We often talk about making an authentic connection with the places you travel here on No Kids, Will Travel, and a few weeks ago I met with Addison Demaree, travel manager for The Village Experience. Her company, based out of Chicago, is dedicated to its own down and dirty brand of cultural tourism. The Village Experience is not just about staying in local hotels, it’s about making a difference while you’re there by focusing on voluntourism, cultural education and immersion.
Addison emphisized that the tours are customized for each group. For example, if you’re traveling with a group of teachers, they can find opportunities to help in schools; if you are a group of experienced Habitat for Humanity friends they can find a way to apply those skills. The trip is not just about what is needed, it’s about you and what you bring to the table.
While on a visit to locales like Haiti, Kenya and Thailand, travelers stay in neighborhood hotels and eat at locally-run restaurants in the community you are helping, adding to the immersive “off the beaten path” experience. Addison said you learn quickly that it’s about fitting in, from the way you dress to the tone of your voice in conversation; and isn’t that what immersion is about?
I know you’re thinking “this all sounds nice, helping orphans and all, but what about my safety?” Addison explained it’s about who you know. The guides they have accompanying the groups are locals themselves, and have that local knowledge that won’t have you going down the wrong alley and stumbling into trouble. The Village Experience tour groups also visit the same locations on a regular basis, building relationships and creating a bubble of safety.
You don’t have to worry about the whole trip being spent laying bricks or putting in clinic hours, you have the option of taking the day off and staying at the hotel or having an adventure in the countryside. The amount of time you spend laboring or visiting is up to you. So if you are traveling with a group with lots of energy for doing good works, The Village Experience will find the work, if you are traveling a group that is more interested in a cultural experience they can immerse you in culture, if you want to spend more time vacationing than volunteering that can be arranged, too. The trip is your trip; you get out of it what you want.
But, it’s a trip that’s about more than time spent on the beach, or shopping, or that wonderful meal. A trip with The Village Experience is about changing your social consciousness.