Lonely Planet's "Volunteer: A Traveler's Guide to Making a Difference Around the World"

Last year my daughter Jerusha made a life-changing voyage to Cambodia. She traveled by herself (she's 21) but joined up with Habitat For Humanity in Phnom Penh and worked with a team of people from around the world to create an entire neighborhood. They worked side by side with a number of families who'd been living in a garbage dump. Jerusha was humbled by how much they'd endured, how hard they were working to improved life for their children, and how grateful they were for her willingness to come from the other side of the world to help them.

We're not wealthy (by American standards), but Jerusha's life has been pretty comfy for the most part. She started working at Starbucks as a teen and is an industrious sort by nature, but I think she amazed herself with what she was capable of on this journey. She laid bricks, built walls, climbed over obstacles and reached across language barriers. What she gave in time, resources and sweat was returned to her a thousandfold in one of the richest experiences of her life. This excursion combined the two most empowering opportunities possible: travel and helping someone else.

As a huge fan of Lonely Planet, I was delighted to see Lonely Planet Volunteer: A Traveller's Guide to Making a Difference Around (General Reference), and I highly recommend it as a graduation or birthday gift for teens and 20somethings and not a bad idea for retirees, frankly. (It's also available on Kindle.) It's a comprehensive guide to planning short or long-term volunteer excursions all over the world – from monitoring sea turtles in Greece to building community centers in Guatemala!

Features include:
Unique, user-friendly structure arranged by type of volunteering program
Over 170 organizations listed and reviewed
Dozens of seasoned volunteers share their experiences and top tips
Written by passionate, well-travelled Lonely Planet authors advised by a team of experts in the field
Fully illustrated with color photographs of volunteers in action
Something I love and admire about Europeans is the way they encourage their kids to travel independently from their families. American youthies would benefit greatly from more independent, less consumer-oriented travel. The great thing about most of these volunteer trips is that there's a structure and a community, and they're (hopefully) working so hard, they don't have much time or energy for partying.

I also love that this guide has options for a wide variety of...let's be nice and say "fitness levels." I may not be able to keep up with a 21-year-old ballet-dancing, brick-laying babe, but I firmly believe I'm still capable of amazing myself with the right challenge.

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