My Volunteer Trip to Costa Rica


I always tell people that volunteer work is the best because, while it means responsibilities one takes on, it is not an obligation, it’s a choice, and that makes all the difference in the world.
—Karen M. Gray, C&O Canal National Historical Park Library Volunteer

Sheryl Kayne in Costa RicaWhen I wrote my first book about volunteer travel everyone asked, “What in the world is a volunteer vacation?” Seven years later, the most often heard comment is, “It was hard coming home again and I can’t wait to go back.” It’s common to have conflicting emotions at the end of an intense and highly active volunteer vacation: happiness that you’ll soon be home surrounded by familiar comforts and family and friends, anxiety over returning to a demanding schedule, and sadness that the vacation itself has come to a close. Particularly if you’ve had a life changing experience, you may not feel the same anticipation returning home and to your regular routine that you do after one of those old-fashion, typical vacations.

It’s not easy leaving behind people you’ve come to know and really care about, often in less-than-satisfactory conditions. Perhaps you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to and are feeling a pull to return even before you leave. Be kind to yourself and leave room to react, adjust, and process your volunteer vacation in different ways. Experienced volunteer travelers report that their perspectives change: they’ve adjusted personal goals, reshuffled priorities, and look at life differently. “I always wrote checks to charitable causes,” says Bernie, a volunteer from Minnesota, “but now that I have met the beneficiaries of well-meaning people like myself, I still send the checks but I’ve learned it’s more important for me to show up.”