a road to adventure volunteering

Phyllis’ Story: The Path Less Travelled

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I feel as if I am living a dream, sometimes scared but most often excited by my travel and volunteer opportunities. In looking back, I recollect my hope of retiring early enough to travel off the beaten path. Before I knew it, the safety of the intellectual journey spent in bookstores, at lectures and on the internet became the reality of leaving a gratifying and secure career for the unknown.

Finding an international volunteer organization that provided a way to continue my life work in unique ways was a bridge that supported me through the transition. Timid about the challenges of adventure travel, I pushed through the fear and inconvenience to experience unbelievable adventures.

I had the privilege of impacting lives in developing countries and I was enriched by my connections with people from different and fascinating cultures. While teaching English in a foreign language school, to eager Vietnamese students ranging in age from 10 to 74, I had the thrill of riding on the back of students’ motor scooters, the main form of transportation in the Mekong Delta. In a rural Tanzanian boarding school, I had the opportunity to counsel and serve as a role model for poor young women who had been identified as potential leaders in their communities. I learned so much working side by side with a female psychologist testing students for learning problems in a home for severely disabled children in Quito, Ecuador. Through these kinds of experiences, I found countless mentors for seeing the world from a different perspective.

I love sharing my skills and energy as a way not only to give back but also to challenge myself. Each time I come home, the way I see and what I am looking for is somewhat changed. You may not understand that, because I am not even sure that I do. I am in the midst of an ongoing reshaping process and do not know what the future will bring. Yet, for now, I strongly affirm my commitment to nurture my passion for adventure, community and work in new and meaningful ways.

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


Stepping Stones To Adventure Volunteering

In most cases, transition is the on-going process of moving from one place to another with some turmoil in between. Since the process is a fluid one, the selected Steps that we highlight may not necessarily follow for you in the same order. There is no strict formula for a successful transition, only guidelines. Everyone’s story and timetable are different.

There are many ways to transition to a lifestyle that includes travel with volunteer work. So much depends on the kind of “baggage” you are carrying with you, hopefully no more than what will fit in the overhead compartment! Some of the steps Phyllis took may help you once you begin your own unique journey.


(1) Gather information through research.

(2) Welcome new ideas and develop opportunities.

(3) Examine your strengths, interests and past success.

(4) Create a structure by setting goals, objectives and tasks.

(5) Be open to revising your plan.


(1) Visualize your dreams.

(2) Unleash your imagination.

(3) Determine your risk taking and challenge quotient.

(4) Explore your flexibility in unanticipated situations.

(5) Be open to shifting your expectations.


(1) Find a project you believe in and jump in.

(2) Develop a network of like-minded people.

(3) Connect with mentors as role models and resources.

(4) Maintain a positive attitude by turning obstacles into discoveries.

(5) Be dedicated to your passion and vision.


Recommended Resources: Websites to Explore

(1) global volunteers.org Founded in 1984, this private, nonprofit organization promotes “service-learning” by sending short term volunteer teams to work and live with local people in host communities. The website is full of information describing the program’s philosophy, volunteer opportunities in over 20 countries and the application process.

(2) idealist.org Launched in 1996, this website is a rich community of nonprofit and volunteer resources. You can: register for personal email updates on volunteer resources or work programs; offer your services as a volunteer by providing information about personal qualifications and interests; share ideas and experiences with others who have common interests.


Our Invitation to You Do you have your own transition story? We invite you to share it with our readers for the benefit of women who themselves may be dealing with similar changes. The skills you used may be Stepping Stones for others. If you are interested, please e-mail us.

(c) Her Mentor Center, 2001