A four-time volunteer tells why Global Volunteers programs are the best volunteer vacations available. In an interview with Matt Mayes, a Florida-based videographer, Lynn describes her experience looking for, and finding, meaningful travel.
Matt: You were searching for the best volunteer vacation. How did you learn about Global Volunteers?
Lynn: About three years ago, I was looking towards retirement and always had a passion for travel. We’ve traveled extensively with various groups, but I was looking for a different experience. A friend of mine gave me a book on the best volunteer vacations. I went through it, got some ideas, and then I proceeded to do some research on the web.
After pretty extensive research and comparing pricing and experiences, I emailed Global Volunteers and a few other organizations. I asked them if I could have some emails of some people that had participated with them so I could get some first-hand information. Global Volunteers, far and above the others that I had contacted, had the best reviews. People had the best experiences. Global Volunteers, hands down, seemed to offer the best volunteer vacations. When somebody tells you, I’ve traveled with this organization on nine different trips, or I’ve gone back to the same place six times, there must be something good going on there. So that’s what prompted me to try one of their trips.
Actually, I’d thought I’d try one prior to retirement just to see if this was something I wanted to do as part of my long-term goals. I looked through the countries that they went to and noticed that they had a program in Crete, Greece. That really struck a note because my father was born on the island of Crete. That made it even more enticing. The interesting thing was I had been to Greece several times before, and Crete, with my family on vacations. But I can tell you the Global Volunteers experience was completely different.
Matt: Tell us a little about yourself prior to retirement.
Lynn: I had a long and very successful career as part of the Times Publishing Company working for a monthly business magazine. They own Florida Trend. I had various positions over the years in sales, sales management, and the last eight or nine years I was there I oversaw the entire sales effort.
Matt: When you started your research, how did you conclude that Global Volunteers offered the best volunteer vacations?
The thing that impressed me was that Global Volunteers had longevity. They had been in business since the 1980s, and had expanded the programs and added countries. Everyone I talked to had nothing but good things to say. I didn’t hear, truthfully, one negative experience. Global Volunteers has a tremendous amount of repeat business and to me, having been in business myself my whole life, that’s key. If people are coming back, they must be happy. And also, of course, pricing and cost. The fact that it’s tax-deductible. I believe that for the two weeks, it’s a very good value. Even though you pay your own airfare, it includes three meals a day. You are taken out often. They give you many suggestions about what to do in your free time.
“I believe that all those things make Global Volunteers’ service programs the best volunteer vacations available.”
The interesting thing is when you go out in the community, even if you’re by yourself, and you have a cup of coffee somewhere and perhaps the proprietor will ask if you’re on vacation, because that’s mostly what people are, and you say, well, not really, I’m helping volunteer. They look at you in a whole different light.
Matt: What do you most like about the leadership at Global Volunteers?
Lynn: The leadership at Global Volunteers is very authentic, and when I say that, they are very open about everything. You can go on the website and see their financials. You can see what portion of your money is actually going towards the program. It’s a tremendous amount. They run a very lean operation. And I know this because when it was their 30th anniversary, they had a gala in Minnesota at their headquarters. I think if I am going to be involved with this organization and take several trips with them, I want to see how they operate. So I went and Michele, the vice president of Global Volunteers, was nice enough to show me around. Their office is literally a home reconstructed to office space with a few employees and volunteers. And I was impressed again with that.
When I went to the anniversary party, the people who were attending were people who had participated in Global Volunteers programs, which was great because I had the opportunity to meet people who had volunteered six, seven, eight times. One woman has gone to Poland for something like ten years. And I said to her, “You go every summer for three weeks for ten years? Why haven’t you tried other countries?” And she replied, “I know the kids, I’ve watched them grow up, I love it.” I think that speaks to the way they run the operation. And for me, it was important to find that out before deciding on the best volunteer vacations.
Matt: What would you say to someone who is thinking about it, sitting on the fence post, has some reservations because it’s a dangerous world out there..?
The countries where Global Volunteers operates, for the most part, don’t offer any threats to Americans. Global Volunteers’ policy is not to travel to any countries with travel warnings for U.S. citizens. And Global Volunteers is very cautious. The country managers who lead your teams are very cautious, and give you recommendations about everything so that you stay safe. If you are going to go on a walk on a rough road, they’ll tell you might want to wear good sneakers, for example. They are very cautious and are very thoughtful of where you are and what the circumstances are. They’ll say, this is a safe place to walk around at night, or, you should maybe stay away from this neighborhood. That’s the sign of a great volunteer vacation organization.
For the most part, the programs are in small communities, that remember, they’ve asked Global Volunteers to come in. So it’s not like you are intruding; they know that you’re there to help. So I have never felt uncomfortable or fearful on any trip of anything, and I’ve gone with groups, I’ve gone with a friend, and I’ve been by myself, and I’ve never had any issues.
“The country managers who lead your teams in country are very cautious and give you recommendations about everything so that you stay safe.”
Matt: So you recommend Global Volunteers to others?
Lynn: If you enjoy experiencing other cultures, and have a curiosity, and want a really authentic experience, Global Volunteers is the way to go because you will live with the local people. You’ll see the good, the bad, the ugly. You can ask them questions. They will be totally honest with you. You’ll never get that at a resort. Global Volunteers truly does offer the best volunteer vacations.
“You’ll never get that at a resort. Global Volunteers truly does offer the best volunteer vacations.”
Matt: What were your other team members like?
Lynn: It was an interesting mix and every time it’s a different group. When I went to Havana in January of 2017, there were 25 volunteers. The ages ranged from 30 years old, a woman who had just finished law school and wanted to take a little time off to do something fun. And an 85-year-old gentleman who was a retired mayor from a small community in Pennsylvania. And he was the most fascinating person I had ever met. I was so attached to him I wanted to talk to him every chance I had. His life was so amazing! And the fact that at 85 he was still traveling and curious. He had spent time in the Peace Corps and he was in Bangladesh. He had done several Global Volunteers programs, and it was his second or third one to Cuba with Global Volunteers.
“You meet fascinating people, retired teachers, retired professors, professionals, all different ages, the whole gambit. That’s the other thing – you make new friends.”
I have met so many fascinating people on my programs – retired teachers, nurses, professionals. The thing is that when you go on a program, you are meeting like-minded people – people who are curious, people who like to travel, people that you have a lot in common with. You compare notes.
“So it’s fun! It’s like a summer camp experience for adults. You’re with people that like the same things you do and have the same curiosities and are looking for the same cultural experiences.”
Matt: Do you feel like you are doing good in the world?
Lynn: It’s very rewarding when you come back to your home and a fourteen-year-old from a far-away island emails you and says, “Thank you so much! You are such an inspiration. It was such a pleasure to meet you. I feel lucky that we were able to spend time together.” That was four years ago and I still stay in touch with her. I have made friends that I feel like whenever I go back to Greece, I would connect with these people. And that, in and of itself is worth it.
Lynn is a three-time volunteer to Greece, and has volunteered on Global Volunteers’ Havana program as well. Next, she is thinking about volunteering in Poland or returning to Crete in what she describes as one of the “best volunteer vacations” available.
More about Lynn and her experiences volunteering: