travel

Expedition: Guatemala, recap by Lauren

Why Volunteer in Guatemala?

Did you know that animal trafficking is the third largest illegal source of commerce worldwide? Wildlife trafficking, along with unsustainable forestation, over-hunting, and human population growth are the leading causes of species extinction. Illegal trafficking is primarily for the pet trade. Sadly, the survival rate of animal contraband is as low as 15%. Birds are the most commonly trafficked creatures; it’s estimated that two to five million birds are illegally traded worldwide each year…..

Want to read the rest? Check out Lauren’s blog: Justin Plus Lauren

Adventures are in the speed bumps

Imagine you are going on the adventure of a lifetime to volunteer with a sea turtle conservation group in Australia. Everything is in place. Your pick up from the airport is all arranged - you know exactly where and when to meet the shuttle. You have accommodation at a local hostel and they have all your arrival information and are expecting you. The organization where you will volunteer is all set up, and you know exactly where to meet the group on your first day of volunteering and at what time. How exciting! And then at the last minute disaster strikes. One of your many flights has a gate change and you miss your connecting flight! Your new flight has you arriving in Australia a full day after you planned to get there. Your flight is boarding, you're hurrying to get on the plane and you have no time to make any changes to your many arrangements.

What do you do?!

If you have booked your travel adventure through Animal Experience International, you simply relax. A quick email to the AEI Coordinator, and you will know everything will be taken care of for you. Your shuttle will be re-booked. Your hostel will be notified that you will be delayed. The people meeting you from the sea turtle organization will be informed and a new arrangement will be made for you. You can get on your flight and relax, knowing everything has been taken care of for you. Animal Experience International is a registered travel agency. Not only are we animal lovers, we are also travel counselors and travel managers and active members of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario. Booking through AEI gives you peace of mind - knowing that you can sit back and enjoy your trip.

Including all the bumps in the road that make travel an adventure - not an inconvenience!

Bold Moves Podcast, episode 199

What is a bold move? Is it starting a social enterprise without any business background? Is it trying to make a difference? Or.. is it believing you CAN make a difference.

Nora sits down with Mandie from the Bold Moves Podcast to talk about big moves and how you can live messy and sparkly and authentically while helping animals.

Travel Towards a Career.

Travel isn't magic, it isn't going to make you taller, it isn't going to make you funnier, it won't make you rich... but maybe it can help you find you

What if when we booked trips we didn't see them as debt inducing, we saw the cost as investment? What if we looked at the world as a classroom? What if we didn't label travel as a separate and different part of life? Then, what if we didn't label our home as 'the real world'? 

What if the whole world, our whole lives, all our experiences were important? What if travel wasn't 'just' for tourism? What if it was an investment in our future? 

Those are a lot of questions, maybe your next trip will just be a vacation on a beach, perhaps it will be going to visit friends in a new town. Even though we are more than the sum of our parts, our travels, no matter where they lead us, change us. All our experiences mould and change us, if we realise it's happening or not. 

Our co-founder, Nora found this out when she went to Nepal in 2007. She didn't go to intentionally change her life, she didn't even think it was possible. She just went and now more than 10 years later she credits that first big trip as one of the reasons AEI exists today. You can read more in an article she contributed to in Student Loan Hero

We tell ourselves all kinds of reasons we shouldn't travel: we don't have enough money, we haven't worked enough yet, we haven't travelled enough before a big trip....

We want to inspire people to invest in themselves and in their future. Travel maybe won't suddenly change your life, but what if it did? What if hundreds of tiny little travel experiences changed your life over the course of a few years? Why not take the chance? Why not book the ticket?

We'll help you change your life through travel. We'll help you invest in yourself and your future. We'll help you do this while you help animals, local communities and broader ecosystems. We did it and we will be with you every step of the way.  

Contact us to talk more about where you want to go and how we will get you there!
Apply to volunteer on an international animal program with AEI.

Readers Digest says no to elephant...

rides!

Why? Because they asked us what tourist attractions were overrated. We thought about this idea at first. We love being tourists, that is why we started AEI. We love travel but we love giving back- the real reason we started AEI. 

We love going to new and exciting places and getting selfies with other tourists. We love meeting people at landmarks we had only dreamed of visiting. We love coming back and showing silly grins from silly friends exploring places that have been explored before, just not by us. We love being tourists. We love touring the world. So did we really think there were things that were overrated. Then we remembered the horrible torture of elephants and we remembered yes, of course there were things that were overrated- they were things that take advantage of animals, people and communities. 

Elephant rides help no one. Before elephants can be trained to have someone (or someones) on their back they have to be horribly broken as babies. We would explain it more, but it really is horrific. A quick search on google will keep you crying for days. After elephants are terribly broken, they can be dangerously shipped all over the countries they are living in. Sometimes on the back of trucks, sometimes on trains, always horrified and in danger of hurting themselves and others. Once they get to the attraction they will be working in they are typically not given enough water, socialisation or room to roam. They are chained when they are not boringly walking the same track over and over again with heavy loads on their backs. Do the elephants like this? Of course they don't. Do the communities that have elephant rides located close to them? Typically they don't either. They see these elephants languishing in the sun, in pain, bleeding and rocking due to boredom and torture. Not many communities we have talked to are excited to say they host exploitative acts. 

So why even have them anymore? Because people want to see elephants and don't know there is a better way! The better way is visiting and volunteering at elephant sanctuaries. Places were elephants are allowed to live in social groups with enough water, browse and space to walk, without chains and painful isolation. We help people volunteer in Thailand at such a beautiful and loving place, you can volunteer their, too! Check out our Elephant Sanctuary Volunteering page and write us a note if you are interested. 

There aren't too many things that we think are overrated when you travel, but we for sure think there is no good tourism when there is exploitation. 

Check our Readers Digest's article about overrated tourist attractions and see what we have to say about elephants!

How Do We Keep Volunteers Safe?

Safety is a top priority at Animal Experience International. Our amazing clients travel to more than 15 countries, helping animals in countless ways, making new friends and immersing themselves in new communities and cultures. We want to empower our clients to try these new experiences, knowing that we have ensured the best safety practices are in place.

We have personally been to all of the Placement Partner locations to inspect, participate, view and judge the transportation, activities, humane animal care, volunteer care and living conditions. We have met the people you will be staying with, working with and adventuring with our placement partners. AEI Experiences are only made official once we are satisfied that they are safe, ethical and responsible placements. AEI has signed agreements with our partners to ensure they will provide assistance in the unlikely event of an emergency or crisis, and will help you find appropriate medical care if needed.

Our volunteer coordinator emails with all of our Placement Partners at least once a week, some of them once a day! This close relationship benefits everyone. We can reach our contacts quickly if needed, we can be advised of any changes to the programs and we can give our partners feedback that we get from our volunteers. Each of our Placement Partners has established international volunteer programs, with excellent safety records. The volunteers go through applications and interviews to participate in the placement, and AEI clients sign agreements to follow rules and procedures outlined by AEI. This helps to ensure a safe and friendly volunteer environment where any acts of violence, harassment or dangerous behaviour (towards people or animals) can result in dismissal from the placement.

As a volunteer, you will be met at the airport by a representative from the organization, and taken directly to your placement. During your stay you will be living either on-site, or in the community in a pre-approved hostel or home-stay. At the end of your trip, you will be returned to the airport for your flight home. This provides a continuous duty of care, and minimizes the risk of you getting into trouble in an unfamiliar country. You are part of the group from the very beginning!

AEI provides you with up to $500,000 in travel health insurance through the International Volunteer Card - insurance specifically for “voluntourists”. The Volunteer Card has the added bonus of a 24 hour emergency support line, manned by people who specialize in travel emergencies who can offer you advice and assistance no matter where you are. You will be provided with a detailed safety procedure manual explaining how to arrange emergency medical evacuation, and payment to a hospital or facility that requests upfront payment.

We also provide you with travel manuals that give practical advice on everything from travel visas, staying safe, health concerns, and what to pack, to how to deal with culture shock - these manuals are guidebooks specifically designed for you and your exact adventure. We believe that the more prepared you are, the safer and more enjoyable your experience will be.

AEI also offers a book, Traveling Without Baggage (written by our volunteer coordinator), about keeping safe while traveling. This book is available for purchase as an e-book or a printed version can be sent to you. We’re sure all authors think their book is important, but we really believe travelers will benefit from this short book – in terms of both physical and mental health.

As you can see, your safety is very important to us at Animal Experience International and to our Placement Partners. Despite all the safe guards that are in place, safety ultimately comes down to the individual. This is a trip that you will be taking on your own, so we encourage all of our volunteers to be smart, not to take unnecessary risks, and to trust their gut! Guts always know. If something feels unsafe, it probably is, so be empowered to say no if needed and trust yourself. As in all things in life, there are no guarantees that nothing bad will happen - but we try our very best to stack the deck to ensure you will have a safe trip and a positive, life- changing experience.

If you would like more information or clarification about safety policies and procedures, please don’t hesitate to ask. That’s why we are here!

Nora and Heather.