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Giving your most valuable gift.

When we travel we want to enter a fantasy world of adventure and stimulation--a suspension of reality. We work hard all year for our usually two short weeks of vacation with the burning need to seriously chill. So why would people choose to donate some or all of their holiday time volunteering? Simply because a volunteer trip excels at achieving exactly what we expect of a vacation: It has the capacity to both recharge and transform us.

The recent tragedy in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast has brought out the best in many Americans who have given generously of their time and money helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. When will New Orleans recover its mantle as one of the gayest destinations in the world? We touch on the issue of the future of gay tourism in the region in Orientation. Katrina has highlighted the fact that we live in a small modern world, closely interconnected by commerce and personal interaction. The same generosity and energy that has spilled forward in the wake of Katrina can be creatively applied to our travels, as The Out Traveler has been showing in our ongoing series on volunteer vacations. Volunteering is more than just doing good for good's sake--it is stimulating, meaningful, and yes, fun and satisfying. Nonprofits report that the number of people who sign up for volunteer vacations is doubling every year. Most programs require no special training, just a curiosity about the world and a big heart. A basic fee for food and lodging is charged, but these trips are generally cheaper (from $200 to $1,000 per week) than the typical jaunt to Disney World. It's an unforgettable way of seeing the world that is proactive instead of passive, engaging rather than placating.

"Taking a volunteer vacation is like attending a family reunion. You go because it's your duty, but you end up having the time of your life," Bud Philbrook, the cofounder and president of Global Volunteers, once told me. And he's right. In this issue we focus on volunteer vacations to help out those living with HIV around the globe (see page 44)--and even these types of volunteer activities can be uplifting and inspiring. Of the 40 million people in the world estimated to have HIV, nearly 60% are in the poorest countries in the world in sub-Saharan Africa, with only 15% of HIVers there able to get the medicines they need. So often we simply see these sufferers in the abstract. But to go and personally lend a hand is extremely empowering, drawing you deeper into a region and closer to its people. For gay travelers, it's rewarding from an educational, political, and above all personal perspective. To quote a nonprofit worker in our story, "A lot of gay people are drawn to this work. It's that kind of crowd."

With the globalized world rapidly becoming a smaller place, the luxury of ignoring the troubles and afflictions of other regions is no longer an option. There is little that separates us in the end. As the late Susan Sontag put it: "Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:EDITOR'S LETTER
Author:Link, Matthew
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 8, 2005
Words:570
Previous Article:Corrections.
Next Article:Truffle time.
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