shannonBuild Abroad chats with Shannon O’Donnell
Shannon O’Donnell is a speaker, blogger for a little adrift, founder of grassrootsvolunteering.org, author of The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and National Geographic Traveler of the Year in 2013. She has also been in BBC, USA Today, lonely planet, Cosmopolitan.IT, and more.

Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned during your travels?
A: Everybody has a story. Underneath it all we’re all in this together. Otherness, there’s a lot of cultural differences but when we come from curiosity and understanding and respect worth exploring.

Q: What is the best trip/experience you’ve had? Why?
A: I traveled with my 11-year-old niece 7 months in SE Asia – to see her understand at such a young age that we’re all connected in a whole world of problems was important for her.

Q: You wrote the volunteer travelers handbook, which guides travelers to positive volunteer experiences. What motivated this?
A: I built it because it didn’t exist. I had a hard time finding low cost volunteering so I did an investigation into the industry and where the fees were going.

Q: What isn’t in your book that you would have included? What is the extra chapter so to speak?
A: When I first wrote the book I knew the message I wanted to talk about but I don’t know if I tempered the positive ways people could travel local and how important it is. To be of service a trip could look like many things. You could go on a vacation but make sure your tourism makes an impact. Volunteering is one way you support but also making sure your dollars stay is another.

Q: How can more people be exposed to the benefits of international travel?
A: Study abroad is great in university systems – it takes away the fear factor when people graduate and want to travel. People also need to know that they have the means and permission. Many lower income families don’t think it’s attainable
but it is.

Q: What do you think the biggest benefit of travel is?
A: A shift in your own consciousness and an understanding of who you are in relation to the world.

Q: What kind of mindset do you take with you to the places you visit?
A: Curiosity, respect and service. When I arrive I ask how can I be of service.

Q: What trends have you seen in the voluntourism industry that you find important?
A: The democratization of volunteer travel and finding programs on the internet – people can more easily find information – this has created a shift from the major players in the industry to allow more people to embrace volunteering as the idea of being of service. This encompasses more than just being a volunteer but all around ethical travel and traveling responsibly.