Travel brings father, son closer

Writer George Rush has appeared in Conde NastTraveler, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire and other magazines. To better connect with his young son, Eamon, George embarked on a number of trips throughout the world, seeking adventure and new experiences:

How Traveling the World with My Son Brought Us Closer

George Rush

June 13, 2014

(All photos courtesy of George Rush)

My dad took our family on typical vacations when I was growing up " Gettysburg, Williamsburg, the Wisconsin Dells. We stopped for clamwiches at Howard Johnson' s. It wasn' t until I was in my 30s that I left the United States.

When I finally procured a passport, I lit out with friends on a three-month trip around the world. We were in Kashmir, riding horses through the Himalayan foothills, when we crossed paths with an American couple and their two children. I found it incredible that these kids were experiencing such an ethereal place. Then and there, I said to myself, "If I ever have a kid, he or she is coming with me!"

My son, Eamon, was 1 year old when he got his passport. He picked up his first few immigration stamps in Europe and the Caribbean. Later, my wife, Joanna, and I, who are both journalists, started taking him farther afield " to Tunisia and Indonesia.

Eamon, 10, in Ghana.

One year, I got an assignment in Ghana. Joanna couldn' t break away from work. I asked Eamon, then 10, if he wanted to go. He said, "Sure," though he later claimed he thought I' d said, "We' re gonna go on a vacation!"

I wanted to push the boundaries this time. So, besides touring the West African nation, we volunteered with Globe Aware, an organization that helps build schools. Eamon had never been a big chore-doer. But, in Ghana, he carried lumber, mixed cement, and sawed iron rods. He played soccer with village kids and showed them American football. He went to a voodoo ceremony, where, he likes to recall, I got a little carried away with the trance drumming and ritual libations. It was his longest time away from his mom. But he came home with some stories " like the day he scared a toddler who' d never seen a white boy.

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Eamon was 13 when he and I went to Madagascar. His cement-mixing skills came in handy on another school construction site, this one run by Azafady, a pioneering NGO. He also helped take a census of frogs on an island crawling with lemurs, chameleons, and other species found nowhere else on earth. His main project was getting me to grow a beard. I didn' t want to grow a beard, but he seemed to think it was something dads did in the wild.  He also insisted on naming my beard "Sebastian." He asked Malagasy strangers if they wanted to touch Sebastian. Thankfully, most declined.

Last summer, we headed to Ecuador. By then, the burbling " tween I' d brought to Ghana had turned into a supremely cool 15-year-old who spoke to us sporadically. But, once we' d left the States, once he couldn' t text his friends and he' d run through all the movies he' d downloaded, he had no one left to talk to but me. We fell into our routines: gags with sleep masks and neck pillows, inside jokes about invasive worms, Eamon goading me to grow another beard.  Again, we volunteered.

The terrific VenaEcuador program arranged for us to live with families while we tutored students in the Galapagos. We met some more astonishing creatures: Darwin' s finches, slag heaps of iguanas, the blue-footed booby. The trip was infused with more adrenalin " rafting, scuba-diving, mountain-biking, volcano-climbing. I tried to keep up.  Fortunately, I now had someone who could help pull into the boat or through the hole in a cave.

It' s funny how you sometimes have to go far away to get closer. Eamon now appreciates more of what he sees around him. But there' s never a bad age for a kid to discover the world' s wonders and sorrows, and feel what it' s like to be an outsider. This summer, we' re due to volunteer in Kenya with the anti-poaching foundation, Big Life. Now Eamon is the one who can grow the beard. My only question: what will I name it?

George Rush has written for the Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and Esquire, among other magazines.  His new book is, Scandal: A Manual.

Volunteer Abroad at 40

Yelena Parker, expatriate, executive coach and writer with The Huffington Post recently shared her views on volunteering abroad after reaching 40.

In a nutshell, Yelena says “Dot it!”

Read her insight and averviews for yourself:

4 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer Abroad at 40

Life begins at 40. Forties are the new twenties. We have heard, spoken and overused these sentiments, more so during the year we turned 40. Big dates make us pause, review where our lives have taken us, reevaluate our priorities and set new goals. Some people choose to go through a radical change: have an affair, get a divorce, get married (again or finally), have a child. Many are interested in restyling their careers: it is time for me to do what I really want! Others are happy with a few new toys that their hard-earned money can finally buy: a fancy car, an upgraded house.

For those who do not to have children, a change of scenery to clear their heads and think through what the next 10, 20, 30… years are going to be like, is an easy solution. What is it going to be: an exotic location to relax and spoil yourself, or a destination to make a difference for communities in need? Sign up for a few months and break to:

1. Check back with your ambitions and passions
Do you remember what they were? Yes, I am talking to you, careerists! In the past 20 years you have pushed upwards, onwards, worked crazy hours and told yourself that there was going to be a reward once you were done. What was that reward exactly? What does done mean? We are so overconnected and overplugged in that there is rarely any time left for seriously thinking about who we wanted to be at the start of the career journey. Were you planning to get out of the corporate world to go satisfy your passion for teaching? Have you been telling your friends about this amazing book idea for the past 10 years? Did you want to try something new before you actually commit to a career change? Was your dream to start your own business? Volunteering projects allow you to enjoy new environment, get new ideas and test the old ones while you are actively helping a local community. They also are a fertile ground for discussions about life, universe, priorities as well as comparing experiences.

Volunteer Abroad2. Understand the current gap year generation
You know how people in your office sometimes start their complaints with “These recent graduates, I just don’t get them! They… ” Joining a group of volunteers in any country in Africa gives you instant access to the minds and hearts of the current gap year generation. Their experiences growing up are drastically different from yours. They are idealists and seek meaning from the start of their first jobs. They don’t just want to go to the university, but rather want to know why and how they will apply their education. You will also realize that you are not really that different. It just took you extra 20 years to articulate the same goals and feel safe to pursue them.

3. Create new friendships
Eight-hundred Facebook friends is a fun number, but when was the last time you made a real friend? Chances are if you are in a career race anywhere in the world, you barely manage to keep up with people who you have got close to over the years across many countries. Maybe you meet a few interesting and useful contacts, or get a few new friends in the office.
Shared volunteering experiences create strong new friendships. You bond across a wide range of age groups. You have time for endless debates and discoveries, laughs and silly games besides your hard work. Yes, volunteering is work! Just unpaid. Meet new people, both locals and fellow volunteers and be open to share who you are and why you are on this journey far away from home. Enjoy your new friendships!

4. Learn about new cultures
You have traveled so much for work and on holiday that there isn’t possibly anything new you could learn. Wrong! Volunteering sites provide access to unedited life stories, local reality and needs. You can be in a beautiful hotel in the north of Zanzibar, for example, and never speak to a single person who grew up there. Even if you do speak to them, it’s most likely going to be a set of polite greetings.
When you volunteer, you become part of the community. There is something truly amazing about walking through a village and hear people of all ages call out to you from their homes: “Teacher Nicole! Teacher Pauline! Teacher Toni!” Whether you are 18 or 40, your status is of an educator. You will also meet the locals and understand what their lives are like. You will get extra interpretation of what you have learned from your volunteer coordinators.
Turning 40? Never volunteered abroad? If you read the post this far, I hope you sign up for a project close to your heart!

The Huffington Post

Things That Have Made Travel Better

Chis Clayton has compiled an interesting list of 85 Things That Have Made Travel Better. Featured in Delta Sky Magazine‘s June 2014 Innovation Issue, #24 is VOLUNTOURISM:

“Global Travelers are increasingly choosing to mix travel and philanthropy, from building soccer fields to helping orphaned lion cubs. Some well-regarded programs include Roadmonkey, Globe Aware, and Habitat for Humanity …”



8 Reasons to Take Your Teens On a Volunteer Vacation

DSCN3001By Sucheta Rawal

Travel Writer

Posted: 06/09/2014 4:27 pm EDT Updated: 06/09/2014 4:59 pm EDT

Huffington Post, Travel Section

Volunteer vacationing, or voluntourism, is a relatively new phenomenon that includes a service component built into a short-term vacation. Don’t confuse it with a mission trip, which is a trip designed specifically to work on a charity project or spread the philosophy of a religious group, or with the Peace Corps, which offers an opportunity to live and volunteer abroad for extended periods of time. The idea behind a volunteer vacation is to give back to the community you are visiting while having fun and learning about the local culture.

This type of a meaningful summer getaway can be especially useful for teenagers. Imagine a real-life lab where teens are learning as well as contributing. Choose any topic of interest to plan your themed trip, including the environment, health, education, micro lending, crafts, firefighting, sports, animals or construction. Most organizations require no prior experience or special skills but may not admit children less than eight years old.

1. Learn the real culture

International travel provides the opportunity for a great learning experience, but if you only take group tours and do solely tourist activities, you never really learn about a place’s true culture. Volunteering makes you get out there and meet the locals, as well as talk to and work alongside them. When you are forced into a situation where you are interacting with the locals everyday, you start to pick up on their cultural nuances and understand their culture on a deeper level. The recipients also feel grateful for your contributions and may invite you to private dinners, family gatherings or festivals that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

2. Strengthen family bonds

Traveling is a family bonding experience, but doing projects while traveling builds a sense of teamwork. Kids of all ages can work together building homes in villages, sowing seeds at community farms, taking care of animals at sanctuaries or engaging street kids in sports. Grandparents, uncles and cousins who don’t get to spend time with each other outside the once-a-year Thanksgiving or Christmas get-together can hang out as well as feel good about making an impact.

3. Be a positive role model

When your kids see you working hard to build toilets for village schools versus sipping margaritas on the beach, they develop a deeper admiration for you. As a parent, you become a positive role model who encourages them to think beyond themselves and to lend a helping hand to the global community. You empower your kids to be responsible, compassionate and good global citizens by leading by example.

4. Prepare the leaders of tomorrow

Working abroad as a volunteer helps teach greater tolerance and understanding towards people from diverse cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, ages and income levels. It helps young people break down stereotypes at a young age and grow into responsible, caring leaders. According to certain studies, adults who volunteered as kids were twice as likely to be involved in community service as adults who did not. If you expose your kids to volunteering at a young age, they are likely to become contributing members of society and future change agents.

5. Get a break on your taxes

Many volunteer vacations are tax deductible. If you are traveling with a registered charitable organization and the main reason for your trip is to do volunteer work, you can deduct all or most of the expenses you incur. For a family taking an international trip, the savings can amount to thousands of dollars.

6. Leave a positive footprint

Going on a volunteer vacation as opposed to a regular one will always leave a positive footprint. When you depart a destination, you bequeath something of value to the locals that will help them in their future. Weather you teach English to women or bring smiles to the faces of little kids, it is certain that the impact of your visit is much more than the dollars you spend at the hotels and restaurants.

7. Build your teen’s resume

Any volunteer work adds value to college applications. Teens can draw references from their experiences of traveling internationally, seeing how people live in different parts of the world, and helping make a positive impact. It provides them with great content that is relevant in class discussions, interviews and term papers. It also boosts their confidence and social skills.

8. Make them appreciate what they have

Perhaps the greatest benefit of a volunteer vacation experience is making your teens appreciate the lives they have and halting the trap of overconsumption. Witnessing how the majority of the world’s population lives without 24-hour running water, electricity, down comforters and overstocked pantries is truly an eye-opening experience for which no textbook or documentary film can substitute. After making friends with others of a similar age who live with very little, they will probably not demand the latest electronic gadgets next Christmas!