Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: The Voluntourist by Ken Budd

Many people look at their children as their legacy to the world. They are, after all, what so many of us leave behind after our deaths, the best parts of ourselves. But if someone chooses to remain childless, what remains after they are gone? How are they remembered and what is their legacy? Ken Budd tackles that question in his introspective, unusual, and wonderful travelogue.

When his father dies of a heart attack unexpectedly, Budd sees first hand the many ways in which his father lived a good life, contributed to others' happiness, and made a difference in the world in so many small but significant ways. Losing his father makes Budd think about what he wants to do to live a life that matters. Unlike his own father, he himself will never be a father so he cannot strive to emulate his dad in that way but he can choose to give back for the goodness in his life and so he embarks on six "voluntouring" trips of around two weeks each in which he pays for the privilege of going to poor, troubled, or devastated places in this world to do whatever sort of work he can to contribute to bettering the lot of the people and the place.

His drive to volunteer cleaning up in New Orleans post Katrina, to teach English in Costa Rica, to help care for and teach special needs kids in China, to count flora and fauna in a cloud forest in Ecuador as a part of a scientific global warming project, to help Palestinian refugees with menial work on the West Bank, and to care for orphans in Kenya in between stints in his regular working life comes as much from his realization that life is short and it is vital that we do the best we can with the time we are given as from his need to somehow process and grieve the fact that while he would very much like a child, his wife is certain that she does not and he must honor her feelings in this above his own.

Each section of the book presents a different voluntourism experience and Budd deftly captures the uniqueness of each place, the resilience and hope of the people, and his own feelings facing each different situation and in coming to terms with his father's loss and the loss of his potential children. He captures the personalities of some of his fellow volunteers, sketching them briefly but managing to show their essence even in their short cameos. He describes the hard and dirty unskilled labor for which he, a writer and editor, is qualified and honestly presents the difficulty and frustrations of many of his volunteer jobs. But he also acknowledges that despite the deprivations, the occasionally uncomfortable living conditions, and the looming question of whether he is really making a difference, doing something good, or causing more harm, he is the one who has gained immeasurably through his varied experiences.

Well written, inspiring and honest, this travelogue/memoir is filled with humor and humanity. It chronicles Budd's personal journey, his marriage, coming to terms with his grief, and stepping outside of his own comfort zone to grow into the sort of person he wants to be. You'll find politics, history, science, and so much more here. But mainly you'll find people going about their daily lives in the face all sorts of obstacles, pleased that others truly see them and thankful for the help they are given, even if sometimes that help causes them even more work. This is all about human connection and the small wonders that can occur when we just reach out one hand and make that connection. It would be tough to come away from this book without the wish to set out on your own voluntourism experience, to make your own difference in this world, to be a person who matters.

For more information about Ken Budd and the book visit his website or Facebook page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I would so worry that this book would be really earnest and sanctimonious but it sounds like it's neither which is a pleasant surprise!

  2. Carin makes a good point in her comment - I'm glad to see that this book exceeded your expectations!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  3. I have this book on my shelves! Glad you liked it; am looking forward to reading about the author's travel experiences.

  4. As always, a beautifully written review!


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