A good friend of mine, Sarina, and I led a group of ten Georgia Southern students to New Orleans for a week of service and social justice education. This is why I like to title this post “The Alternative Travel Guide” because this was a service trip- not a recreational vacation. This was through the Alternative Breaks program at my school. We worked together beforehand to combat the ever-controversial issue of voluntourism. I am excited to share with you what we did, where we went, and all of the tips and tricks in between so you can have a successful volunteer experience while being conscious of the environment, people, and social issues you might be working with.
Our group of ten went to serve at the local animal rescue center, also known as ARNO. We would wake up early in the morning to make ourselves breakfast and coffee, pack our lunches, and to have time together before we would split into different teams for the day. We would arrive at our destination at 9 a.m. and would split into Dog Team, Cat Team, and Chore Team. The staff at ARNO was extremely friendly, helpful, and answered the many, many questions we had about the animals and facility. Our tasks for the day would include cleaning dog and cat kennels, folding laundry, doing dishes, sanitizing litter boxes, socializing and bathing animals.
This was an indoor/outdoor facility, so layering for service was extremely important, especially in December. Temperatures tend to change super quickly during this time. I packed old clothes that I did not mind donating to the shelter afterward (and also made my load a lot lighter on the road trip back to Georgia). It is a good idea to have options on hand- such as a t-shirt, flannel, and sweatshirt on. I would wear thermal leggings with running shorts over them, in case I became hot and needed to take off my leggings. Wearing shorts over my leggings also prevented the animals from clawing into my leggings and ripping them, which was an added bonus.
After service, we would come back to our cozy and eccentric hostel, “The India Hostel.” This was my second time staying here and I can not rave enough about it. The staff is very friendly and helpful, the rooms and common areas are clean, and the other travelers are extremely personable. The hostel provided sheets, blanket, a pillow, towel, and washcloth in our rooms. They serve dinner there for $5 a plate or you can make your own dinners in the community kitchen (which is what we did most nights). During meal times, the kitchen and dining areas can get pretty crowded- so if you are claustrophobic or get over-stimulated very easily, I would wait until unpopular hours to make your meals. Also, there are two living areas, one with a TV and one with a nice fireplace. This seems to be a popular place to hang-out and talk with others. They have a nice “take one leave one” library and a ton of board games to choose from! The outside area is very quirky with string lights, artwork, and a beautiful garden. Although it was too cold for us to use, they have a nice pool, too.
Like I said earlier, we took initiatives to combat which I believe voluntourism: using reusable water bottles, recycling, taking public transportation, living cheaply- staying in a hostel or air BnB, and supporting local business in our purchases (we went to Cafe Du Monde, Parkway Poor Boy’s, Cafe Beignet, and Southern Candymakers.)
For our leisure time, we walked around the French Quarter, the French Market, supported local artists by buying locally made items. We took the Street Car Trolley which cost about $3 a day using the RTA app. Overall, have a flexible itinerary- within a big group, it is easy to have very Type A personalities and very go with the flow personalities- make sure both are accommodated for.
I hope you chose to take time educate yourself on the different social issues our communities are facing. Reflecting on the diversity and learning about the type of impact you can make is extremely important. Check out a few of these resources to find out more!