First, a quick udate from me: Hello from Vermont! I’ve settled into my November annual three weeks of house/pet-sitting in the lovely Green Mountain State. This is a time for me to slow down a bit after a busy guiding season in Alaska. Late fall is when I finally get to spend an extended amount of quality time with my family in Philadelphia (and eat lots of Asian food, which Philly is exceptional!), as well as take the time to make plans and set future goals for myself. It is also the time of year when I amp up my cider, apple, maple, and woodstove game! Bring it on, New England!
With the recent horrific attack in New York City , as well as other tragedies playing out locally and globally, my reaction is to bring more joy and happiness into the world, as well as to seek out others doing good things. Yes, there are a lot of horrible things going on, and those are not to be ignored, however it’s important to acknowledge that there are also a lot of wonderful and positive things going on that you can be a part of. It’s more important than ever to be good to one another, and to show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones.
Jared and his crew of Guna boys, sharing the love of kayaking
One great way to do good things for others is to incorporate acts of kindness and compassion into your vacation. Maybe you are someone who wants to do good things for others, yet finds it difficult to find the time during your hectic daily life. It might even be difficult to do good things for yourself! Welcome: vacation! This is a great opportunity to do good! You finally have the energy and the time for yourself and for others.
Lovely day for a paddle in Guna Yala. Do something good for yourself, as well as others!
The kayak trips that I run in Guna Yala, on the Caribbean of Panama, are a wonderful opportunity to travel with a greater purpose. Donations are always welcome and well-received. Opportunities for home-stays and volunteering abound. And of course each trip uses local Guna guides. We try to buy as much seafood from Guna fishermen as possible, as well as experience much of their fascinating culture and crafts. Check these trip options out here. Or maybe a Yoga/Sea Kayak Retreat is more your thing. Check out this 9-day all-inclusive trip January 6-14, 2018, that explores both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panama. Click here for a detailed itinerary. Contact me with questions or if you’d like to book a trip. Read on.
Here are 4 ways to enhance your vacation by adding an element of good deeds.
Look around you. . . you probably have more than a few things to spare that others might find useful or even life-saving (i.e. medical supplies, shoes, or warm clothing if you’re traveling somewhere cold). I read something (I wish that I could remember, so I’m paraphrasing) that said “If you can afford to drink a beverage other than water, you have the means to give.” This might sound a bit extreme, and I’m not saying to stop drinking your tea and coffee. However, these words inspire me and made me realize how many material things I have that are not essential to my survival, such as that box of Chai tea that I love so much. Maybe next time I’m looking at all the Chai tea options, I’ll opt to spend that money on some art supplies for children instead.
A sweet Guna girl wearing her new dress, made by donation from a group of kayakers
Collecting things to donate is fun, easy, and potentially free (no need to go out and buy things). It’s also a win-win situation; You clear out things that you don’t really need, and those you’re donating to benefit by getting things that can enhance their lives. It’s also a great way to have a positive interaction with locals. Here’s an idea: Next time you go on vacation, throw a party and have everyone bring a few items that will serve the people where you’re traveling. (Maybe don’t bring a bag of winter jackets to the Caribbean. . . but clothing for warm weather will certainly be useful.)
A school in Ecuador that I helped donate supplies to, 2004 (I’m wearing my Jerry Garcia t-shirt on the left)
- Clothing (in decent condition and appropriate for the climate)
- Medical supplies (good condition, appropriate for the environment, and that the people fully understand how to use the supplies, as this could potentially be harmful)
- Books (in their language and yours, lots of photos are great, do the people want to learn English?)
- Art and School supplies (notebooks, paper, writing and coloring supplies, stickers, markers, folders, beads)
- Games (appropriate for the age level, and the environment. i.e. As it’s quite windy in Guna Yala, and the kids love them, I always bring down a bunch of kites. Guna also love cards, dominoes and dice:)
- Kitchen/bathroom supplies (appropriate for the environment. i.e. I get requests for graters from Guna women to use to grate fresh coconut for coconut rice – so delicious!)
- Other useful items (appropriate for the lives of the people where you’re traveling. Some ideas: eyeglasses, sewing kits, fishing supplies (the Guna love it when I bring them different kinds of fishing hooks and line, as fishing is very important to Guna livelihoods), life vests, headlamps (I find these to be useful for everyone!), certain electronics, etc. . .)
Young Guna artists at work on their masterpieces, after my friend, Suzannah, donated the supplies. They were so excited!
The photos below are from a group of 11 women, and my co-trip leader, Dave, who were part of a 4-day sea kayaking trip in Guna Yala earlier in 2017. These women collected bags of clothing to donate to Guna families, as well as sewing kits and eyeglasses for Guna women to use to sew their gorgeous molas. Check out a blog about this amazing trip and more on compassionate tourism here.
If you’re not with an organized group, it’s pretty easy (with the internet these days) to find schools, community centers, and other organizations to make donations. I love shopping at thrift stores, so whenever I go thrifting I always buy a few extra items and books to bring with me to Panama. And because I go back to some of the same Guna communities each year, it’s fun to see Guna walking around in clothing that my family and I have donated:) There’s a Guna man walking around with my dad’s neon pink Philadelphia Folk Festival t-shirt!
A wonderful group doing good things
Donating clothing to the Guna
Guna woman showing off her new glasses!
Hand-sewn Sun and Moon mola
2) Home-stay and/or Volunteer
There are many ways to find opportunities like home-stays and volunteering while traveling. Home-stays are an excellent way to immerse yourself in another culture (this is a main reason why we travel, right?!), share your own culture, learn/practice a different language, and benefit a family financially, as home-stays usually cost money. I recommend the mighty Google machine. It’s actually overwhelming how many wonderful organizations there are that allow you to combine good deeds while traveling, whether this is the focus of your trip or not. Make sure to have good communication with the organization, so ensure a successful and positive experience! Keep in mind, it doesn’t need to take up your entire travel itinerary. It’s also important to do something good for yourself that fulfills you, like a kayak trip (hint, hint). Don’t feel bad about laying in a hammock on a beach. . . it is your well-earned vacation, after all! So, whether it’s dedicating two weeks to help build a school in a rural area, or spending an afternoon playing with kids at an orphanage, everyone benefits.
Helping move pipes for water, Ecuador, 2004
Helping in the garden, Ecuador, 2004
Planting seeds to help out, Ecuador, 2004
Many hands make more fun! Ecuador, 2004
Personal story: Ten years ago I was traveling in Ecuador and wanted to find a home-stay that also included volunteering. The first organization that came up on Google was a women’s group of artists called Las Colibris (The Hummingbirds) that were making art from natural materials that the women would harvest. I thought I would stay a week, and ended up staying for 6 weeks because I loved it so much! I lived with a family, ate all of my meals with them, and helped them in their workshop everyday. I recall my home-stay mom telling me how much the income from this organization was helping her and her family. It also gave her a sense of independence, as she was making a living for herself, and not relying solely on her husband for money. Unfortunately, I could not find an active website for this organization anymore. Following are photos from that trip.
“Las Colibris” women’s group, Ecuador, 2007
Making recycled paper, Ecuador, 2007
Harvesting achiote to dye the recycled paper, Ecuador, 2007
Helping to make crafts with “Las Colibris” women’s group, Ecuador, 2007
The crafts of “Las Colibris” on display, Ecuador, 2007
3) Tourism,Crafts and Food
In some places, especially remote and small communities, tourism and selling crafts and food might be the main source of income for families. Include in your travel plans activities that use local guides. Eat local food. Buy local crafts. Find out about local festivals and holidays. Check out a traditional dance or music performance. You’ll have a blast while learning about the area and making new friends and connections. And what better way to bring home a reminder of your wonderful holiday than to buy a hand-made craft from your travels!
Each horse came from a different family for our horseback riding adventure, Ecuador, 2004
Guided by a local, friends and I on a waterfall hike outside Santa Fe, Panama
One of my kayaking groups enjoying a Guna dance performance, Guna Yala
Checking out the bracelets from a Guna woman
Buying fish for dinner from the local Guna fishermen
Kayaking helps the community of Digirdup, Guna Yala
Nemesio, Guna guide extraordinnaire
“Mola” shopping is a favorite activity in Guna Yala
Participating in the traditional Guna dance
Learning how the Guna women sew the famous “mola”
Participating in the Guna Revolution anniversary, Guna Yala
Watching a Guna dance in honor of their Revolution, Panama City
Diguar, Iguandili and I explore a river, Guna style
4) Teach, Share, Learn, Play and Smile
I know, I cheated and combined five things. Basically, #4 is to enrich the lives of others by giving your time and having positive interactions. Just have fun! Share laughter and smiles. Get silly and play games! If you’re on a bike trip, kayak trip, climbing trip, fishing trip, whatever it may be, invite the locals to check out your gear and give it a try. Just keep them safe! You might plant the seed for a local to get the training they need to become a tour guide. Better yet, if you have the resources you might get inspired to start your own organization to teach locals the skills they need to guide/offer a certain activity/craft, or offer them something else they need, such as solar panels or language skills. The Guna always take to kayaking quickly, and it brings a lot of joy for them to play around in the kayaks. Smiles and laughter all around is a wonderful thing! Plus, I’m secretly training the young ones to be future sea kayak guides:)
Dance party after a day of work, Ecuador, 2004
Kids captivated by bottle rockets in Ecuador, 2004
Duck, duck, goose! Rather, “pato, pato, ganso!” Ecuador, 2004
Smiles all around, after helping this Ecuadorian family in their fields, 2004
Impromptu soccer game, Guna Yala
Cute Guna boys “tormenting” Jared, Guna Yala
Curious Guna gather around the kayakers
Liz teaches curious Guna, “This is how you hold the paddle.”
Guna boys testing out my kayak
Ernestina ready for a big trip, Guna Yala
A group of Canadians and Guna
Below are two of my closest Guna buddies, brothers Hectoriano and Ertaliano, who took to kayaking quickly. I’m hoping future Guna kayak guides!
Hectoriano ready to race his brother, Guna Yala his brother
Ertaliano getting used to his kayak, Guna Yala
I hope that this blog will inspire you to incorporate some element from my list for your future travels. Share your ideas with me! Have a wonderful day, and remember to be good to one another, and show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones.