Sharing the Thanksgiving Spirit w/ Travelers

It’s that time of the year. The time of the year where families and loved ones gather; the time of the year where Christmas carols are on the radio and people start jotting down their shopping list for Black Friday. Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year and gave me no time to plan a getaway.

I didn’t grow up with Thanksgiving. There are similar holidays in other countries but the U.S. thanksgiving tradition is very different. However, one thing is for sure, it’s about families, giving thanks and sharing. This year, instead of going away or spending it with a family, I decided to do something different. I decided to help spread the thanksgiving spirit with travelers and allow them to get a taste of what thanksgiving is like in the U.S.

I will be volunteering and helping cook thanksgiving meals for over 100 people at Hostelling International Boston this Thursday. Although to me, thanksgiving is all about eating lots of food with people who you are close with, it’s also about sharing the hospitality with those that otherwise will be alone on this day. A lot, if not all, of the stores and restaurants will be closed on Thursday so I think it’s amazing that HI-Boston is inviting those with nowhere to go and no one to celebrate with..

For those of you that will be in Boston on Thursday, feel free to come by HI-Boston on 19 Stuart st. for a Thanksgiving feast! We’ll be serving food starting at 3PM. There’s a suggested donation of $5. If you want to volunteer, feel free to contact me! Also, don’t hesitate to bring a dish to share :)

Thanksgiving in Wisconsin last year.

Happy Thanksgiving! If you are in town, hope to see you at HI-Boston!

Why I love hanging out with travelers

I hang out with travelers every week. And by hanging out, I mean going to karaoke with them every Thursday. I talk about beer with Germans, I talk about European football with well, most of them and I talk about dreaming of traveling the world with all of them. How do I manage to hang out with all these awesome travelers? I volunteer at a local hostel, Hostelling International Boston, also known as Boston Hotels.

I am an Activities Volunteer – meaning, I help out with the many amazing activities that are planned for guests to participate in as a way to explore Boston with a local and also mingle with other guests. It’s one of the many perks of staying at a hostel – you get to meet all sorts of people from all around the world. One day I could have a group of 7 Germans and 2 Australians, 1 Brazilian, 6 Irish and 1 American and another days I could just have 1 person from Japan, Chile, Argentina, England, Scotland, Australia, Germany and Switzerland (see how I mentioned Germans and Australians twice? Well, there’s always at least one German and Australian in the group). Anyway, sometimes I get to take people bowling. Sometimes I get to take them on a Pub Crawl. It really depends on the hostel’s needs but every week, I take them to Karaoke Night and the Harvard Tour. Those two are my babies :)

My two new Swiss friends at Karaoke night!

The two most common questions I get are “So… you don’t get paid. What do you get out of it?” and “Why do you do it?” The answer to both questions is simple. I volunteer because what I get out of it is kind of invaluable. Sure, it would be awesome if it was my job and I got paid for it, but I am 200% happy doing what I do without getting any money from it – heck, I lose money from it because it means I have to go out every week!

So, why do I volunteer and what do I really get out of this?

  1. I learn so much about different cultures & life around the world. Until I met a traveler from Slovenia, I had never imagined what life there would be like. Until I heard about what college life in Switzerland would be like, I had no idea that having time to do internships while in school was such a privilege. I simply wouldn’t know what life would be like around the world without listening to people who actually live them. There are so many different types of jobs and college majors that I never even thought about. And being in the communications field and highly interested in global communications, hearing about how social media is used in Germany for social work was the most fascinating thing ever.
  2. It reminds me of being back in high school in Cambodia. I grew up going to an international school. That means, all my life, I had friends from all of the world. Australia, Germany, Uganda, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Korea, you name it. So when I hear someone is from a certain country, it reminds me of all my friends from that country and I start spilling everything I know about the culture including silly words like “schnitzel!”  I think about all those friends and how much I miss being surrounded by that. Boston is an international community but it really is different and I don’t get to meet people from all over the world as much.  It’s a nice little travel down the memory lane for me.
  3. These people inspire me to get out and travel. Hearing all these travel stories and lives around the world makes me want to travel and see things for myself. Meeting someone who has been traveling for 3 months itches me to get out there. And simple sentences like “You should come visit me in Italy!” makes me want to go, “Hell, yea. How about tomorrow?”
  4. I make new friends from all over the world. I’ve made so many great traveler friends that I know I can call up when I go to a strange land and meet up. I’ve already met a few that were from Montreal, who showed me around when I visited few weeks ago. For now we are really just Facebook friends but being able to have shared a certain moment is an enough connection to meet again in the near future. Now I have friends to stay with when I travel to Italy, Switzerland, France, Australia, Canada, and the list goes on.
  5. I learn some really, really random things and I love it. Seeing as how we go to a bar for Karaoke night, I learn a lot about beer. I also learn a lot of random facts about drinking cultures in other countries. I also learn about sports around the world and.. um.. how tuition fees work in other countries (due to the famous Harvard tours).
  6. I get to feel like a traveler and explore Boston too.  Being surrounded by travelers, I can’t help but feel like I’m one of them and I’m traveling too. Boston is my home for now but it also has only been 4 years. I’ve not explored as much as I could and haven’t really ‘lived’ here to know everything about it. So I get to do cool tourist things I don’t usually get to do with friends here. I get to go to random sports museums and go on the Harvard Tour (every Saturday, I can actually give the tour myself).

English folk dancing we ran into while on the Harvard Tour last Saturday.

Exploring Beacon Hill area. Why would I ever go there if I wasn’t with travelers?

Of course there are times when I am super tired from work and really would rather go home and pass out – or spend that Thursday going to a yoga class or hang out with friends. But, no matter how tired I am, usually at the end of the night, I’m glad that I went and once again got to ‘travel’ vicariously through them.

If you love everything about travel but can’t get out yet, try volunteering at a hostel and meet people from all over the world that way. All you need is time, positive attitude and an open mind!

Being a concious traveler & a smart voluntourist.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’ve added a tab called ‘Conscious Traveler‘ at the top bar. I originally called it ‘Responsible Tourism’ but I decided to change it for a few reasons. I think the term ‘responsible’ makes it sound like it is the person’s obligation to make things right – although it would be nice, I think it’s not about responsibility – it’s about education and being conscious. Also, there’s a big different between ‘tourism’ and ‘traveling’ and I am a traveler – so are you, my readers because if you were a tourist, you wouldn’t be reading up on ideas and thoughts about different cultures – rather be interested in going to a place and sight-seeing. A tourist sees but a traveler experiences. It’s different.

The term ‘conscious traveler’ is not a term I made up but it’s also not a popular term with a set of definitions. So, conscious traveler as I define it:

The term conscious traveler incorporates travelers who are not only environmentally aware but also economically, socially and politically aware when visiting new locations. It also refers to travelers who really immerse themselves into the culture and respect and appreciate each moment.

The key terms here are ‘aware, appreciate and respect.’

Photo from columbiamissourian.com

As you may have read, I have written several posts on the issue of ‘voluntourism’ in this blog before. Voluntourism is one of the main topics/concerns I bring up when I talk about being a conscious traveler. I recently came across an article on the Huffington Post and I thought I’d share it with you. Daniela Papi, who wrote the article, has been someone I’ve been following for a while – ever since I became aware of the issues surrounding voluntourism. She’s a great thought leader on the issue and I am so happy to see her advocating and being the voice – reaching out to a greater audience through outlets like the Huffington Post especially during a high travel season – and also because more and more people are looking into volunteering overseas.

The article brings out a lot of great points. Make sure to check out her article “Voluntourism: What Could Go Wrong When Trying To Do Right?

The article also appeared in the Good Intentions Are Not Enough blog and Daniela’s own blog, Lessons I Learned. Also, follow Daniela on Twitter to get more information on Voluntourism and help spread the word!