The Soul Behind “Go & Give Back”

Each time I set out for an adventure to a new place – a new city, or even a faraway country largely different from my own hometown – there is always an initial moment when the exact same thing happens. As I leave the airport, the ship, or train station and step into the world around me, I want to know “How is life different here?” And then I look for the detailed evidence.  Based on all that I see around me, how specifically does life unfold here? It’s one of the best parts of travel, comparing this new experience to what I know as normal and customary back home. 

While it’s fun to see and do the top ten things in any locale and snap the obligatory photos of our group in all the right places, it’s even more fun to get to know the soul of each place. It takes valuable time and effort to peer into the soul of any place we travel to, but the depth gained is well worth it.  By doing some personal research and having a deeper desire to find more than the standard punch-list approach of “See & Do” heralded in the travel books, you can become a seasoned traveler. So spend the time getting to know your new city, town, or country on a soul level. Here are seven questions to ask as you Go & Give Back.

  • What is your new place known for bringing to the world? What are they proud of showing visitors? 

The sea turtles of the Outer Banks, the zebras of the Serengeti, the art in Florence, the chocolate of Zurich…name the place and it’s sure to have its own claim to fame. Spend a day volunteering at a place that strengthens your knowledge of that gift and also lets you meet the locals who make it happen. If you’re at the Outer Banks, volunteer at the Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center and even adopt a turtle. You will strengthen your connection to the place you’ve visited as you invest in nurturing it throughout the year.

  • Who is traveling with you?

If you have school-aged children with you as you travel, engage them in recognizing and reaching out to the school children in the location you’re visiting. If you’re heading to Belize, for instance, ask your kids to help you shop and pack an extra suitcase of needed school supplies to donate to a neighborhood school there. You can encourage your children to see the similarities, notice the differences, and engage in what brings kids together even though their worlds are far apart. To see other ideas, visit Pack for A Purpose to know how you can participate.

  • What’s hard? Who is in the margins?

As you walk to a restaurant for dinner or visit a museum nearby, what do you see that’s difficult? Every town faces challenges that are part of daily life there. Look for how the town is addressing the difficulties and engage in the effort to meet them. You might be able to provide a microloan for a woman’s sewing business, or take a yoga class at a park, or otherwise provide support for those small businesses that bring solutions.

  • How can you leave a light footprint?

Being aware of the wake you leave behind you as you travel lets you do your best to minimize it. Use fewer towels and sheets at the hotel, bring your own refillable water bottle, and walk whenever and wherever you can. Knowing how your behavior impacts the local flavor will make you a good friend.

  • What matters to you at home?

So many times we load our suitcases with the trinkets that will help us remember the favorite parts of each trip. If we choose art crafted by a local resident,  a book written by a local author, or a beautiful sweater woven nearby, we are investing both in our memories and in the culture we’ve temporarily joined. So pick carefully the things you will treasure as you take them back to your home and enjoy them over and over again. But remember to never buy wildlife products! Do your part in being the solution. Send the strong message worldwide – don’t let your dollars ever support the wildlife trade.

  • What’s joyful?

For me? Food! I love to taste the favorite dishes of the cultures I travel to! Shopping locally and eating locally grown food and sipping wine from regional vineyards teaches me more about the area, its spices, and those who love the land. It also supports those whose lives are spent bringing those delicacies to the table. For others, joy comes in the form of art, or photography, or outdoor pursuits. Whatever brings you joy, find it in its truest form and support those who share it with you.

  • What does history tell you about the story?

When you know the paths that have been paved before you, it gives you a better understanding of the world you’re currently standing in. Spend time preparing for your trip by reading about their history, local politics, and any points of tension, and you’ll come to the city better able to process what you experience. When we understand the narrative of the people there, their culture, and the stories that frame their identity, we know a little better what makes them uniquely who they are.