Dear Woman on the Road,

For many of us the New Year is a time for resolutions - about ourselves, how we live and what we do. One of those things is travel and how we travel can have a tremendous impact not only on our planet, but on the people who share it with us. Perhaps one of this year's resolutions could be this: This year I will travel to make a difference. I will give part of my time to improve someone else's life, and in that way leave a part of me behind.

Welcome to Women on the Road News, the monthly newsletter designed to keep you informed of what's new on the Women on the Road website and in the big broad world of women's solo backpacking.

Women on the Road News: Contents for Issue #2

  1. 10 Questions to Ask When Choosing Your Volunteer Vacation
  2. New on the Website
    • The Ultimate Travel Packing List
    • Learn the Art of Haggling
    • Managing Travel Loneliness
  3. Travel News
  4. Travel Book Reviews
  5. Campaign of the month
  6. Next month's topic

10 Questions to Ask When Choosing your Volunteer Vacation

A holiday often conjures up langorous days spent lying on a beach or in a hammock watching the wildlife go by... hold it, rewind! Is that what your holiday looks like?

Why not try this instead?

  • work with AIDS orphans in Zambia
  • help conserve sea turtles in Brazil
  • build a house for the homeless in Belize
  • protect a national park in South Africa

Does that sound like fun? Would it sound even better if you knew your vacation was making a radical difference in someone's life?

Thousands are doing it, and the volunteer vacation - or voluntourism - is one of the travel industry's fastest growing sectors.

A volunteer vacation could help you as well as others: it could help you learn a new language or practice one you've nearly forgotten... immerse yourself in a local community and culture... see places you wouldn't otherwise see... do something worthwhile...

To help you choose, here are 10 questions you should ask when researching a volunteer vacation.

1. What kind of volunteer work is on offer?
If you're a couch potato, you're better off teaching English than building houses.

2. How much time have you got?
From a few days to a few weeks to a few months - voluntourism outfits have a wide range of possibilities.

3. Where should you go?
So many groups offer volunteer vacations that you'll be hard-pressed not to find the country of your choice.

4. What kind of projects do they offer?
Their offerings will have to meet your expectations - urban or rural, mountain or coast, high end or rough.

5. What do they stand for?
Look at their philosophy. You want to volunteer with a group that shares yours, whether you're looking for a faith-based group or seeking to replenish your left-wing radical credentials.

6. What kind of reputation does the group have?
Check them out on the web and post questions on volunteer forums. Talk to people who have volunteered with them before.

7. Where does the money go?
Make sure at least some of the money is put back into the project you're working on or another project. You're not here to make anyone rich.

8. Speaking of rich, who gets the money?
Many voluntourism organizations are non-profit - make sure yours is.

9. Are the projects real?
The project should provide long-term benefit to the community rather than be a 'make work' to pull in volunteers.

10. What will it cost?
This may be last but is certainly not least, because cost will have a major impact on what you decide to do, when, and where.

Because yes, there will be a cost to a volunteer vacation since matching you to a project isn't free: you'll also have to be fed, housed, possibly trained, insured, and taken to the site.

All that takes staff, communications and organization, an army of people behind the scenes to make it all happen. Of course, you could do it all on your own - some people do. But if you only have a week or two, the sensible thing is to go on an organized volunteer vacation, and let someone else take care of the travel details.

You'll find major global programs, and tiny local projects, so choose wisely. Make sure your money goes to a worthwhile group, one that really makes a difference.

What's New: Women on the Road Website

The Art of Haggling

Have you ever wondered how some travelers manage to get things at half the price? They may have learned the age-old art of haggling. There's no big secret here, and you too can learn how to shave dollars, pounds and euros off your purchases.

Managing Travel Loneliness

Solo travel is fun and rewarding, but it can be lonely at times, especially during the holiday season. Managing travel loneliness is something that can be learned, so be prepared for when it strikes - and do away with it.

The Ultimate Travel Packing List

If you're heading off on a long journey, the issue of what to pack can take over days and even weeks of your life. Why not use this travel packing list to help you decide what to take with you and what to leave behind.


The Best Travel Destinations for 2008

The new year is when travel media release their 'best of' lists - best of 2007 (but that's last year's news) and best of 2008. For some of us, it means hurry, before the crowds arrive. For others, it's - no way, everyone will be going there! I've compiled the following list from a bunch of others - the New York Times to TrendCentral to National Geographic Adventure Magazine to Frommer's - and have included a few of my own picks as well.

Here are just a few top destinations for 2008 so if you haven't been yet, start thinking about it.

Buenos Aires: this one's unanimous - everyone wants to go (me too!)
Lisbon: Affordable, artsy and historic. And not too expensive, either.
Quito: Volunteer vacation central and a refurbished historical center.
Laos: NYT's number 1 - and mine too. Keep going back.
Libya: It's open for business. Quick, before it goes one way or the other.
Bogota: Not just for drug traffickers anymore. Just stay out of the mountains.
Mozambique: Remember James Michener's The Drifters?
Malawi: Its shimmering lake, and you can see across to Mozambique.
Lombok: Still the place to go when Bali's full.
Albania: Bet you never thought of it as 'unspoilt beaches'!
Mongolia: Trekking isn't just Nepal, you know.
New Orleans: Three years after Katrina, the beat is back.

Book Reviews

Published by Lonely Planet Publications, June 2007

An excellent guide to volunteering, and nicely divided into organized and non-organized volunteer trips. It's filled with comments from returnees, which helps give flavor to places and groups. The book is written by a group of authors, each experienced in a specific aspect of volunteering. A couple of comments: it's a bit confusing to navigate because many pages are on different background colors, and there are a few too many sub-sub-divisions within categories. The spine isn't solid, either. After what I consider very light use, it came unglued. Despite that, it's an excellent resource, just published, and small enough in size to carry around.

My rating: 4/5

How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas
By Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega, Zahara Heckscher
Published by Penguin Books, 2002

This is the bible of volunteering, with detailed listings for over 100 organizations. Unfortunately, it is a little dated, published more than five years ago which probably makes its information closer to six. That said, it delves deep into volunteering, examining its history, placing it in the context of development and providing plenty of guidance not only of a practical but also of an ethical nature. Unfortunately, their website,, promotes the book but doesn't update the listings. My only other criticism: it's a bit heavy on the Peace Corps, as well as a bit heavy, period. This is the book to browse through leisurely if volunteering is something you plan to take seriously, and for more than a few weeks.

My rating: 4/5

Campaign of the Month

As is unfortunately the case in too many countries, women in Iran are discriminated against by law: they can be married young and against their will, and their word is inferior to that of men when it comes to being a witness to a crime or an accident. Mothers can't be their children's financial guardians, nor can they make decisions about their child's residence, travel or medical care.

Things do change. In 2005, Kuwaiti women won the right to vote and participate fully in politics, following years of organizing and campaigning. After a nine-year struggle, Malaysian women witnessed the passing of legislation to criminalize domestic violence. In 2007, Moroccan women won the right to pass on their Moroccan nationality to their children.

A petition launched a year ago calls for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in Iranian law and asks lawmakers to align Iran's laws with the international conventions to which the country is party.

If you'd like to take make yourself heard, why not add your signature to One Million Signatures and join people everywhere in seeking equality for the women of Iran.

Next Month

Couch Surfing - or how to see the world (almost) for free. Find out about the not-so-new but flourishing craze in travel - staying for free with people in exchange for an eventual couch or bed in your own home.

Editor's EndNote...

Please keep your comments coming. This newsletter should add to your travel enjoyment by giving you tips and ideas on how to travel better, further, more cheaply and more enjoyably. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered, let me know and I'll do my best. Either Reply to this email, or contact me here.

If this is your New Year, I'd like to wish you a 2008 filled with serenity, joy and many new experiences, especially if you're on the road right now!

Happy travels, Leyla