Want to know how to be an effective “voluntourist”? OK, here are a five steps to achieving that. I promise, there are no immunization needles needed:
Make a plan. Nothing is ever successful without a plan. Plan how long you are going to stay, what you want to do when you get there, where you are going to stay, which organizations you are going to work with. Maybe even plan to take a few days off and vacation, go to a national park, or a resort nearby (beaches are a popular destination). Plan and save for the budget you are going to need for your entire stay. Then inflate it by 25% just to be on the safe side. Don’t want to be stuck in deep dark Amazonia without a way back now do you?
Make sure you make contact with a local person at an organization before you leave. Find out what he’s all about and what their skills and capabilities are. This will allow you to see where you fit in, where you can make your biggest different. Because after all, you want to maximize your effectiveness. You want to make a difference. You want to make other people’s lives “over there” much better. Who knows, maybe you feel a little guilty about your privilege and you want to exorcise that nasty feeling. So plan well.
The day before you execute your plan, take a moment, just one day, and do something you’ve never done in your community. Here’s an idea, withdraw some of that money, go up to a homeless person and take them to a nice restaurant. Depending on how comfortable you are, you could even take them for a make over before dinner. Buy them a nice dress/suit. Wine them, talk their ear off, maybe do a little bit of listen about how they live their life. Make sure to take plenty of before and after pictures. Then at the end of the meal, pay the bill and walk out of the restaurant.
The next day, cancel your trip. Withdrawal the rest of your saved trip money and walk to Western Union and send the money to the contact in Step 2.
Blog about it. Post all those pictures from step 3, with the nameless homeless person you just saved for a day. Tweet about the transformative experience, how much injustice they are going through. How it changed your life. Go hog wild. Don’t hold back about your do-goodedness, how it has changed/gave you perspective. The world wants to know just how awesome you are.
Congrats, you have done some good in the world. The money you sent to your contact was going to be spent there anyway. So you won’t miss it. The life changing experience of dressing up poverty in step 3 is exactly the useless kind of experience you would have taken 6 months to experience halfway around the world. The status quo would still be in place after you left as abruptly as you did the restaurant. But who cares, you just did something awesome!