This week's travel guest post is brought to you by Jeff Mitchell, the director and CFO at Conservation Volunteers International Program. They're kind of amazing, check them out! Having done a volunteer trip in New Zealand and various other volunteer projects, I'm a huge fan of programs like this and looking forward to seeing everything they accomplish.
I think I’ve been pretty lucky in my outdoors and travel experiences so far. I don’t spent my days in the awesome nature of Montana like Jenn does, but I’ve been fortunate. I’ve given that luck a nudge by sometimes being open to working for free.
When I want to do something new, gain experience, and follow new interests, I usually volunteer. It started in Seattle, when my wife and I decided to help out a rabbit rescue on the weekends. We would hike Saturday, volunteer Sunday. Somewhere in there, I also studied for my grad programs and worked a day job on a trading floor. But it’s no surprise I look back more fondly upon the time spent in the mountains or taking care of bunnies than I do on whole days studying in dark coffee shops. Seattle’s non-profit community is intertwined, so we quickly started doing things we didn’t know we could do, for organizations we’d just met weeks before.
And when we moved a couple of years ago, I had a checklist I wanted in the next organization: I wanted to do something involving nature and travel, I wanted to use at least one of my background areas, and I wanted a group that was organized, so that I could really invest time there. You find that a lot of great new “idea” non-profits run their course over a year or two—it’s still exciting, and you do learn a lot from it. It just happened that, at that point, my motivation was to volunteer more extensively for only a group or two. I found Conservation Volunteers International Program, and, to paraphrase Anchorman Ron Burgundy, it escalated quickly.
They brought me into the fold immediately, and not very long after, I became a board member and CFO. They happened to have use for experience I’d built up. For that I am grateful.
Because the other CVIP team members are triple-a waaay more qualified than I am. Gene and Dave each are retired public land leaders of more than four decades—among the most respected in the country. John and Celia have lived more exciting outdoor lives than I can ever hope for. Our CEO, Chris, has given me a second education when she’s not out doing things like building a suspension bridge in Patagonia with her engineer husband. We have a Machu Picchu archaeologist—I like just saying that to hear it. “So I’m sitting there chatting with Bill… oh he’s just this Machu Picchu archeologist I know.” Moreover, you’d think my law degree would set me apart in a small non-profit, but I was the third JD. There are a few other members, each of whom have decades of exciting travel stories. And there’s me, a pretty lucky guy who’s weaseled his way onto this board. You’ve been shortchanged, getting a guest post from the boring guy!
So, that’s exciting and fulfilling to me personally, but it’s what we do that’s fun. We organize and lead volunteer trips to some of the world’s most important natural heritage sites, places like Torres del Paine and Machu Picchu. We’re all volunteers, and we partner with REI Adventures. Our trip leaders (the board members) put in the work with local governments, organizations and community members to make the trips experiences where people visit the most awe inspiring places on earth, and actually make those places better. Real, lasting results come from the trips. We couldn’t do it without the amazing people who sign up to join us, and some of those people, in turn, end up becoming more involved in our organization.
I didn’t entirely luck into an opportunity where what’s called “volunteering” feels more like doing amazingly fun things, helping others meet their goals to travel. But it’s not so hard to obtain. You just have to be willing to share your skills and interests, and to give some of your time.
Possibly more than education and patience, definitely more than sticking to one career and playing it safe, volunteering has worked for me. What’s worked for you?
Anyway, it’s great of Jenn to ask me join in the conversation. I’ve been a fan of the blog and am thankful of the opportunity to talk travel!