Traveling With A Purpose
“But Mom, my friend just got his own xbox and a 55” TV for his room and it’s just.not.fair.” That’s my cue that it’s time to pack up the fam on what I like to refer to as a “Perspective Trip.” In my household, this means we travel with a purpose, out of our West Austin bubble, to give back in a third world community while gaining culture and awareness.
Traveling is an incredible experience, and I never get tired of seeing new places and cultures.
However, the most profound trips I have ever been on centered around doing good in the community I was traveling to.
Experiencing other cultures, other foods, other ways of life can be profound in and of itself, but when we travel with a purpose, I’m teaching my kids that everyone of us can make a difference, and that giving back is the antidote to feeling discontent.
My first experience traveling for a purpose came when I was fresh out of architecture school and my husband and I (pre-kids) went on a build project to rural Mexico. We packed up a few suburbans and headed across the border to build houses for people who were living under tarps on the side of a mountain. While I had big dreams of designing and building trendy live-work complexes, the folks we met were thrilled to have a 20’x20’ home with an actual roof, never mind plumbing. In the evenings, when the work day was over we’d head into the nearest small town and sample the local tacos, avocados, and helados. We had so much fun with our team, the locals, spanglish, and the nail guns. I’ll never forget the serrano pepper eating contest that had at least four grown men in tears!
The whole experience was eye opening and life changing, and we made a difference for the family that moved into a sweet new home.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up to volunteer at an orphanage in Brazil. I knew about the world class beaches and the famous Christ statue atop mount Corcovado, and the churrascarias. But I didn’t know about the poverty, or the favelas, or the open sewers, or that I would return home with a heart for adoption. On this trip I stayed with a team of women in one of the small houses on the orphanage grounds. We brought bags of supplies and donations for the children and their caregivers. We played soccer with the kids, did arts and crafts, read to them, held them, and loved on them. We ate rice with weevils and took showers in cold water while enormous spiders crawled around our bedroom walls. And those sweet kids who didn’t know me at all just wanted to hold my hand and sit in my lap and identify with an adult.
It just broke my heart, and it was so humbling to be their person even for just a few days.
Of course I got to experience the shopping and the restaurants and the beaches and the culture of Brazil, but what I remember most from that trip is the full hearts of those kids who had next to nothing plus weevils in their rice and were still…just happy kids.
I took my oldest two boys (9 and 7 at the time) on a trip to Honduras, and stayed at spectacular resort with clear water beaches and air conditioned hotel rooms. While we were there, we left the resort to visit an island called St. Helene. It’s a very primitive place, they have no cars, no power, no infrastructure, no stores. We boated over with a group that had recently built a school for the island, loaded down with backpacks full of children’s books. We sat and read to the islanders and helped them read to us.
Kenan read aloud to a little girl his same age who wasn’t able to read yet.
My kids were able to just play with and love on the children of the island – they swam together using a washed up refrigerator door as a float to play on. We brought nail polish, thinking the little girls would enjoy it, and pretty soon the moms were lined up to get their hands and toes painted too! It was such a small thing, just a simple way to make a difference. My kids loved snorkeling and eating at the swim up bar, but what really stuck with them was how grateful the Honduran kids were for the new books. Kenan said “I never knew books could make someone so happy.” See…perspective.
If your family needs some “perspective” or just wants to travel for a purpose there are so many organizations you can partner with that do missions or build project…wells, houses, schools. If you’re traveling on your own, why not pack an extra bag of supplies to donate to a local orphanage or church? Do a little research and find a children’s home where you can spend an hour or two painting nails and playing soccer.
Whether your travels are faith based mission trips or family excursions you can do good, make a difference, and return home with a fresh perspective and grateful hearts.