Sightseeing & Humanitarian Travel: Why you should do both

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the idea of travel. Being enriched by a new far-away culture and environment was an experience that I definitely wanted for myself. Having been born in San Francisco and largely influenced by the rich cultures of my European and Southeast Asian families, I always desired for travel to be a part of my adult life. When I got married, and my husband became a missions pastor, I was finally introduced into a life of worldwide travel. In the last five years, we have been on thirteen trips to eleven different countries, and have had the unique experience of going on both recreational and humanitarian, or volunteer trips. 

Leisure travel is so fun. It’s the most popular type of trip, and anyone who has traveled has probably done this. The goal is to see and experience something new. You plan months ahead and research the best tours to take, food to eat, and places to go. You enjoy exploring cobblestoned roads, marveling at beautiful historic paintings and sculptures, eating the yummiest local cuisine, and purchasing special souvenirs to commemorate your trip. My husband and I laugh at how our sightseeing trips consistently go. We breeze through museums and tours, and mainly plan our days around which restaurants to eat at and which delicacies are the most popular in the region. In Israel, we couldn’t get enough falafel. Crepes were our favorite in France, and in Italy, the gelato won us over. We saw the Mona Lisa on our way to a Michelin starred French tasting menu for dinner, and we power-walked through the Vatican on our way to discovering the best porchetta sandwich in Rome. It’s the way we like to explore, and it is so enjoyable! I’m sure you can recall a favorite vacation, and your most memorable experiences from that trip, whether it was the food, museums, beaches, or archaeology. There are just so many benefits to a leisure trip: historical and cultural education, culinary inspiration, time to recharge away from work and responsibilities, and a fresh outlook on life back home. Even a domestic trip to Disneyland or Hawaii can be just as fulfilling. In addition to sightseeing and relaxing trips, there’s another type of travel that I think is necessary for everyone to experience: the humanitarian trip. 

    Going on a humanitarian trip and volunteering your time is a very unique accomplishment. This is more of a holistic journey than a simple there-and-back trip. The goal is to provide service to a non-profit that can benefit from your skills. For example, as a Bible teacher, my husband has taught at several conferences in Nigeria, Cuba, and Cambodia, where many people were trained and encouraged in their field. As a photographer, I have provided marketing photographs that were used to raise crucial funds for an orphanage, hospital, and primary school. 

In deciding to go on a volunteer trip, you consider what you have to offer rather than what will be fun to do or see. Whether it’s construction, working with children, engineering, or even IT work, any skill you have can be a benefit.  It takes a lot of planning, physical work, and mental preparedness, but it is fulfilling in a whole new way. The sacrifice of your time, talent, funds, and energy builds unique character qualities and lifestyle decisions. My husband and I find that working together as a team on our marriage and current pregnancy is easier after having endured being stranded in a small, hot, East-African town with no phones. Avoiding materialism and living simply is a rule of life for us after seeing the typical small, simple home in each of the developing countries we’ve traveled to. Best of all, we now have friends all over the world that we are connected to, and have a heart for. Helping others around the world will give you more appreciation for what you have back home and a greater sense of purpose in life and in the world.  The best part is that your humanitarian trip almost always doubles as a sightseeing trip, too! You’ll get to be totally immersed in the culture and learn directly from the locals about the history and daily life of the country.  Eating the traditional food is also an exciting experience for someone with an open mind. 

    Both leisure and humanitarian trips are important, and I encourage everyone to experience both. There’s nothing like taking an evening stroll under a sparkling Eiffel Tower, or having fresh pasta in a small Italian osteria. There’s also nothing that compares to the sweet welcome songs children performed for us upon arriving at a Haitian orphanage, or the grateful hearts of a Tanzanian family who received their first-ever family photo. Either way, seeing another place is a rich and rewarding experience that can give insight and perspective on this giant world we live in. Where will you go next, and why? Let’s chat!


Article written by: Christina Whittaker |

TravelAnna Vatuone