The Art of Giving and Travel

Giving is good for you. It’s a statement many have heard before, but the concrete benefits of giving are one of those more airy concepts difficult to research. Over the past year though, I’ve seen this idea take flight in mainstream media as the giving mindset doesn’t just lift your spirits for a day, but research shows that givers experience less stress, and those who give report elevated, lasting happiness when they “give” regularly in some way.

Inle Lake, Burma
Workers in Myanmar, one of the most giving-focused cultures I have met.

But what is this idea of giving? Does it mean volunteering?

That’s a resounding “no.” Giving is a mindset—a way to operate your life. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to entertain the concept of volunteering every day in this search for happiness and less stress. This article in the New York Times discusses Adam Grant’s idea that there are three types of people: givers, matchers, and takers. In his book Give and Take, Grant outlines the effects operating in these three roles has our lives.

One of his key points is that most people inherently act as a giver in their personal lives with family and friends, but in work-life they tend to shift into either the matchers, who care about fairness, or takers, who aim to get more from a situation for themselves. I have long talked about my idea that pro-social behavior and living a life of service goes far beyond simply volunteering once or twice, that it’s a mindset you can enter as you travel to look for opportunities to give and be useful to the people and places you visit. And that means spending your baht, pesos, and rupee at local businesses. It can mean more than volunteering, it means looking for opportunities to give. It means being helpful in any way you can, even in the small moments.

Travel is a transformative experience for the person doing the traveling. Volunteering while traveling takes that transformation deeper for me, it gives me an opportunity to sink into a new culture, ask questions, and learn the stories of the people in the community. Major criticisms of the volunteering industry counter that it’s a one-way street, the volunteers leave with a hard drive full of photos and stories, but critics argue over the impact short-term volunteers have on the places they are volunteering. By and large, that debate overlooks the effect a single person can have when they go beyond a one-off day of volunteering, but instead begin to shift their thinking into the service mindset.

Giving to others in work, home, and travel is a powerful way to live a positive life, and my goal with Grassroots Volunteering has always been to find ways to support travelers in ethical ways to give and serve when they’re on the road.

This piece in the Atlantic discusses more of Grant’s idea of giving, and the research backing up claims that givers have more career success and happiness as a direct result of their goal to focus on how they can support and encourage others around them.

“Across four studies, researchers found that giving time away — in the form of volunteering — makes people feel like they actually have more time than if they spent time on themselves, wasted time, or got a random bit of free time.”

Rather than simply looking at the controversy around volunteering, I love the idea of framing the conversation around how we can take this idea of givers looking for ways to serve and give them the ways to make that happen on the road.