Jan 18, 2008


Why I wore the Jay hat and wielded a mattock – that fierce-looking union of an adze and hoe (J. R.R. Tolkien armed his battle dwarves with these) – the other weekend:

"Voluntourism" – as the industry calls it – is on the rise. Already three percent of U.S. travelers, nearly 3.5 million people, donate their time on vacation. Travelocity's 2007 poll discovered another 35% plan to jump on that bandwagon this year. And Lonely Planet just released its first volunteer-travel guidebook, just as CheapTickets unveiled an online booking engine and a volunteer savings program.

The trend attracts its share of skeptics. Travel e-zine World Hum recently asked: "Voluntourism: 'overpriced guilt trips' or a 'real chance to save the world'?"

But here on Orcas Island, the trail crew is all smiles – except when confronted with a stubborn chunk of shale. Soon Guidotti and Ranger Reuben Stuart have it lassoed and tied to the trailer hitch of the park's one-ton pick-up. The engine guns and the garbage-can-sized boulder lurches downslope and wedges between two trees.

This is real work. Not some "green-washed" publicity exercise. Volunteers completed 85-90% of the labor on this trail spur.

Read the whole article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer... But enjoy the cover and headline goodness here, since – for reasons inscrutable – the P-I's web team insists on running the third subdeck as the title online and omitting a bunch of the photos. Pity.


  1. I have no problem with fixing up a local trail on weekends, but yeah, the kind of abroad help-'em trip is complex.

  2. sascha3:00 AM

    I offer a package: 2 weeks in the Cotswolds, hedge laying, dry-stone-walling and stable work, plus plenty of cleaning. A public footpath DOES cross my back-yard, and there are Iron Age graves in the garden, so the work is entirely justified. £599 pp. No comped trips for journos!

  3. Sascha, sweetpea, you left out the best of the Cotswolds experience: tending an authentic English rose babette!

  4. Marie, you've helped people loads, just not in a concerted, happy-clappy fashion. Do you reckon it's all nonsense or what?

  5. Nice story.

    I would have named it: "Working Suckers Get Sucked into Working on Their Holidays".

    (Haha, kidding - I think people willing to pitch in a little on their vacation is a positive thing).