Vacations with a purpose: See the world and change it, on the cheap

Traveling the world and making a difference sounds appealing to most of us, but may seem financially out of reach. There are myriad "trips with a purpose" offered throughout the year from secular to non-secular, and mission-based to the purely educational covering almost every cause under the sun. Many colleges and non-profit organizations offer transformational trips around the globe.

With a little advanced planning and some creativity, however, it is possible to see the world and help make it a better place, for little to no money. Now is a good time to put a plan into action for a summer trip, with at least three months of fundraising time ahead.

Anberlin singer Stephen Christian co-founded Faceless International with Sarah Freeman after doing humanitarian work in Haiti in 2006. "We view our mission as action and advocacy against modern day slavery," says Christian. "We see action as hands-on experiences working with those in the trenches battling human trafficking and sex slavery around the world today."

While the two founders are Christians, the organization is secular and opened to all. They have hosted small group educational trips to India, Guatemala, Ukraine, and they also offer affordable domestic trips. I was on its recent India trip, where we visited schools and organizations helping to break the slavery cycle; we also visited small at-risk villages.

It was a transformational experience. "We try very hard to have trips offered that everyone can participate in regardless of how much extra money they have," explains Freeman. "Our international trip costs include airfare, food, lodging and transportation. Our domestic trips (which we offer at various points across the country to help defray travel costs) include food, lodging, and transportation.

"With our trips," she said, "one can expect much more than realized -- we offer a chance to see the world as the one billion people who live on less than $1 day see it. "

While its domestic trips are an affordable $300 ($200 if you are local and don't need lodging), the International trips are around $3,000. However as 24-year-old Baylor University student Dianna Anderson explains, even on short notice it is possible to raise most of the funds while promoting the cause. She took the Faceless India trip. "I didn't have a lot of time when I began fundraising, so I decided the best way would be to turn it into a writing project. I started a blog, had a fundraising thermometer on the side and a PayPal link where people could donate," she explains. She posted weekly, and received donations from friends all over North America.

"As a result of the blog, I managed to raise two-thirds of what I needed for the trip, the rest coming from parental help and out-of-pocket money. And since the trip, the blog has become even more popular and has provided me with a venue to tell stories from the trip." Another India participant, Chase Andre, also raised the majority of his trip money turning his already-established blog into a fundraising vehicle where he even received anonymous donations.

Fellow India traveler, 21-year-old Philadelphia University student Lindley Hendersen organized a potluck and human trafficking information seminar at her church. She provided a presentation. Since the food and venue were free, she raised $2,000 for the trip. She adds, "At this dinner I had numerous businessmen and women asking if their companies could create funds to permanently donate to my cause."

Spark Ventures forms partnerships with organizations worldwide to "help vulnerable children achieve their potential," says Vice President/CFO Scott Barbeau. "Currently, we have one partnership with Hope Ministries in Ndola, Zambia, Africa. Hope operates an orphanage for 20 children and community school for 300 children who otherwise could not afford to receive an education. Our goal is to provide support through leadership training, organizational development, and resources which will help improve the lives of the children, and communities that they live in."

They ask for a $2,000 donation for its Zambia trips, which covers housing, food, bottled water, ground transportation and activities. It does not cover airfare. Participants on their trips do mission-based volunteer work, but also experience cultural activities, including a safari and Victoria Falls. In addition to their regular trips, they have two yearly trips exclusively planned with North Park University students. Spark Ventures project manager Sarah Teachout suggests some of the ways students can raised money.

"Write support letters to friends, family and other networks asking for donations. Some participants have taken an extra step to break down the cost of particular aspects of the trip -- $30 for one night's lodging, $50 for lunches, etc. so that friends and family can contribute to a concrete aspect of the trip." She adds that team fundraisers, such as bake-offs and collecting donations from businesses and hosting an auction, or affordable spaghetti dinner have also been successful for students.

Rebecca Masterjohn, a 21-year-old North Park student is planning a May school trip with students to Oaxaca, Mexico, to work in an orphanage. She also journeyed to India recently. "I sold some greeting cards of my photography, homemade crocheted hats and am working on a group fundraiser -- a rock band tournament/bags tournament/bake sale/raffle drawing. I am also giving students henna tattoos for donations toward my trip," she says. "I am still in the process of making my goal."

Masterjohn was so impacted by her journey to India, she will be returning to teach English in India for the entire summer. With some of the money raised for trips with a purpose benefiting those on the ground, and the innumerable benefits participants get both educationally and culturally, Masterjohn says sacrificing a little time and finding creative ways to help raise money is worth the effort.

Fundraising can be a frustrating and full-time job, but it definitely pays off in the end," Masterjohn asserts. "The experiences, memories and knowledge acquired are well worth the extra time spent raising funds. I just went to India this past winter and I am going to Mexico in May. It hasn't even been six months, but I know that this is how I want to spend my time and money. Group trips are one of the greatest ways to meet and bond with friends that will last a lifetime."

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