Tag Archives: voluntourism

Travel Deep and Do Good with @fathomtravel

life jacket

Have you been hearing the buzz about fathom impact travel, a new innovative cruise line from Carnival Cruises? I’ll be honest, I’d never been on a cruise and didn’t really know if it was for me. My adventures with fathom impact travel changed that BIGTIME.

Fathom is a unique experience where you as the traveler become a part of a community on board as well as in the country you visit. I was lucky enough to be on the inaugural cruise to the Dominican Republic. Not only are you offered a variety of activities to experience the Dominican like a tourist but the bigger and more important part of the fathom travel experience is choosing from several impact activities where you’re working alongside local Dominicans, learning about their lifestyle and helping them to make a sustainable future for themselves. The DR is a beautiful island but it’s also an emerging country where education, poverty and lack of jobs is a real issue. What Carnival and fathom have done for a big part of the untapped population on the North Coast is provide thousands of jobs and help to sustain existing coops that employ hundreds of people. It’s a win-win. As you may recall, it’s very important to me to give back when traveling. So this experience was perfect for me.

fathom ship

A little bit about the ship, cruise experience and more on the impact activities from a first time cruiser:

The fathom ship, The Adonia, isn’t one of those enormous ships you may think of when you hear the word cruise. It holds just over 700 passengers, that’s it. The ship has just been redone and I thought it was very nice – classic casual. The food on board was terrific. There was a buffet for the quick bite, a casual sit down dining room for those who like service and, finally, a higher-end restaurant for a little more chi chi experience. All dining options offer a variety of things to eat, of course, with a bit of a Dominican spin!

This week long experience also wasn’t a big boozy trip like I envision some cruises to be. You sail to the Dominican Republic in a day and a half, then spend three days experiencing the island (still staying on board, which I loved…no repacking!!) and then another day and a half sailing back to Miami. During the days we were docked most people weren’t even on board the ship. Now, having said that, of course there are bars and plenty of options for a nice cocktail. AND surprising to me, very reasonable.


In keeping with IMPACT TRAVEL and giving back, you will find environmentally and socially aware products on board too. Things from toiletries to items sold in the duty free shops were all about this. I bought two amazing items myself – a Bajalia bracelet made by women in developing regions – providing them jobs and a Krochet Kids top made by families in developing countries supported by this international non-profit.

On board programming offered was about community building, learning about the DR, teaching you to be a great global citizen and health and wellness. And, of course, there was also plenty of entertainment for any and all. The impact activities offered once in the Dominican Republic were things like reforestation, teaching English, water filtration production, recycled paper and chocolate women’s coops, etc. There is something for everyone here. Some activities are more hands on but more strenuous and others are perfect for less active people.


Things that I didn’t know or expect about cruising and the fathom travel experience. Next trip, I would do two impact activities in one day and one more on another. This would leave more time to explore the DR on my own or do additional excursions. I had no clue about wifi being so difficult to connect to or the extreme expense of it, so buyer beware and plan to unplug on board. Never having cruised before, I was concerned about motion sickness. I was completely fine but some were affected by it. Apparently, there are these awesome motion sickness bands that almost immediately alleviate the symptoms. Finally, I could have planned and packed better for some of the impact activities so look into this more carefully.

I was a guest on the inaugural Fathom voyage to the Dominican Republic but at a price point starting at $499, I’d say this experience is priceless!


Filed under cruises, dominican republic, travel

Why I Donate and Volunteer While Traveling

There is no arguing that donating items or volunteering your time is universally a good thing to do. I especially enjoy doing this when I’m traveling. For me, it’s a wonderful way to feel more connected to a destination. In fact, my favorite travel memories and connections have been when I volunteered or donated supplies to those in need. I am so fortunate to be able to travel and visit different parts of the world. It’s a small thing I can do and it goes farther than many realize.

cambodia habitat for humanity

My first travel volunteer experience was with Habitat for Humanity in Cambodia. It was truly so meaningful to me. I learned so much about myself on that trip. I had never been to Asia before and knew no one on my build. I had never seen that kind of poverty before. But working side by side these people living in poverty to build them a better home was truly so enriching. I will never ever forget the local people working on my build. They were such kind spirits that touched my heart. And, I believe they won’t ever forget me either.


But there are other small ways to give back that don’t take a week-long commitment. When I traveled to India I worked with an organization called Globe Drop to find a donation opportunity. I was able to purchase items in India for an orphanage of girls. The purchases helped the local economy and cost a fraction of what it would in the US. It was a win-win. All I had to do was take the time to buy the items and then go deliver them to the orphanage. A small amount of time that went a long way making these girls learning and living experiences better.


Another small way I helped on another travel adventure was to collect and deliver children’s books to a foundation in Jamaica that help to educate impoverished children who would not otherwise have an education. People are always looking to give away books over time and, in many cases, they’d like them to go into good hands. I just took a little time to build up a collection and then contacted Rockhouse Foundation and asked if they would like them. They said yes so I packed them up in my bag and traveled to Jamaica. Again, the delivery just took a little time out my day and was so worth the cause.


My most recent volunteer/donation experience was in Peru. My friend and I found an opportunity to help orphan children with their school work and play with them for a few days in Cusco. To see their smiles every day brought so much laughter and joy to us. The same organization, Peru Trek 4 Good, that connected us to the orphanage also collects clothing and toys for poor people living in the mountains. My friend and I were able to bring three suitcases full of clothes, coats and toys to be delivered to a small Andean community as Christmas gifts – more than 200 parents and children. Again, so many people have things that they want to give away that others could really use. It was just a matter of collecting items, paying to get them to Peru and delivered to the organization. We were thrilled when we saw all the happy faces at Christmastime.

peru trek 4 good

This week I’m off on another volunteer adventure in travel. I’m excited to be participating in a new concept in travel – Impact Travel with Fathom. I will be cruising to the Dominican Republic and doing a few service projects over the days I’m there. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and see the smiling faces of locals there. You really learn so much through these experiences and get more locally connected. I think Impact Travel is the way forward. You’re helping out others, raising awareness and empowering people to think about traveling and giving back.


Filed under cambodia, india, jamaica, travel

surviving Cambodia

chum reap suor from Cambodia

how this priss-pot made out in the end

i know you’ve been waiting with bated breath to learn how i made out during my first 3rd world experience in Cambodia. i’m sure you are expecting some tales of misadventure & how i was eaten alive by the ravenous mosquitos despite my efforts to keep them at bay.

well…i’m back from the other side of the globe – NOT dead or dismembered in any way (phew) to tell you that my BIGGEST mishaps were not packing an extra bras for the build days AND losing my favorite lip gloss at the very beginning of my adventure. it’s a wonder i made it through ok! the only injuries i sustained were a finger pinched in a bathroom lock and some broken nails & bruises from bouncing on rocks in the river rapids. HAHAHA

gigantic A380 – LOVE

BUT seriously, let’s talk about some of my concerns. for starters, the flights. i’ve never flown that long on an airplane & dealt with that big of a time change. it really wasn’t so awful. i flew the longest leg on an A380, which is one of those new big-ass fancy planes, and i gotta say it was smooth as silk. AND this princess was in COACH in a MIDDLE SEAT nonetheless! the only issue i encountered was getting cankles on the way home from swelling. jet lag did affect me a bit – still is – but it’s not totally rotten either. thank you ‘no jet lag’ my favorite jet lag remedy 🙂

the passport, e-visa, stapling thing was also super. really the way to go. my stapled e-visa with USED stamped on it inside my passport is now a major source of pride. i went, i saw, i survived, i fell in love with Cambodia! i may just have to go look at it right now & reminisce a bit.

other concerns i had:

the non-accesorizing bit. yeah, that was a BIG overstatement. i wouldn’t have worn jewelry to the build but i certainly could have worn it anywhere else. i never once felt unsafe or like someone was going to take advantage of me. NO ONE was shocked by my boa wearin’ ways either. it was fascinating. here’s a country full of dark-skinned Asians AND then there’s me, a white woman with blonde hair. i kid you not…NOT ONCE did people look at me like i was any different. how lovely.

just a day in the tuk tuk park – Cambodia

AND remember my worries about pointing and greetings and being overly expressive. this was also a silly worry. YES, Cambodians are quiet, peaceful people but they are also accepting, smiley people. i did work hard to remember to remove my shoes when necessary and to bow and say the correct phrase for hello or thank you. the whole keeping my arms to my sides was a massive FAIL but it all worked out fine. as it turns out Cambodians quite like lil ole lola!

Sean our stalker tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap

now the truth about the mosquito situation. i did not get ONE SINGLE BITE at the build. they were in our van every morning on the way to the site but i never saw any at the actual location. i’m sure they were there and perhaps all my precautions taken to treat my clothes helped. i mean we were surrounded by muddy stagnate soil and water. they had to be around. BUT it may also be possible that those Cambodian mosquitos just didn’t like my Western self. even at the river, in the jungle, i had ZERO issues. i received the most bites my last night at the beach near the Thai border.

MY CASE STUDY: Cambodian mosquitos = don’t like lola. Thai mosquitos = do like lola.

OK, now how about all the crap i bought?! the clothesline, the headlamp, the medicines.

our laundry was done EVERY day during the build as part of our room rate. how FAB! and i used a laundry service at the end of my time in Siem Reap so i’d have choices for my last 5 days. BUT i did use my tide & clothes line a few times to wash out my swim suits and undies at the end. this is the roughest ‘roughing it’ lola got 🙂

tissues were a good idea for potty breaks as 9 times out of 10 there was no toilet paper. however, my dehydration & fears of the squat toilets kept me barely going during the day. i probably used the majority of my tissues for wiping away tears!

it’s a hard-knock life for us!

i barely used my bug spray or my hand sanitizer – probably less than 10 times. i did use the electrolytes i brought during the build. like twice a day because we were sweating from the second we started until we returned back to our hotel. it was intense work in the grueling sun. i don’t know if i’ve ever drank that much water or sweat that much in my entire life. the Habitat team had electrolytes for us but i preferred the taste of the tablets i brought along. as far as my meds, i was a good girl and took my malaria pills – just in case the 5 mosquitos that did bite me were infected! i really didn’t need all the rest of the pills i brought.

i did use that most unsexy money belt during the build to keep a few small things on my body, however, never again. like i said before, safety really wasn’t a concern. i NEVER used the headlamp but it would have come in handy a few times. power outages were fairly common & at the most inopportune times. of course, i never had the darn thing on me when i could have used it. honestly, people’s iPhones made great flashlights!

some of my Habitat build team

i’m glad i was prepared but it did seem a bit like over-kill. pharmacies truthfully did have everything you could ever need. at least my over-preparedness made my build team laugh! AND what about my ALL-Australian build team?! how did they take to their only American team member? i guess i should have collected quotes.(feel free to comment gang) i know that many of them thought in advance of meeting me “how on earth is this diva going to survive a house build” especially since many of them had actually done one before. they were pleasantly surprised i think. AND many of my team members are now new life-long friends. a visit to Australia in 2013 is a definite must!

so there you have it. lola surviving the scary unknown of going to Cambodia & doing a Habitat house build for the first time. it couldn’t have been any more of a success for me. AND i can’t wait to share more details of my Cambodian adventures with you!


Filed under cambodia, travel

why Habitat for Humanity? why Cambodia?

at the beginning of 2012 i announced to myself and to anyone who reads “where in the world is lola?” that i was going to go to Cambodia in late August through early September to participate in a Habitat for Humanity house build. if you missed this post or are a recent reader, now you know my late summer plans.

i’m sure some of you are wondering why i chose to do this and why go there? there are plenty of places in the world that could use a hand in building homes & better lives for people in poverty. even here in the USA. well, it was a combination of things that led me to this decision.

  1. i know the team leader organizing this build and feel better about going to a new country and participating in a new kind of activity for myself knowing someone in the group who has done this before.
  2. i want to participate in a Habitat for Humanity house build because it’s a good thing to do. i know i’m so fortunate to be able to travel and want to give back in a way that ties into my passion. doing this will make me proud of myself and i feel that it will not only broaden my horizons but also those who know me.
  3. i didn’t seek out Cambodia, the location was already picked by the team leader. to be honest, i never even considered traveling there before this opportunity came across my radar. that was part of the reason it was so appealing to me. i thought, why not? why wouldn’t i want to go to Cambodia?

i truly want to travel beyond my own thoughts and known limits and this choice seems to fit my goals. since making this announcement i have learned a little more about Cambodia and i think i’m really going to love it. people say the country is just beautiful and Angkor Wat (ancient ruins near Siem Reap) is supposedly one of the top must-see things to do in one’s lifetime.

if you like, you can donate to my fundraising minimum here:

Lauren’s Habitat for Humanity Global Village Fundraising Page

HOMEWORK – some tidbits about Cambodia & Habitat for Humanity:

Cambodia is a country in South East Asia, less than half the size of California and twice the size of Scotland. once it was the center of the ancient kingdom of the Khmer, and its capital was Angkor, famous for its 12th century temples. between the fall of Angkor and the rise of Communism, Cambodia has a complicated and sad history. in 1970 a communist guerrilla group known as the Khmer Rouge emerged and created strife in Cambodia. along with civil war, the Vietnam War and a period known as “three years, eight months, and 28 days” of tyranny, more than 2 million people lost their lives, many through the act of genocide.

Khmer Rouge embarked on an organized mission: they ruthlessly imposed an extremist program to reconstruct Cambodia. so, at short notice and under threat of death, the inhabitants of towns and cities were forced to leave them. all political and civil rights were abolished. children were taken from their parents and placed in separate forced labor camps. factories, schools and universities were shut down; so were hospitals. lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists and professional people in any field (including the army) were murdered, together with their extended families. religion was banned, all leading Buddhist monks were killed and almost all temples destroyed. music and radio sets were also banned. it was possible for people to be shot simply for knowing a foreign language, wearing glasses, laughing, or crying. one Khmer slogan ran ‘to spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss.’

in the wake of this devastation, Cambodia is now looking to overcome its misfortunes. according to the 2010 Human Development Report published by the UN – about 26% of the population lives on less than $1.25 US dollars a day. in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, 20% of the population lives in squatter settlements or slums. people lack secure living quarters or basic services.

Habitat for Humanity’s vision & mission is to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope.  they believe in a world where everyone has a decent place to live. the Global Village Program is a vital part of Habitat for Humanity‘s work. one is able to be involved at a grass root level and work alongside partner communities and families. it’s an exciting opportunity to learn about another culture, travel to destinations that are off the tourist track and enhance the ongoing work of Habitat for Humanity. it also gives an insight into certain areas of international community development.

Habitat for Humanity Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Housing and Community Development Project is currently operating in 8 communities around Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city. they are delivering housing solutions through construction of houses from the ground up, repairs, renovations, water and sanitation facilities, electricity and water connections, livelihood training and construction skills training. since the program began in 2004, it has provided over 600 safe, decent houses.

community members in need of decent shelter apply to local Habitat affiliates. the affiliate’s selection committee selects community members based on their level of need, their willingness to become partners in the program and their ability to repay the no-interest loan of approximately US$22 per month. every affiliate follows a non-discriminatory policy of community member selection. neither race nor religion is a factor in choosing the families who receive Habitat houses. when community members are selected to participate in Habitat’s program they are required to meet certain conditions, for example, complete ‘sweat equity’ which is labor on Habitat work-sites helping to construct homes for others as well as their own home. this philosophy helps transform homeowners‘ lives by instilling a new sense of dignity and empowerment and promotes ownership for the partner families.

please consider helping me raise my minimum donation toward this organized build project. i’m to raise $1000 of which i have $100 so far. you can give on my donation page. THANK YOU!

Lauren’s Habitat for Humanity Global Village Fundraising Page 

no donation is too small!! XO – lola


Filed under cambodia, travel