Book Review: “The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook” by Shannon O’Donnell

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The_Volunteer_Traveler_s_Handbook__Shannon_O_Donnell__9780987706140__Amazon.com__Books-2The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook” is an insightful read that has many useful tips for new travelers and old vagabonds alike. Shannon O’Donnell weaves pleasant stories with essential travel information together in a way that allows the reader to slide through each portion of the book without noticing the transition.

O’Donnell begins with a personal story of her volunteer experience in Cambodia before progressing through the basics of international volunteering . O’Donnell guides the potential volunteer through the process of analysing why they want to volunteer, what to expect, and to understand the effect they will have on the local community.

While this may seem fairly basic the real hard work begins when you start reading the ethics section. This is where O’Donnell really shines. She is able to help us see the affect of some volunteer projects from the side of the receiver of the assistance.

“And what about the wrenching relationships children form with short-term volunteers at orphanages? Some short-term volunteers want to play with and hug orphans, to see their plight and maybe read them a story. Then the volunteers leave, feeling like their afternoon has ‘done some good for the world,’ while the children are left waiting to temporarily bond with the next batch of good Samaritans.”

She continues to say that the key to successful volunteering is to remember to maintain the dignity of the person you wish to help and to work towards eliminating dependency. The grace with which she distills this complicated issue to a few simple points is exemplary. This allows the reader to assess their potential project using their own values assisted by some of O’Donnell’s information. O’Donnell strategically avoids creating a list of dos and don’ts and replaces it with information to help the reader gain an understanding of the issues facing development work.

After refining the methods of evaluating projects, partners, and pitfalls, O’Donnell continues on to more travel oriented advice. The transitional section “While on the Road” discusses the challenges you will likely face in voluntourism. This section is packed with tips that will allow you to get the most out of your experience by being prepared for the difficulties of travelling in the developing world. Especially, helpful is the page on “How to be the Volunteer from Hell.”

The final section deals with the issues that frequently arise when travelling. There are tips on everything from Visas to Malaria medication, from safety to packing. O’Donnell once again assists us in considering advantages and disadvantages rather than preaching specific courses of action.

In summary this book was a delightful read with entertaining travel stories and points to ponder. It is equally suited to a first time traveler that needs help spotting the issues and to the grizzled old veteran who occasionally needs to reconsider their modus operandi. The numerous contributions from others, ensures that the reader gets a broader, better rounded, and more interesting view of the issues then had it simply been the latest treatise of dos and don’ts of volunteer travel.

Disclosure:  A Free copy of the book was given the the volunteer with the expectation that a fair and honest review be written of it.

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by Jonathan Matters

Jon Matters is a lawyer in Prince Edward Island, Canada. He travels as frequently as he can to every destination possible. However, traveling in the developing world is where his true passion lies.

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