Have you always wanted to make a difference when you travel? Wary of ‘voluntourism’ opportunities and if they actually help the community you will be serving? Enter Amy Merrill, who is changing the way we think of responsible tourism.
Amy Merrill has been committed to making a difference for a long time. She spent her early career in nonprofit work, including anti-sex trafficking, women’s rights, and social justice organizations. She then led partnerships for a personal fundraising platform called Change Heroes, built by Amy’s current cofounder Taylor Conroy. This way of fundraising is far more effective, because it relies on relationships and community. By reaching out directly to their friends about a cause they feel passionate about, users are able to raise $10,000 in as little as one day. 33 friends commit to giving $3.33 per day (the cost of your daily cappuccino) for 33 days.
When asked about why this type of fundraising works, Amy says that it’s because you take the time to personalize the outreach, and with the microgift each individual ends up giving more than they typically would (average donation is $246). Change Heroes literally changes the way we fundraise. Gone are the days of sending out mass, impersonal emails to friends to get them to contribute to your fundraiser.
In much the same way, Amy wanted to see if she could change the way we think of travel. More and more, we are valuing experiences over accumulating material goods. We want to have a purpose in our lives, and our travels are no exception. Less and less people of the Millennial generation want to simply lie on a beach somewhere sipping fruity cocktails. We would rather connect with a community and work towards a common goal.
How Journey is Changing the Travel Game
Keeping our desire for purpose in mind, Amy and Taylor created Journey, creating immersive travel experiences that have a tangible impact. It’s not enough for many of us to sit on the sidelines, giving money to support a cause, but having no real connection to it. We want to see what we’re funding, and have an active role in creating change.
Here’s the basic premise: You decide you want to make a difference. You reach out to 10 friends about making a difference. You and those 10 friends each commit to giving $3.33 a day for 3 months; this will fund an entire home. When you hit your fundraising goal, your costs on the ground with Journey are covered. You fly to the country where you will be building homes, and spend a weekend immersed in the community getting to know the family that will get a new home. Then, you integrate your experience with a few days of rest and reflection. Finally, you fly back home, with a new perspective on the world and your place in it.
When you decide to actively participate in a Journey, you are collaborating with the community that exists in the destination you visit. Journey partners with Techo, a nonprofit that has been building homes in 19 Latin American countries for the last 20 years. They’ve built around 100,000 housing units for families that need them by mobilizing over 800,000 local volunteers. Since they’ve done the build before, they already have the materials and can efficiently organize the groups as they build homes.
Make a Difference When You Travel
It was important for Amy that Journey not be the typical ‘voluntourism’ experience where people come into a community and do one-off tasks or menial work that have little positive impact.
On a Journey with Amy, you are interacting with locals in their communities from start to finish. You will be problem solving with your local teammates to build the homes. The trained volunteers from TECHO are locals who will be directing you to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. They also make sure that any tour operators are locals. You get the context, from a local perspective, on what to expect from your time in the country and the history and political unrest that led to the conditions you see as a traveler. Amy believes that if you understand the background of a country, you will be less likely to make judgements or assumptions about a culture different from your own.
When you fund your Journey, you know that the money you are raising is definitely going to the communities that need help. TECHO’s approach to fighting poverty starts with the home. When the need for safety and shelter is eliminated by having a locking door and a roof, you are free to stop worrying about that basic necessity. Your children will have a safe place to sleep at night, and you will be more rested for work the next day. When you build a home, it becomes a long-term sustainable solution for the community.
Why Integration is Important
Your trip isn’t over after building houses. When Amy and Taylor thought of their ideal Journey, they knew it would include a period of integration after the volunteer part of the trip. This gives you time to connect with your fellow travelers and reflect on your experience.
The integration process starts with some downtime to recover from the physical efforts of building homes. You’ll have plenty of time to relax on the beach, go surfing, or just hang out at the hotel or lodge. Then, Amy and her team have crafted a carefully selected range of activities that allow you to process your experience. There may be yoga or meditation designed to bring awareness around what has changed within you as a result of your Journey. Through conversations with the group, you discuss a moment when things shifted for you, and create a dialogue around what it means to be a human living in this world.
Possibly the most important part of the integration process is aligning with the community that your group has formed. Sometimes we don’t have the opportunity at home to connect with like-minded people who believe in traveling for a purpose. Through Journey you can find your own tribe. The last dinner on the last night is about celebrating your communal efforts, and how to move forward and continue the commitment to change. Maybe you want to get more involved in your community back at home, plan to go on another Journey, or simply be a kinder more open individual to those around you.
For a better understanding of what a trip like this looks like, watch this video about Amy’s latest trip to Nicaragua:
Also be sure to read more about Journey and find out how to win a trip for 2 when you fund a home here.
Amy Merrill is a problem-solver and enabler for good. Amy develops strategic partnerships, produces special events and online media, and drives communications and content strategy to scale startup-sized organizations with massive social implications in the US and abroad. Amy is the co-founder of Journey, a benefit corporation creating transformative impact travel experiences that are deeply connected and foster a global community. Amy is also a musician, and played and toured in indie rock band Mia Riddle (The Orchard; national tours incl. SXSW, CMJ and Daytrotter). She also co-founded and produced the 7 Train Sessions, a series of guerrilla-style concerts in living rooms, in trains, and on rooftops.