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Picture Yourself as a Purposeful Volunteer: Citizen Science

16 Apr

My husband and I, still buzzing from our recent experience with Citizen Science in Belize, are looking for our next meaningful adventure and a way to challenge ourselves to learn and serve our purpose as part of our leisure time. That means a volunteer vacation where we can contribute to the world in general, and scientific understanding of the planet in particular.

As I started looking, I discovered that there are many Citizen Science Projects out there and some are part of volunteer vacations. Unlike many people our age however, we have not accumulated tons of vacation time — we are both serial entrepreneurs and have been working for companies we owned and operated since the late 1980’s and that means no paid vacations – nor are we in even semi-retirement so we need to find a trip that fits in our lives. With that in mind, we decided to go back to what we knew worked for us before see what else PoD Volunteer – the company that coordinated our trip to the Reef Preservation Project in Belize with ReefCI – had to offer.

Libby's crew

New friends from so many places. Yeah, we did lots of laughing :)!

On PoD’s site I found the section that described the type of volunteering we could do. Within that drop-down, I found a selection called Short Projects (1 to 3 weeks). No sense falling in love with a project that requires more than a 2 week commitment…. I found 21 projects, all over the world, that were 1 to 3 weeks stay…. Pretty cool.

PoD Volunteering

Now to choose the type of volunteering: Animals, Conservation, Child Care, Teaching, or Community. As I dug in more I found a wide variety of tasks and purposes for each of the trips ranging from sports coaching to habitat restoration to construction to teaching to animal reintroduction!

Next choice is location. What an amazing variety of locations. After much consideration and a conversation on Twitter with Gemma from PoD (follow them on Twitter @PoDVolunteer) we are looking seriously at a conservation project in Peru. This is a 2 to 4 week project that involves learning about and collecting data in the Amazon rain forest and includes so many cool activities – all based out of an award winning eco-lodge….

Screenshot (1)

Time to do a little more exploring and a bit of comparing! More to come!

Baby Boomer Travel: San Diego Travel & Adventure Show

31 Mar

amtrak with loisI spent the weekend exploring the San Diego Travel and Adventure Show.  Saturday I went with my friend and writer extraordinaire, Lois, from the widely acclaimed blog Midlife at the Oasis.  We were looking for interesting and purposeful travel opportunities for our generation, and unique trips and products to share with our audiences.  We found some great stuff, hatched a few ideas, and hope to bring some valuable information to those who read our writing.

 On Sunday, I went back looking for things more focused on brain healthy travel and I found some volunteer travel opportunities for Boomers but mostly in places where even the vendors did not know they were sitting on a golden opportunity.

First, a bit about the show as a whole.  For a first time show, this was an amazingly well done event!  Yes, this is just a new location for the Travel and Adventure series (they also have shows in Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, DC, and Philadelphia) but any challenges that come with putting on a big event at a new venue were overshadowed by the quality of the exhibitors and presentations.   Both days, the aisles were packed, the booths were all swamped, and there was standing room only at many of the presentations I attended.

In a nutshell, here is what I walked away with.    The volunteer / adventure travel industry (at least what was represented here) is not marketing to the Baby Boomer market – they are focused on young people looking for something meaningful and challenging to do – mostly gap year students and pre-children twenty something couples looking to take advantage of those moments to go and be before their lives change.

Crowd outside Travel ShowThat, in my opinion is a huge missed opportunity and there is an enormous hole in that line of thinking.  We, Baby Boomers, as a massive group, are looking for ways to enjoy our lives, see the world, experience different cultures, and make a contribution in the process.   Those of us who live and work in the US don’t have 8 weeks or even a month to participate in meaningful projects and really want to maximize the one or two weeks we can get away.

Yes, Road Scholars – formerly known as Elder Hostels — was well represented and had all kinds of information about their many educational trip offerings.  And yes, Road Scholars does the whole international education and lifelong learning thing for mature adults incredibly well – they have been practicing since 1975.   And yes, they now have even added some more physically challenging trips that include a bit more adventure.   If your primary purpose is life-long learning (a noble purpose and one that we all should aspire to) exclusively and you are a “mature adult”, Road Scholars has great options. Check them out.

I am not quite at the mature adult stage (getting there) and since I don’t have lots of time to travel, my goal is always to maximize how I spend my leisure time.  I want to be able to make a difference where I go in the short amount of time I have.

Maybe this experience sums it up.   I was caught off guard when after I described my focus on the Baby Boomer market to one of the Adventure Travel companies, the lovely young woman pointed to the “Classic” and “Comfort” sections on their sheet of offerings because the level of difficulty was always “minimized”.  After a deep breath, I suggested a trip specifically for Baby Boomers writers who could help them figure out how to capitalize on this great market opportunity, and, after she took a deep breath, she seemed to get it.

DSCN0014We all need to take a deep breath and figure out how this generation of doers and change makers can really make a difference in our leisure time.  With that goal in mind, I started a new section on Cranium Crunches website:   Find Your Purpose.    Together, let’s explore how to challenge ourselves to be and do more while we maximize all our moments so we can live a more purposeful life.



Contribute to the World One Small Project at a Time

28 Mar

Life does throw us curve balls and there is more and more evidence that you can prepare your brain for some of these mishaps along the way by building up a bit of reserve.

Creepy Staircase

This was one dark, windy, steep, creepy staircase…

Building cognitive reserve can be very rewarding process.   Find a purposeful project and contribute to the world while you fill your well of brain processing power!

I discovered an outlet for my purposeful projects and that is being a Citizen Scientist –  a non-scientist, non-specialists who collects data and adds to the body of scientific knowledge.   There are a ton of projects out there — some easier to participate in than others.   I love the philosophy of one project  the Marine Animal Identification Network — a project tracking seals and reporting information about migration — because it sums it all up:

“In many cases, we learn through the imprecise science of serendipity whereby a matrix of possibilities results in a report: the right person in the right place at the right time knowing the right person to contact.”  How wonderful is it that we all, just by chance, can be that person at the right place at the right time and can contribute to science?

I was surprised at how easily I found projects that require very little investment of time and technology.    All you really need is a smart phone or a computer and  a few extra minutes to participate in some of these projects!  Do a search for citizen science projects in a geographic are or that have to do with an interest.   Love the outdoors?  Check out the projects from the National Wildlife Federation’s listing of projects from backyard birders to butterfly counting to star gazing.    All of these projects ask you to do is observe, record, and report.

Butterfly Resting Ground

This field was full of butterflies saving up energy to take the next step on their journey north. If we had not looked closely, we would have missed them completely!

Are you near the Mississippi River and interested in birds?   Work with the Audubon Society’s Rivers Project Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to  monitor and track birds in the  bottomland forests on the Mississippi River.  Observe, record, report, contribute!

In your reflection

What do you see in your reflection? Be kind….


 How about working with NASA from your own backyard?  NASA has several ongoing citizen science projects going on now and more to come!

There are so many things you can do right now that take so little and give back so much!


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