Travel With More Meaning – Part 2: Andrew’s Adventures

As part of our series on meaningful travel, I’ve invited some of my globetrotting friends to share stories of when they either learned something, shared something, created something, or undertook a challenge, against the backdrop of a foreign place.

First up is my friend Andrew. After taking a year’s leave of absence from his technical desk job, Andrew not only made travel with meaning part of his lifestyle, he’s made it his full-time mission to find meaning in all corners of the globe. Most recently, he has been in India, volunteering at Sadhana Forest. He spent about a month living and co-operating in a sustainable community with up to 100 volunteers from around the world, planting trees in a degraded ecosystem using permaculture techniques for water conservation. Andrew is the one who tipped me off to the helpxchange database I used in France, and he in turn found this opportunity through a friend of his who volunteered at the forest two years ago. Another resource for finding similar opportunities is WWOOF – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

Photo credit: Andrew Lee (reproduced with permission)

Photo credit: Andrew Lee (reproduced with permission)

He eagerly shares what makes this experience a keystone life event: “Meeting and being around amazing people from around the world – fellow foreigners looking to give back, and learn an alternative way of living…eating vegan food every meal, learning about sustainable ways of living, participating in workshops put on every day by volunteers on subjects ranging from yoga, to meditation, to non-violent communication.”

Andrew especially liked the fact that it’s a non-consumer experience – volunteering to offer something instead of consuming. But he warns that other experiences may not be as altruistic: “There are many organizations that offer opportunities to travel and volunteer, that are seeking your money in exchange for a catered experience. You should do your research and trust recommendations from people you know.”

Having a nomadic lifestyle has helped Andrew cultivate a global network of friends and peers. He’s now in Italy visiting with friends, and plans to spend the next few months hitchhiking around Europe. His key to finding meaning in travel, even though it’s now his full-time occupation: “Taking more time to properly enjoy and appreciate the places I visit, spending less money, sacrificing expensive comforts for challenging experiences that expand my comfort zone and make me vulnerable to the spontaneity and kindness of others.”

Kind as he is, he allows others to live vicariously through him, thanks to his well-written blog: All I Need is my 2 Bare Feet. Warning: his blog is likely to inspire a little bit of envy. We hope it also inspires you to travel.

Timeshare and Vacation Club Presentations – How Not to Be a Sucker

Since Mr. Pointster is all about luxury travel on a dime, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to get paid while travelling. Stopping off at a tour-activity booth, we were offered $150 cash for attending a 90 minute presentation for access to travel vacation software. Since we didn’t have prior plans for the 9:00 to 10:30 AM timeslot (we had already gone for a beachside run that morning), and since we trusted our ability to not be sold on a product we didn’t want, we went ahead for it.

We like to consider ourselves smart, analytical people. What astonished us was that, for a while, we actually started considering putting $3000 on the table for something we didn’t really need. We made the wise decision not to buy after the offer failed our tests. After reading the reviews of the vacation software online, we heard plenty of horror stories, and felt lucky to have gotten away. Here are our steps for making sure you don’t end up making a regretful purchase.

1. Do the math, YOUR math

The vendors will always walk you through some sort of equation, explaining how their product will save you thousands of dollars within the early years of your investment. Remember that their valuation is always going to be different from your valuation. So when you calculate how much money you are saving, don’t use their rate for a hotel night/condo week/flight purchase. Use the price that YOU would normally pay for your version of a product/service, which is likely not the same as theirs.

2. Read reviews

Do not let any vendor separate you from your right to inform yourself – Google them! The red flag for us was not only the negative reviews for this company on complaint forums, but also the fact that the site itself had created its own satellite review sites, full of positive reviews that just seemed too much like advertising copy.

3. Check the inventory

Their vacation software listed lots of options for some dates, but when we started to plug in peak season travel, we found that the available inventory dwindled. Our test was to check places that we actually wanted to travel to, when we wanted to travel there. When we couldn’t find the ability to use the program to match our travel pattern, we realized this wasn’t for us.

4. Test the product

This was the moment when we started to feel like the whole website was a full-on scam. Throughout the demo, the agent was the one clicking through the site, showing us all the condo options available to us for a given location. We were not given the chance to ‘drive’ and click-through ourselves. We started to make specific requests, and asked to be taken through right to the final booking page. None of our requests were able to book – every time they clicked on the ‘book’ link, and error popped up. We are glad that we saw this flaw, but couldn’t believe we had spent so much time talking about the software before we even tried this test. This should have come much earlier on for us.

5. Walk away for a minute

I use this trick on any major purchase. I remove myself from the environment, walk away for an hour, and then think about whether I really want to make the purchase or not. This is a great way to prevent impulse buys. Rather than relying on a recision period after a purchase (that may require you to submit something in writing), take time to cool off before the buy. If the deal really makes sense, you will want to go back, and they will always want to make a deal. If it doesn’t, you will be glad you walked away.  We asked to be left alone for some time to discuss – this was enough for us to start putting our minds together and adding up the results of the first four tests. At this point, the choice became clear: walk away.

It wasn’t the $150 we took away that made us richer (really, your time on vacation can be worth a lot more), it was the learning experience, and the fact that we felt like we won some sort of escape challenge.