If Not Now…When?

In 2004 I discovered an idea for an extended international trip that had me totally entranced. At the same time, I learned that when you ask a question and are serious about finding the answer, the universe complies.

I came on the topic of volunteer travel from an article entitled VIRTUOUS VACATIONS. As an avid volunteer and international traveler, it sounded like a perfect fit for me. The dilemma was I had no idea how to do it. As I focused on the trip, a little voice in my head kept chanting “if not now, when?”

When taking a class – Volunteer Vacations – Traveling on Purpose at Colorado Free University, I MET someone who had some of the answers. Next I began reading Transitions Abroad, a magazine about living, teaching, and volunteering abroad. Then I attended a local Earthwatch event about international volunteering. Now it was time to narrow down my options and figure out how to pay for it.

By the end of the year, I received a legacy of money that would allow me to make my volunteer trip a reality. I selected three “must-do” projects, but ended up adding nine more for an even dozen for my yearlong trip around the world. As a single woman in my mid-40’s, I had some trepidations, but I kept hearing, “if not now, when?”

During my PLANning year of 2005, I went from exhilaration to sweat-inducing fear. I wisely enlisted four people who kept me grounded and on task. When I spiraled into panic, they simply said, “Oh no! I see you out there. Will you just leave already so you can come back and tell us what it was like?” I was nervous but committed, and it benefited me to be organized. A planner at heart, I would just tick things off my to do list as I moved closer to departure.

What was it like to GO round the world for one year as a volunteer? Absolutely fantastic! The main reason my 2006-year abroad was such a success is I picked countries, locations and projects that I could not wait to experience. I chose seven species of wildlife that I had seen and I learned a lot about them and myself. A wombat named Wiggles taught me to appreciate the unexpected. From a baboon named Nigel, I was reminded to be myself always. Purdy, a timid yet lovely giraffe, showed me the benefits of patience and quietness.

In addition to animals, I did things I never dreamed I could do including archaeology and working with the Red Cross. Lastly, I was privileged to experience the joy and wonder of meeting and working with orphans, school children, and over 100 volunteers from other nations.

Your goal may not be to volunteer around the world. But for your sabbatical, these three questions still apply:


After her volunteer sabbatical, Jane Stanfield was inspired to help others plan their own. She wrote the workbook “Mapping Your Volunteer Vacation” and offers consulting services. She is also the host of Meet, Plan, Go! Denver.

Join Jane on September 20 for a local meetup with a special presentation on traveling with pets.  And get your ticket to the October 18 event now!

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