There are vacations and then there are travels and they are not, I would venture, the same. People vacation when they want to lie on beaches or ride roller coasters or take bus tours. Traveling is about going somewhere new rather than just being somewhere. In his travelogue Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck wrote “…we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But here’s the rub: you can’t exactly plan a transcendent experience. You can, however, plan a unique experience that’s off the beaten vacation path. And as the growing trend in voluntouring (volunteering combined with traveling) indicates, people are becoming less interested in taking trips and more interested in trips that take them. At the same time, they are realizing that philanthropy can be more meaningful that just sending a check to a worthy cause.
Paul von Zielbauer, a New York Times reporter and Iraq war correspondent, is tapping into this notion. Last year he started Roadmonkey, which is billed as “an adventure philanthropy company that blends rugged outdoor travel with organized volunteer work.”
The inaugural Roadmonkey trips included a mountain biking trip through Vietnam and a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. Each itinerary included volunteer projects – such as building a playground at an orphanage outside Hanoi, and helping build and repair schools in Tanzania. (You can see the fruits of the roadmonkeys’ labor here.) Roadmonkey is now eyeing expeditions to Peru and Cuba in 2010.
You can hear von Zielbauer’s describe in his own words his vision for Roadmonkey here. One of his goals is to foster adventure by not sticking like glue to an itinerary. He calls this “planned serendipity.”
Roadmonkey works to facilitate travel that is “physically challenging, intellectually stimulating and, by completing meaningful volunteer projects that help people in need, deeply gratifying.” All expeditions are also limited to 10 people.