Although eating at the local restaurants is daring, getting a cheap mani/pedi is relaxing and even buying trinkets to bring back to your boo at home is thoughtful, it’s only just scratching the surface as far as leaving a lasting impression on a community.

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It’s the American way to discard our worries when we step off the plane at our exotic locale, but we can’t forget the struggles of the very people’s culture who we’ve come to immerse ourselves in. It’s time for a shift in the way we pursue traveling around the globe. Volunteering abroad will leave quite the impression on you.

Traveling isn’t just a rite of passage, but an act of gratitude because those who can, do. And those who can do more, volunteer.

I recently returned from a volunteer trip in Costa Rica, as a chaperone with Girls Going Global. This wasn’t intended to be a mission trip, but instead a culturally enriching journey that included nine young ladies ages 14-17 and 5 well-traveled women, who have previously served as volunteers in other countries. On our fourth day in Costa Rica, just a short 10 minute walk from our accommodations at Spanish by the River (located in a small town 2 hours outside of the capital of San Jose), we volunteered our time and served the local children. The energy in the air was high and our first three days there were memorable. Giving back to the children was a heartfelt experience. When it came time to leave, it was truly bittersweet. Impressions were made and lives were changed. 

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Whether you volunteer at an orphanage in Guatemala, an after school program in Argentina, clean up the beaches in Bali or feed elephants in Thailand, it is truly an amazing experience to give selflessly. We should aim to leave the destinations we visit a little better and a little brighter. If you like sports, show the local kids some tips and tricks. If you are into technology, tutor a child in the basics of programming.

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When you’re doing research for your next big getaway, look up local places where you can give a few hours of your time. It’s important to remember that it is your duty as a traveler to not just go where the locals go but to take the time out of your busy schedule to give of yourself to someone else who may have nothing to offer you but a smile.