Category Archives: Meaningful Travel

3 Aha Moments Define Travel that Serves

My mother often remarked that good things come in threes. That certainly seems to be the case when it comes to how I’ve interconnected three aha moments with how I envision travel that serves.

Aha Moment #1

It began with watching Lume Mufleh’s powerful TED Talk “Don’t feel sorry for refugees-Believe in them.” Lume’s grandmother, who fled Syria for Jordan as a young mother, was determined to help her grandchildren understand their family’s history. When Lume was 8 years old, her grandmother took her to visit a refugee camp, similar to the one Grandmother had lived in with her small children. Upon arrival, Grandmother told Lume to go play with the children. Lume shares how she did not want to play with children who seemed so different from her. But Grandmother insisted. Later, while leaving the camp, Lume told Grandmother how much fun she had playing with the kids. “Those poor kids,” said Lume. Grandmother’s response is one that continues to impact Lume’s actions today. “Don’t feel sorry for them – believe in them.”

photo credit: Tijen Erol <a href="">Children of Palestine</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Aha Moment #2

Believing in someone is at the heart of a relationship I embarked upon about a year ago. At that time, a coalition of leaders came together with the goal of a poverty-free life for everyone in the community where I live. Designed to empower people in poverty with skills, resources and personal connections, a mentorship program was one of the strategies suggested to work toward this goal. Interested in giving back, I volunteered to serve as a mentor.

Connecting through mentoring

Two months ago, I met my neighbor, the person I would mentor, for the first time. A single mother of 2 girls (ages 10 years and 3 months at the time), my neighbor is in her mid-thirties. She works full time as a caregiver and human resources assistant in an assisted living center located about 15 miles from home. Despite full time employment, she lives from paycheck to paycheck with no reserves for unexpected expenses.

The connection with my neighbor is teaching me so much.

When we met for the first time, my neighbor was upbeat about so many things. She loved her job, feeling valued and challenged.  She owned a car, enabling her to work at the assisted living center as local public transportation was not available. A strong network of friends helped care for her kids. Her spiritual life was strong and provided a source of strength when things became uncertain. An outgoing individual, our conversation continued for more than an hour. I found myself wondering why someone felt she needed a mentor.

We met a week later, as planned. Things were no longer going so well. My neighbor felt the initiative she demonstrated at work was not being appreciated by her boss.  Childcare was getting harder to arrange. Fall-out with a longtime friend struck a blow to her self-esteem. The refrigerator was nearly empty and diapers were running short. Within a week’s time, her world had become chaotic.

My neighbor has shared a variety of ups and downs with me since our first meeting. Because of her, poverty is no longer an abstract term to me. Rather, it’s something that impacts someone I’ve come to care about. Witnessing my neighbor’s approach to life, I often find myself in awe.

Here are a few of my takeaways.

The importance of being seen in a positive light

My neighbor was invited to participate in this program. Local social service representatives, familiar with her over time, felt she could benefit from a mentor’s support. The difference in tone between our first and second meeting reminds me that people want to be thought of in a positive light despite the challenges they face.

Being seen in a positive light

The importance of listening

A story unfolds over time. This is especially true when someone is sharing their life story. As a mentor, I’ve realized the importance of listening to someone without feeling the need to fix the problems they face.  My role is to build a trusting relationship that supports someone taking charge of their own life.

The importance of listening

Resilience and the importance of believing in someone

My neighbor has repeatedly shown me her resiliency. I am in awe of her ability to bounce back from both emotional and financial challenges. She strives to improve her life despite frequent setbacks. She is not asking me to solve her problems. Rather, she expresses gratitude in my belief in her ability to live her life.

The importance of believing in someone

Aha Moment #3

I recently came across a quote by Karen Blixen that connected things for me.

“We must leave our mark on life while we have it in our power.”

For several years, I’ve been exploring how to combine the wonder of travel with the desire to serve people in need. I envisioned a trip that serves rather than a service trip. But what did that exactly mean and why should people be interested in opportunity such as this?

Travel that serves

Connecting My Three Aha Moments Provides the Answer

I believe that many of us desire to follow Karen Blixen’s direction and “leave our mark on life.” Most of us are already doing so within our families, social groups and communities. But what could we do if we thought outside of communities familiar or close to us? How could those of us who explore life through travel integrate the desire to leave our mark?

Mission or service trips have long offered travelers a way of doing so. But the focus for my vision has been different. Lume Mufleh’s grandmother has given me the words to articulate the mission of travel that serves. “Don’t feel sorry for them. Believe in them!” Our hearts break when we see people living on the edge. This is especially true when we travel beyond our own country. We want to help. How can we solve the problems that are in front of us? There must be something we can do to improve the lives of those we see.

connecting 3 aha moments with travel that serves

There is! Lessons learned in my aha moments provide a starting place.

  • Remember the importance of an individual’s dignity. Travel that serves means taking direction not giving direction. Challenges are shared only after trust is established.
  • Listening serves as a building block for trust. Travel that serves means listening to an individual define their challenges. Once challenges are defined, solutions can be explored.
  • Travel that serves means aligning with someone as they examine their challenges. It is discussing possible solutions rather than providing the answers. Travel that serves believes in people, it doesn’t feel sorry for them.

Travel that serves – what an incredible way to leave your mark on life!

Leave your mark on the world

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10 Ways to Refocus a Service Trip to a Journey That Serves

10 Ways to Refocus a Service Trip to a Journey that Servecs

I See and You Can Too!

Jotting down words while pondering my vision for Ripple Effect Journeys, I experienced an epiphany! Removing the letters “i” and “c” from service, results in the word serve. This “IC” (as in I see) moment led me to think about the many definitions of the word “see.” Do the varied meanings of this word impact what it means to serve as opposed to provide service? I think so!

Here are 10 ways “IC” (I see) refocuses a service trip to a Journey that Serves.

1.  To see – To visualize

Thinking about traveling beyond the sights, you begin to think about problems that needs fixing. Because you care, you begin to visualize how your actions could be part of the solution.

A journeys that serves means gathering impressions

2.  To see – To perceive by sight

Being able to see something with your own eyes, enables you to gather information and impressions. The adage “One picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind. Reading about a situation and experiencing it are two different things. What are your eyes teaching you?

3.  To see – To call upon &
4.  To see – To grant an interview

Journeys that serve are about partnership. As travelers, we often ”feel called upon” to make life better for those we perceive are suffering in the places we visit. But wait. Before developing an action plan for change, don’t we need to be invited in by those we wish to serve, so that we can listen to one another, ask and answer questions?

A journey that service means partnership and discovery.

5.  To see – To watch, to examine &
6.  To see – To discover

If the goal is long term sustainable change, it’s important to discover the complexities that contribute to a situation. Discovery involves going beyond what the eye can see. It involves watching without judgement. It involves not only gathering information but also examining it through someone else’s eyes. Discovery often challenges what we have envisioned. Most importantly it requires a conversation focused on learning.

7.  To see – To understand

Our “IC” journey approaches a place where we begin to grasp the complexities of what we see before our eyes. The tendency to refer to this as a light bulb moment is strong. Because of what we’ve learned, our arrival at a place of understanding comes from empathy.  Our words “I understand” are spoken with a full heart.

A journey that serves means understanding and recognition

8.  To see – To recognize

The words recognize and acknowledge are often used as synonyms. A closer look reveals a slight but important difference. When we recognize someone or something, the act typically takes place quietly. But acknowledging someone or something requires an audience. Inspired by their growing understanding, travelers learning to serve are keen to both recognize and acknowledge, and in doing so help others to understand the power of serving.

9.  To See – To imagine the possibility

Traveling to serve nurtures an empathetic spirit. The importance of this can’t be overstated. Empathy enables us to recognize that we are the visitors, serving in a supportive role. Empathy allows us to accept if our help is rejected. Empathy humbles us to accept an invitation to collaborate rather than solve. And empathy honors us with requests to serve as mentors rather than doers. Understanding empathy helps us see the possibilities for serving may take many forms.

Journey that services means possibility

10.  To See – To take care of, to provide

Whoa! This “IC” may seem contradictory. At first glance, this reaction is understandable. But nothing could be further from the truth. When learning to serve, travelers grow to understand this. As educators, champions, advocates and mentors, we serve others through acts of empowerment. Our journey towards that goal does not end once we are home. Rather, our experiences ignite a passion to champion continued steps towards change.

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Questions On The Path to Meaningful Travel

A wake-up call around 4 a.m. began our day. Within 30 minutes, we were on the bus. Despite the yawns, excitement charged the air. Time was of the essence. We were on track to arrive at our destination before dawn. Once there, though, we still needed to locate the perfect place to watch the sunrise. After all, we weren’t the only ones wanting to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Being able to do so was an anticipated highlight of our trip to Cambodia.
Meaningful Travel in Cambodia

Adding a Dimension of Meaning to Travel

Eating delicious Cambodian food also ranked high on the list! A search for locally popular Phnom Penh restaurants led us to Friends The Restaurant. Run by former street youth and their teachers, this Tree Alliance restaurant provides training and the promise of a career for youth who previously saw no future.

Friends the Restaurant has become a destination for travelers looking to enjoy amazing Cambodian dishes. And they do so while supporting a meaningful cause. What a dynamic combination!!!

Eating at Friends the Restaurant is a meaningful travel experience.

Friends International demonstrates what is possible when addressing needs through social enterprise. The businesses they have created through training facilities provide services enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

What Does Meaningful Travel Mean to You?

Reflections such as these inspired Ripple Effect Journeys and prompted questions like:

  • How can we create travel programs that move beyond the sights to stories about experiences shared with the people who live there?
  • Is it possible for those experiences to be mutually beneficial to travelers as well as communities of people in the country being visited?
  • If so, what does that look like? How does performing service differ from learning service?

I invite you to join us on a journey that explores questions like these.

I’d also like to learn from you.

  • How would you describe meaningful travel experiences?
  • Does the thought of “giving back” while traveling appeal to you?
  • If so, what types of experiences would enable you to give back?
  • Have you ever participated in a service trip? Tell us about about your experience.

I look forward to exploring the world of meaningful travel with you.

Meaningful Travel Experiences

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7 Places to Shop For Meaningful Holiday Gifts

nEY0D2CMeaningful travel creates a desire to give meaningful holiday gifts.  It is an experience.  It is a connection between people and the things they are involved with—their families, their livelihood and their interests. It is an opportunity to learn and to share, moments that provide insight and foster understanding.  And, sometimes these experiences lead you to meaningful gift ideas.

As I’ve traveled, I’ve learned about so many interesting projects that have led me to wonderful gifts to share at the holidays. As this holiday season approaches, many of us are thinking about the gifts we wish to give. Just like I enjoy meaningful travel, I’m fond of sharing meaningful gifts.   When you give a gift from any one of these organizations you are giving a gift twice. What could be more meaningful than that?

Meaningful Holiday Gifts – Heifer International

meaningful holiday gifts

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my 4 year old grandson to help me chose gifts for him, and his sister and brother. I explained I loved giving gifts that helped people, and Heifer International allowed me to do just that.  Together we looked through The Most Important Catalog in the World” published by Heifer.  While he identified the different animals featured in the catalog, I was able to explain why people were so excited to receive the various animals.  As Christmas gifts are shared, we’ll talk again about the animals. Gifts with meaning.

Meaningful Holiday Gifts  – Ten Thousand Villages

meaningful holiday gifts

Founded in 1946, Ten Thousand Villages provides a sustainable North American marketplace to members of artisan co-ops in Africa, South Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and East Asia.  Exquisite jewelry, unique home accessories, colorful textiles, charming personal accessories and extraordinary art pieces can be found online or in one of their many stores. As a volunteer at the St. Paul Ten Thousand Villages store, I often tell guests their gift giving is multiplied when making a purchase at the store. Not only are they selecting a gift for a friend or loved one (or perhaps themselves), they are giving a gift of dignity and self-sufficiency to the artisan who crafted the item.

Meaningful Holiday Gifts – SERRV

meaningful holiday gifts

Dedicated to creating a sustainable world through connections with artists and farmers, eradicating poverty is at the heart of SERRV’s mission.  Founded shortly after World War II to help with refugee resettlement, SERRV is a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization.  Since then the organization has grown to include online and catalog sales as well as three stores.  SERRV items are also often found in gift shops and at fairs throughout the country.  Distinctive décor items, colorful kitchen items, stunning personal accessories, quality apparel for both men and women, memorable holiday and gift items can be found on the SERRV website.  Each item is created by an artisan with a story to tell, a story that provides added meaning to the gift you are giving.

Meaningful Holiday Gifts –The Blessing Basket Project

Blessing Basket Correct Logo

Generating Opportunity, Empowering Entrepreneurs, Creating Prosperity.”  A China Ties – Adoptive Family Travel (a Ripple Effect Journeys sister organization) alum recently introduced me to The Blessing Basket Project.  Working with basket weavers in Bangladesh, Ghana, Uganda and Madagascar, The Blessing Basket Project sells a variety of woven goods including baskets, trays, clutches, hats and totes online and through its partners, such as Whole Foods.  Because each item bears the name of its creator, it’s possible to personally get to know that individual through the organization’s “Artisan & You” initiative.  The Blessing Basket Project employs a prosperity wage model resulting in lasting impact for the entrepreneur, their family and their community.

Meaningful Holiday Gifts – The Gift of Identity Fund

meaningful holiday gifts

The Gift of Identity Fund provides funding to adoptees “visiting their birth country with the goal of helping them understand their identity, heritage and culture” while traveling with Adoptive Family Travel, a signature Ties Program.  If you have a place in your heart for international adoptees and their well being, this is the gift opportunity for you.  Commemorate this holiday season and the New Year by giving a unique Gift of Identity ornament that reads, ““Every road, every path, every waterway leads to self discovery.”   Another idea–The ornament’s sentiment also makes it an inspirational gift for those graduating in the year ahead, or as people you know are making transitions in their lives.

christmas decoration

Just as I’m always seeking my next meaningful travel experience, I’m always interested in learning about new ways to purchase meaningful gifts.  Here are two of my recent discoveries.

Meaningful Holiday Gifts – Trades of Hope

meaningful holiday gifts

After hearing about Ripple Effect Journeys, Caitlin Borge introduced me to Trades of Hope.  Focused on helping women break the cycle of poverty, Trades of Hope markets products through a home party model (some of which take place virtually) as well as selling them online.  The beautiful items you’ll find here make wonderful gifts while also offering the gift of hope. We know of a party going on now through Dec. 9. If you’d like an invite, let me know.

Meaningful Holiday Gifts – Wakami

meaningful holiday gifts

John Quinn, co-founder of the Sinapi Foundation, contacted me after learning about Ripple Effect Journeys.  Partnering with several organizations working in Guatemala, the Sinapi Foundation “wants to participate in the transformation of indigenous communities, while respecting their culture, to increase their opportunities for creating sustainable improvement to their way of life.”  Wakami is one of these partners.  Maria Pacehco’s vision to connect rural Guatemalan villages with local markets began with Kiej del Los Bosques in 2004. In 2006 the vision grew to include opportunities in other parts of the world with the birth of Wakami. Enter Wakami’s online store to select a special bracelet or necklace for the favorite gal or guy in your life.

christmas decoration

May your holiday season be filled with meaning, and may the gifts you give, give twice!

Bea Evans

By: Bea Evans
Founder, Ripple Effect Journeys



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