It's a blessing to have the time and resources to take luxury vacations. But many midlifers want to use part of their vacations giving back to others who are less privileged. Hence, the surge in voluntourism (or volunteer vacations) that allow boomer travelers to give back in a hands-on way while they immerse themselves in new destinations and cultures.
Two years ago, Crystal Cruises launched its unique You Care, We Care program to encourage cruisers to volunteer at various ports in lieu of more traditional shore excursions. The cruise line recently announced that passengers and crew sailing on the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will again have these opportunities on every itinerary over the coming year.
Although briefer, volunteer vacations like this are similar to the ones popular among college students, who take them during school breaks or gap years. But even brief exposures can be life-changing, and it has been reported that many volunteers from the ships continue their associations long after their voyage.
"Our voluntourism program provides a vehicle through which the Crystal family can come together and connect more intimately to the destinations we visit," says John Stoll, vice president of land and port operations, "...not to mention, to support the locales that welcome us so generously."
Here are five of the experiences cruisers can opt for as part of Crystal's 2013 sailing itineraries:
- Aiding animals - Assisting in the rescue and care of animals, ranging from dolphins to cats at rescue and rehabilitation centers in Barcelona; Rostock, Germany; and Bergen, Norway.
- Supporting disadvantaged communities - Helping elderly and disabled individuals in such settings as a 650-year-old eldercare home in Dubrovnik to a 400-year Italian brotherhood charity in Naples.
- Caring for children - Helping underprivileged children learn reading skills in cities around the globe, including Odessa, Singapore and Boston
- Feeding the hungry - Participating in orchard-picking, food-serving, donation-organizing and food distribution in Halifax, Tallinn, and Santa Barbara
- Promoting conservation - Helping with efforts to maintain green landscapes in Fort Stevens State Park in Astoria, Oregon
As its own contribution to the project, Crystal Cruises makes all the logistical arrangements for the program and covers the costs of participation. Initially, local tour operators questioned whether luxury cruise ship passengers would be willing to forgo the typical amenities offered on excursions (e.g. air-conditioned coaches, etc.). But Crystal knew that volunteers would be willing to take advantage of "less refined" opportunities with a purpose.
On the cruise line's You Care, We Care Facebook Page, one cruiser expresses a sentiment shared by many:
"The absolute best part of traveling is making a difference in the world we are so fortunate to visit. This program truly allows guests to give a little and get back so very much."