Why You Should Plan Your Own Travels

Have you ever had a moment where you asked yourself what the hell was going on? A moment where life felt like one of those acid trips where you asked yourself, “Am I gonna stay this way forever?” (Not that I have any experience with that sort of stuff.)

Well, a real trip can also feel that way when you let a second party make traveling decisions for you. This matter is personal to me because I spent almost two years managing exaggerated expectations for international volunteers. Do I blame the volunteers? Of course not. They were just trying get the most out of their experience. After all, they paid a lot of money.

Don’t worry. This isn’t another critique of the international volunteering industry like my last piece on this topic. Look at this as a sequel that poses some solutions.

As humans, we make many questionable, emotional decisions. When we sign up to volunteer, we daydream about hugging love-deprived children and constructing schools to improve global education. This type of thinking, while noble and well-intentioned, only serves to inflate our expectations. Volunteering institutions understand this, so they load their sales pitch with misleading pictures and all kinds of emotional baggage.

They aren’t alone in their tactics.

If you’ve ever been underwhelmed by an “all-inclusive” resort, you know what I’m talking about. What you imagined as a four-day extravaganza ends up just being a vaganza.

What’s a vaganza? It’s a four-day borefest at the same beach, with the same Golden Corral imitation buffet, and a couple of pools that are more urine and chlorine than H2O.

You get the point. It is the result of extraordinary marketing delivering an ordinary experience. We’ve all been there in one way or another. I can’t solve those problems for underwhelming cars, electronics or the five-dollar H&M shirt you bought yesterday that now looks like a piece of gum that’s been chewed for too long.

However, I can help you solve this problem for your next vacation, volunteering trip, or crazy life adventure abroad. It all starts with a little…


Look, I know you thought you wouldn’t have to think. The whole point of the vacation deal is having the Kool-Aid Man’s girlfriend, Giant Margarita Jar, flip the “off” switch in your brain. Perfectly understandable.

And if this whole traveling deal were cheap, I would tell you to have at it. But it’s not! And when you try to cut cost corners, you end up with undercooked enchiladas and a chafed butthole from the brandless toilet paper in your hotel room.

I promise you a better experience if you just find out what the country has to offer. I pity the fool who misses out on Costa Rica’s treasures like Monteverde, Rio Celeste, and Drake Bay because she wanted to hide away in an all-inclusive resort.

All it takes is a few days of reading some travel blogs, Lonely Planet guides and watching some House Hunters to figure out what really makes a country worth visiting. Don’t take surfing lessons from some resort employee who’s probably baked out of his mind. Go find an AirBnB close to the beach and find someone you get along with. Maybe it’ll even be free.

You will never enjoy your travels unless you allot some time for uncertainty. Embrace the culture, ask questions, and drink the water. And most importantly, make the walls fall down when you’re having sex… no one’s ever gonna see you again, but your legend will permeate eternity.

In short, do some research and figure out where you want to go. Then, reap the rewards.

What if this isn’t on the agenda? I say, “The agenda don’t pay my bills, son.”

Ground Research

Volunteering is great, but great doesn’t have to be expensive. This was one of the proudest days of my life.

Volunteer institutions are banking on you being confused and scared enough to need them. I understand the fear, but does signing up for a service you know nothing about sound like a good way to mitigate fear? It’s not exactly a stuffed animal that protects us from closet monsters.

If you’re going to volunteer, I highly recommend arriving in the country before enrolling in a program. I understand how this may sound backwards but hear me out. Here’s how volunteering organizations work:

Volunteer Pays Company → Volunteer org pays partner organization→ Partner organization delivers experience in-country (project and accommodations).

What I’m telling you to do is eliminate the company that is basically sending over your information to their partner in the destination country.

“But, David… isn’t it much better to know where you’re going to work and stay?”

Duh. Except many volunteer organizations don’t give you that information! Would you buy a burrito from Chipotle if they didn’t tell you what was in it? Well, maybe you would because everyone seems to love that shit hole, but you get the gist.

This is important. As a volunteer, you have little to no information about your placement. Why not show up in the country first, stay at a few hostels and figure out where you would have been volunteering if you had decided to pull the trigger? If you like what you see, you can sign up for the same service you would have paid for in the first place. Except that now you have the information you needed to make an informed decision. It could save you thousands of dollars.

Remember that traveling is just another transaction. You wouldn’t buy a home without seeing it first.

You’d also be surprised by how much intel you can get on your destination country’s volunteering biosphere by just asking around at hostels or finding volunteering communities online. Obviously, this all goes back to doing your research.

A lot of people reading this are about to get angry, but I just have to say it. If you value convenience over impact when you volunteer, you should either stay home or just go travel without volunteering.

Sorry, Charlie.


Agency is the most valuable thing you can gain from traveling. Everyone wants to change the world and become a better human. You can’t do that when you allow a second party to tell you how to travel or volunteer.

Ask the right questions and you will make the right decisions. I promise.

Engineer your travels in a way that will optimize the things you can actually take home with you. You can’t take relaxation home for more than a couple of days. Go outside the box and purchase your travels the same way you would buy a house.

Thanks for reading. I’m doing some awesome projects that involve education and social change. If you care to hear any more about it, email me at david@tefldevelopment.com for details.

Hit the heart button if you want to help me pump up my ego like those blow-up gorillas outside of fireworks stands.