of independent travel time. The early summer trip to Haiti will focus on reforestation projects, the late summer trip focuses on education.

For quality Haitian-run tourism trip packages, check out Tour Haiti (use Google Translate).

About the Author:

Stephanie Price is a freelance copywriter who oversees fundraising and communications for English in Mind Institute, a free adult English school in Port-au-Prince. She loves Haiti and not-so-secretly hopes you will too.

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Travel Channel hosts in Haiti:

Watch a recap of Tony Bourdain’s time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And follow coffee hunter, Todd Carmichael, as he searches for a rare strain of coffee in Haiti.

By: Holly C. Corbett of The Lost Girls

It’s no secret that to really care about a place and to better understand people from a different culture, you have to go there. Traveling to distant lands helped me to realize that people are more alike than we are different. Whether you’re from Mongolia or Manhattan, we all have the same basic needs: The need to belong, to love and be loved, to feel like our lives matter to someone or for something.

Watching Half the Sky last night (a PBS documentary on the oppression of women and girls around the world) reminded me of what travel had already showed me: That we can all do something—big or small—to make this world we live in a better place. We can each play a part in shedding light on the darkness—be it poverty, pollution, or—a cause I’m personally passionate about—fighting sex trafficking.

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