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When my children were wee I was fond of the bromide “volunteering is its own reward.” Years later, after we began volunteering as a family at one of our local food drives, my kids began to understand what I meant, that the act made them feel nice and warm inside.
But then a funny thing happened when my eldest hit middle school: from then on, whenever she volunteered, she’d receive hours toward her school’s mandatory community service requirement.
Suddenly, volunteering went from being its own reward to having its own reward. And just as suddenly, given all the demands and distractions that my daughter has in her life, I realized that if it took an incentive to get her to do a good deed, I was fine with it.
Likewise, I’m just as fine with what has become a quietly popular deal at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas, nestled on the Great Cruz Bay shoreline. Through the end of 2012, the property will give a $100 resort credit to guests who volunteer at Virgin Islands National Park, about 10 minutes northwest of the resort. Read more
Rosewood’s Caneel Bay, a former sugar plantation turned 166-room luxury resort, is located on a picture-perfect, national park-protected bay on St. John. The tropical sanctuary—that counts seven beaches among its natural assets—is offering excellent savings this April in honor of Earth Day (April 22). Guests who book overnights from April 23 through 30 will receive 30 percent off regular rates. But, even better, guests who donate four hours of their vacation on Earth Day to help clean the offshore coral reefs will receive a $100 resort credit. The Patagon Dive Shop at Caneel Bay is leading the annual clean-up efforts and guests who participate can either dive (if scuba-certified) some 15 feet deep to collect any debris and bottles or snorkel the shallow waters to skim for rubbish and help transport items by kayaking them to shore. What better way to celebrate Earth Day than by helping to ensure Caneel’s slice of paradise stays that way? Rates start from $612/night for a premium oceanfront room. Call 888/767-39663 to book and reference Earth Day Special. www.rosewoodhotels.com
For general trip-planning info, see our St. John Travel Guide.
Attention, hikers, mountain bikers, and nature lovers: Mark your calendars for September 24, National Public Lands Day. You’ll be joining more than 170,000 volunteers doing upkeep and improvements at more than 2,000 sites across the country – think of it as physical goodwill for all those trails you’ve slogged up in your hiking boots or bombed down on your mountain bike.
It’s as simple as locating a volunteer project in your area and signing up. If you want to make a mini volunteer-vacation out of it, stay the night (or the whole weekend) in a campground or at an on-site lodge (though expect popular spots like Yosemite National Park to fill up early). For your time, you’ll get a voucher to return for free.
If you have yet to experience Costa Rica, the Central American country that’s one of the most world’s most enviable outdoor adventure playgrounds, here’s a can’t-miss deal to consider: a four-day, three-night package that includes hotel, transport within the country, most meals, and adrenaline-packed activities such as canyoneering, zip lining, rafting and horseback riding – all for just $599 (based on double occupancy).
That stellar price represents a savings of 33 percent offered by the outfitter, Tropical Adventures, along with its re-launch. The nonprofit organization, which was founded by Scott Pralinsky, an American adventure travel enthusiast who’s called Costa Rica his home since 2004, also has received plenty of praise for its authentic, volunteer-based programs, including a nod from National Geographic Adventure magazine as a Top 100 Volunteer Vacation in 2009.
Spend just five minutes with your teen while she’s forlorn or disengaged, and the idea of one of you leaving town won’t seem like a bad idea. And while that scenario’s not what Jim and Donna Stein had in mind when they began The Road Less Traveled, the couple has lured thousands of teens out of town – with and without their families – for vacations commingling adventure and community service.
Helping out the locals during vacation has been aggressively marketed in recent years with the buzzword “voluntourism,” but the Steins can’t be accused of being trendy, as they’ve been running their adventure trips combining recreation and camping and volunteering for 20 years.
As any sustainability savvy traveler knows, satisfying wanderlust comes at a steep price to the planet. Unless it’s the kind done on two wheels or two feet, travel – especially via airplane – means a heavy carbon footprint, as well as disruption to ecosystems, habitats, and indigenous communities.
So in honor of Earth Day (and Earth Month) 2011, here are three adventure-travel companies that are truly setting a green example by helping protect the places (and people) they visit – and inspiring fellow travelers to do their part, too.
Outdoorsy types, as well as anybody on staff for the National Park Service, breathed a sigh of relief when last week’s much-hyped government shutdown was averted in time to save National Park Week.
It will take place as planned from April 16 to 24, with waived entry fees to more than 100 parks and monuments that normally charge, as well as hundreds of activities that would have been canceled had a budget compromise not been reached. A shutdown also would have spelled economic disaster for the communities that rely on national parks to help fuel their economies; in fact, the National Parks Conservation Association estimated a potential loss of $30 million.
So why not look at a visit to one the country’s 394 spectacular national parks next week as your civic duty, in addition to stoking your adventurous spirit? Here, I’ve picked out a few highlights from the extensive offerings.
While it might seem that the most prevalent adventure travel trend nowadays is wrestling your backpack into increasingly rare overhead bin space, there are plenty more appealing developments on the horizon. Here, a few trends of note for adventure travelers in 2011 and beyond.
Authentic experiences. “Experiential” travel is the buzzword that tour operators and outfitters are currently using to describe what true adventurers have been doing for decades: experiencing a destination like a local. The bad news about this trend: There are unprecedented numbers of travelers doing it (upping the chances that you’ll meet a fellow countryman, say, on a remote outback trail, which tends to be a bit disappointing when you’re after something truly unique). The good news: Operators and outfitters are developing trips based on authentic experiences, whether that means trekking with tribal nomads in the Sahara or learning to cook spaghetti Bolognese with a local chef in Bologna.
Santa Claus is better known in New Orleans as Papa Noel, but even if you don’t celebrate Christmas you can celebrate the fact that “Papa Noel” is often said in the same breath as “rates” when NOLA hotels are trying to lure travelers with holiday bargains. One such deal is the Creole Christmas & Papa Noel Package at the Arts & Warehouse district’s Ambassador Hotel. Nightly rates for stays December 6-25 start at $69/night for a double or king deluxe and include free overnight valet parking as well as a free day cruise on a paddlewheeler. Plus, if you walk south from the hotel on fun-to-say Tchoupitoulas Street for about five minutes and hang a right on Julia St. you’ll be at the worthy Louisiana Children’s Museum (www.lcm.org), good for at least a couple hours of hands-on fun. Read more
Several years ago, Andrew Mersmann, editor of Passport magazine, was on assignment in Key West when his group learned that a pod of 27 pilot whales had beached themselves nearby.
Upon hearing the news, Mersmann “tossed [his] itinerary in the air and started getting involved” with the volunteer effort to save the seven surviving whales. He donned a borrowed wetsuit and a flotation device and quickly learned how to ladle water over the animals’ skin so they wouldn’t get sunburned, while keeping their blow holes above water.
“I don’t care what religion you belong to, how you were brought up, what you believe, when you’re looking into that whale’s eye and trying to keep it alive, you see God,” Mersmann says. “That whale experience was a majorly pivotal moment.”
Since then, Mersmann’s volunteer travel includes trips with a medical and humanitarian group on horseback in Rajasthan, India; endangered manatees in Crystal River, Fla.; and the homeless on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. He’s written Frommer’s 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference, which focuses on the exploding sector of volunteer travel, and also writes a daily blog, www.changebydoing.com, on the subject.
I spoke with him about “voluntourism” – and why it makes such a great travel experience for adventurous types. Read more
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