I Went on a Volunteer-Tourism Trip: Here’s What Happened

This past spring, I embarked on a journey to Bogota, Colombia, for a five-week volunteer placement with IVHQ, a volunteer abroad organization. It was truly a life changing experience and something I recommend to anyone interested in travel, volunteering — or both. Here’s a little glimpse into why I’ve become so passionate about this type of “vacation.”

I learned a LOT about myself.

Before going on my trip, I had never travelled solo and honestly, the thought sort of terrified me. It was a huge step out of my comfort zone, but I totally surprised myself by pulling it off. I navigated airports and somehow arrived in Bogota in one piece and without missing a single connecting flight. I am a rather shy person, especially when I don’t know people well, but I learned that I can overcome that tendency and I ended up making some amazing friends. I even overcame days when I was sick and crying over Facetime, telling my boyfriend that I wanted to come home. Through my volunteer tourism trip, I realized that I am stronger and capable of more than I ever realized.

I got to meet people I never would have otherwise. 
Photo Credit: Lacey Jantzi

Where else can a Canadian, German, American, Australian, Colombian, French, Chinese, Dane and Israeli live under the same roof? I was able to meet people and make friends from all across the globe and learned a lot about how different people see the world. 

I spent time looking beyond myself and my life.

Having “first-world problems” is something we joke a lot about, but it is truly hard to be concerned with things like my phone cord being too short to reach my bed when I’m preparing food to serve to homeless Venezuelan refugees. I think any kind of volunteer position is an amazing eye-opener and this opportunity certainly helped me to be a little more selfless. It’s easy to always be focused on yourself and your needs, but focusing on someone else can bring huge personal growth.

I fell in love with a new city.

As part of my trip, I had a lot of time to explore. I got to see a very cool new city and try a lot of new things. I hiked up a giant mountain, shopped at outdoor markets and learned about the tradition of street art in Bogotá. I shared my story with the local Uber drivers and listened to theirs. I was welcomed into this city with open arms and I know I’ll go back someday because a piece of my heart stayed in Bogotá. 

I gained an appreciation for a new culture.

I became accustomed to greeting people with a kiss, I learned how to gently shut car doors so as not to offend the driver, I became a better Spanish speaker and I (badly) danced salsa. There are so many things that make Colombia and Bogotá unique — and a lot of things were very strange to me — but learning about different cultures is a huge way to grow as a person.

I made a difference. 

I know there has been a lot of controversy surrounding these volunteer trips lately, but it’s important to do research. I know the organization I chose doesn’t just operate these trips to profit. They truly care about the communities they are serving and they are doing amazing work to improve them. I know that by feeding homeless families and teaching young refugees how to speak English, I am making a difference in those people’s lives and giving them something that is incredibly valuable. The work was often dirty and hard, but the results are worth it.

Credit: Lacey Jantzi​

If you’re like me and you love to travel, maybe your next trip should be a volunteer trip. There are so many different locations and projects to choose from and there is so much to be gained from saying yes to an opportunity like this. Take the leap — even if it seems scary — because trust me, you won’t be disappointed that you did.