I am stepping aside from the usual content of my column to talk about a subject that is starting to geg a lot of attention in the gay travel industry: "voluntourism."
Most people who take vacations are focused on what they are going to get and take out of the trip. They want to take a break, get a tan, take in some sight-seeing, get a massage, take in a sunset, etc.. So, I did a little experiment on a recent Zoom Vacations all gay trip I led to Buenos Aires, where guests had the opportunity to give back to the community we were visiting. Specifically, Zoom guests were invited to bring an educational toy from home to give to a child in need I Buenos Aires.
We worked with an Elementary school located in the neighborhood of San Isidro in Buenos Aires. The school has an enrollment of 350 students, most of whom are children of low socio-economic backgrounds. The school also provides students with a healthy breakfast and lunch.
We were really impressed with how many travelers donated toys, and some of them actually went on mini shopping sprees in Buenos Aires to find the perfect gifts.
Hernán Ariel Luna, Professor of Theater at the school received the toys from Zoom Vacations' travelers and distributed them to his students as an incentive for them to continue their hard work. Luna coordinated a lesson around the gifts in which his students drew theatrical scenes of them enjoying the toys.
Luna said that upon receiving the toys, the kids were very emotional and anxious. The best moment was when they opened the toys and their eyes illuminated with excitement as they ripped the wrapping paper off the boxes.
Not only did many of the travelers bring toys, but the toys were really high quality. One guy even brought three deflated soccer balls in his luggage, plus a blowup pump to inflate the balls when he arrived. Other travelers like Jeffrey Larkin and Robert Nardi chose to buy their gifts upon arriving in Buenos Aires instead of bringing one from home.
Luna later emailed me photos of the children enjoying their toys. It made the experience seem so much more real to see the children actually enjoying the toys.
"When Zoom sent us the pictures of the children playing with the toy we donated, the joy on their faces was evident, "Robert Nardi said, "We attend quite a
few fund raisers and donate our time to numerous non-profit organizations back home. Thus, when we had an opportunity to donate, we jumped on it, because we understand how one small gift can make a significant impact. We are thankful to Zoom Vacations for giving us this chance to make a difference."
Jeffrey Larkin said, "We have the fortunate privilege to live in a very affluent area of the country that prides itself in philanthropic endeavors. So the philosophy of "pay it forward" is infused into our collective minds. We especially like to give to charities that support medical issues like HIV/AIDS, leukemia/lymphoma, animals, the arts, and of course children. So the opportunity to give a little something to children in a foreign country that we were visiting was very fulfilling. And it's a good reflection on our LGBT community and our country in general to be good stewards and ambassadors of good will when we travel."
Travelers (especially gay travelers) are looking for more than just fabulous hotels and over-the-top experiences. While of this is important, for many of us travel is so much more than that. Especially as our world grows in ways that sometimes stifle human interaction, in our travels we seek meaningful connections to those we meet, and deeper associations with the communities we visit. We seek greater opportunities to embrace the local cultures, customs, and traditions.
Giving makes you feel empowered, and in general it makes you feel great. In its simplest terms, isn't the desire to feel great the main reason we take vacations in the first place.