When I picked up Travel with Purpose (Rowman & Littlefield) I was skeptical. I’ve never had much of a real opinion on “voluntourism” myself, but I’ve read countless op-eds skewed towards each side, some encouraging anybody who has the means to incorporate volunteering into their next vacation and others, including a particularly critical New York Times Magazine piece, criticizing the movement.

The negative op-eds were always more attention-grabbing, and so “voluntourism” sat in my head as a dirty word evoking images of self-promotion and naïve college admissions essays. In Travel with Purpose, author Jeff Blumenfeld throws all those preconceived notions about voluntourism out the window and instead focuses on the good it can do.

Right from the start, Blumenfeld dispels one of the most prevalent misconceptions about voluntourism: the cost. He shrugs off the suggestion that it might cost thousands for would-be do-gooders to make the trek to an impoverished country, citing $850 as the cost for a weeklong stay in Honduras (including round trip travel).

Another misconception he addresses is that voluntourists do more harm than good due to their lack of skill; Blumenfeld asserts that there is a leadership hierarchy that naturally forms. Although critics of voluntourism can be a tad cynical, claiming that there’s something selfish about briefly passing through a third world country and making a small, sometimes negligible impact, the way that each individual person helps demonstrates that this might not be the case.

If each volunteer understands that they are part of something larger, and instead of overstepping their role works as a team player, there’s nothing inherently selfish about wanting to be there, on the ground working as opposed to simply writing a check.

I liked Travel with Purpose because it’s never preachy. It never sets out to shame vacationers or assert voluntourism as the superior way to travel. It offers suggestions for trips readers can take alone or with a group, while also diving into the benefits of this trendy practice. It’s good for families! It’s a great resume builder! It puts first world problems into perspective!

This last point might be the most controversial, as voluntourism detractors point to the “weekend warrior” aspect of the hobby that’s built in. This seems silly to me, especially after reading Blumenfeld talk about his experiences. Just because somebody on vacation visits Jerusalem or the Eiffel Tower once, for only a day, doesn’t mean they were never there. Why do we hold voluntourism to a different standard? All travel is temporary, but the good work done by voluntourists has the potential to resonate for years to come, and perhaps even last longer than their passports.

Travel with Purpose is now available.


About Jeff Blumenfeld

Jeff Blumenfeld is founder of Blumenfeld and Associates, LLC. He has personally managed the public relations needs of some of the most iconic brands in America, including 3M Thinsulate, CIGNA, The Coleman Company, Du Pont, Iceland Tourist Board, Konica USA, Lands’ End, Orvis, Ralston Purina, Raymarine, Russell Corp., Sikorsky Aircraft, State Street Bank, Timberland, Timex, Virgin Atlantic, Wacoal Sports Science Corp. (CW-X performance apparel), and W.L. Gore & Associates.

Blumenfeld is also the founder and current publisher and editor of Expedition News, a newsletter, Web site and blog he started in 1994 to assist companies in selecting and activating adventure marketing opportunities.

Author of two books on adventure sponsorship, he is a fellow of both the Explorers Club and Royal Geographical Society. Prior to establishing Blumenfeld and Associates in 1980, he was vice president at New York public relations agency Dorf/MJH. Before that he was an account executive at Burson-Marsteller Public Relations, also in New York.