Sue Novik doesn't really take "vacations." Yes, this year she'll travel to seven different cities for the weekend -- Boston, Seattle, Miami, all over. What she's doing there leaves her feeling rested, recharged, and completely fulfilled. But she's not just strolling down the Freedom Trail or tanning in South Beach. Instead, Novik travels for a purpose: raising money to fight rare cancers. Hers is just one of many avenues through which your personal travels can help you make a meaningful difference, even as you get to see the world.
When her fiancé, Brian Rozelle, died of bile duct cancer in 2015, he'd already been an active participant with the organization. So Novik decided to honor him by trying to help others around the country. "I wanted to take his spirit for travel and adventure, and go on as many rides as I could," she says. She's now among a large group of people who travel the country attending Cycle for Survival, a four-hour spinning event that raises money for cancer research. After attending four rides last year, she's planning to hit seven in 2017.
"It gives you a strong sense of community," she says, "of doing something bigger than yourself and making a difference wherever you go." Making that difference is the spirit behind service tourism, the catch-all term for using your time away from work to donate your best efforts toward improving someone's life, somewhere else.
When people hear "service tourism," they recall that selflesser-than-thou college roommate who went and built houses in Uganda on "alternative spring break" while you pummeled your liver in Daytona. And you thought, Yeah, he's a swell guy and all, but who wants to "vacation" by laying a tar roof in the jungle?
Don't let the veneer of martyrdom turn you off. Service tourism has expanded far beyond sweat and dirt and hammers and nails. More and more people -- perhaps 10 million of them annually -- are taking trips that include volunteering. As you might expect, options abound. This list is by no means comprehensive, but everything on here is something you can book, or that can guide your wider search for creative ways to volunteer and then come home feeling like a hero.