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on May 9, 2012
The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem by Ken Budd starts with the line, "I want to live a life that matters," and so he does. Inspired by the need to deal with the loss of his father, he searches for answers, but this quest requires a passport and patience. Patience to wait in line at customs, for airplanes, for young children in China and Costa Rica, for Ecuadorian birds to fly in the cloud forest, and for all things in Palestine.

During his journey, he states, "I'm not only working for free, I'm paying for the privilege." From his first moments scraping paint and mold in the lower Ninth in New Orleans, he bemoans, "How can I live up to my father's life when I'll never be a father myself?" This juxtaposition of trying to have a life with meaning, and involvement with children as a route to that meaning, are essential parts of his journey and inner monologue. Clearly enamored of his father's life and how he managed his life and work, Budd states "It's not even dying that bothers me. It's dying without making a difference in the world. Without doing a damn thing that matters." Most people want to make a difference but they have no idea where to start. Budd's book points out that you can start anywhere on the map and even with only two weeks at a time. He is a fantastic role model for getting out there and making a difference. And his father's death is a reminder that we all have only a limited time -- at the end of our lives no one sits and thinks, "I wish I spent more time at the office."

His expeditions out of his normal routine help him to elucidate his grief. He takes the time to mourn his father and to look at his life while also mourning that he will not be a father. As he says, "Sometimes in life, you can drive a familiar road and still not now where you're going." But Ken Budd is forcing himself to change his life and help others although while in the South American cloud forest, as in so many of his volunteer sites, he wonders, "What good are we actually doing here?" It does seem that the person who gets the most benefit from volunteering is the volunteer, although Budd clearly shows how much the programs he participates in -- from teaching English in Costa Rica to feeding lunch in Kenya -- do help the locals with whom he interacts.

Budd recounts reading the Tibetan lama Sakyong Mipham and his words, "Thinking we have all the time in the world, we waste it." Budd does not waste his time. As his dad told him, "if you're going to do something, Budo, always do it right." Although in the beginning it does seems as if his "renewed quest to be a better person began with [his] being a selfish jerk." Budd does "fling [himself] around the globe" without his wife, and getting out of his comfort zone to heal after his father's death does stand a chance of ruining his relationship with his wife, who does not want to be a mother.

He shares many moving moments from his assignments and I do like when he says while in Ecuador improvising, "Enjoy what you have instead of lamenting what you lack." Budd's evolution to a person who really appreciates what he has is worth reading. I hope the reader becomes inspired to take a journey and see just how lucky you are!

Budd's ultimate message may be summed up: "Don't wait to cherish your life! Start today!"

Review first appeared at Wandering Educators.
Lisa Niver Rajna is the Geography Awareness Editor for Wandering Educators.
You can find her at WeSaidGoTravel
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on May 29, 2012
Oddly, when I picked up this book I wasn't so much intrigued by all the volunteering Ken did around the world as I was the inspiration for it--the epiphany that your life may not be mattering all that much and the proverbial search to figure out what to do. Yet as I read it, I quickly got sucked into the delightfully funny--and honest--way Ken spins the tale of his heady travels. A superb storyteller, he gives us a peek into six wildly different cultures (with all the attendant social and political dramas), and into the quirky, fascinating world of volunteering (with all its personality dramas!), even as he takes us on his own emotional journey in search of himself. The mashup makes this a page-turner in ways I never would have expected. A must-read for anybody who's wondering if they're doing justice to the 650,000 hours Ken says we get in a lifetime--if we're lucky. Loved it!
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on June 18, 2012
Excellent...the odd part is, I only bought this one because it was cheap, and I needed an extra book for a trip. Great read, and brings home some important concepts that we all forget...how fortunate we are in the country, how lucky we are to have people who love us, and how resillent people can be when times get tough. Read the book, and apply the lessons to our own lives.
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on May 28, 2012
The bookshelves are packed with memoirs, but this one, written by a "regular guy" and not a celebrity, is refreshing and truly memorable. In this book, Budd writes about the death of his father, his struggle coming to terms with the fact that he will likely never be a father himself, and his subsequent attempts to find purpose in his life by helping others. Budd describes the various trips he takes -- to New Orleans, Costa Rica, Kenya, Palestine, China, and Ecuador -- in vivid and lively detail. But the real strength of the book is the author's voice -- candid, humorous, humble, never whiny or preachy. You don't need to be a parent or even a wannabe parent to appreciate this book. If you have ever questioned your purpose in life or have questioned the path you are taking, you will love tagging along on Budd's journey.
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on January 5, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. When you meet Ken, he is a son, a husband and a man who would like to have children. This book follows his life of travel and volunteering. He volunteers to work with children in other countries and give back while experiencing some life changing destinations. You get to experience these destinations and experiences and his weaves you through each destination. This is a man I learned to admire and respect. Some of his volunteer experiences were not easy, he did it with a smile on his face, wanting to make a difference in the lives of the children he touched. This book is well written and you will want to leave your mark on this world through volunteering, even if in a small way.
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on July 20, 2012
The Voluntourist is a touching tale of honest self-examination. Memoir can be difficult, because while our lives are important to us, it is challenging to write about our lives in a way that will connect with others. Will readers be able to relate to the experiences I've had? Will they care?

In this case, the answer is yes. Ken shares very openly about his life, his struggles, his weaknesses, doubts and questions. He tells beautiful stories of his attempts to make a difference in the world. While he experiences things that most others never do, he shares those experiences in a way that draws the reader in.

His imagery is simple--in a good way. No excessive descriptions, just enough to help the reader get a good feel for the places and people he encounters. The focus is on the people with who Ken works, and how they touch his life.

We feel Ken's joy in the relationships he builds as he travels the world, doing volunteer work in Costa Rica, New Orleans, China, Ecuador, Palestine, and Kenya. We also feel his heartbreak over losing his father, and over his growing understanding and acceptance that he will likely never be a father.

The power of the book is Ken's journey to see life through the lens of his father, who died too young. Examining his father's life, and his own, leads him on to a spiritual journey that is uniquely his, yet one that almost anyone can relate to.

There are many beautiful scenes, especially of Ken and the children he works with and comes to love. Especially powerful is an awkward yet beautifully touching story of how Ken, who does not typically pray, goes into a church and prays for the people in his life.

Ken doesn't try too hard to teach any lessons. By sharing simply about what he has learned, Ken leads the reader to do his/her own self-examination.

The Voluntourist is a very honest book. Ken shares openly about his life and relationships. Like life, there are times when Ken's story is deeply profound, emotional, gut wrenching... other times when it is clever and funny. I read much of the book while commuting on a bus, and was often moved to both tears and laughter during those rides.

By sharing stories of adventures in several countries and continents, Ken shows how our world is both big and small; big because of the size and diversity; small because the truth is people are people, and wherever they are, they all strive to find purpose in life.

Ken learns, and then shares with the reader, that life is really about the people in our lives, how they touch us, and how we touch them.

And in the end, The Voluntourist is really a love story--about the love Ken had with his father, the love he has family and friends, the love he has with the children he encounters all over the world, and most of all, the love between Ken and his wife, Julie, a love that grows and matures and overcomes challenges, and grows stronger through Ken's journey around the world and into himself.
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on June 26, 2012
The book didn't inspire me to become a voluntourist, but it did remind me how lucky I am to be a father. Well written, easy to read, very enlightening, and most impressive of all - brutely honest guy stuff.
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on May 27, 2012
Ken Budd is trying to come to terms with the reality that he desperately wants children and his wife, just as firmly, does not. His beloved father passes away and Budd realizes that there will be no children in his life to mourn his passing. He decides to use this passion to raise children to help others and volunteers for a series of trips to assist others. In the course of this book, he ventures to New Orleans after Katrina, China to work with special needs students, Costa Rica to teach English, Ecuador to explore the effect of global warming, the West Bank to help Palestinians, and Africa to work with orphans.

In the process, Budd teaches us all that there are ways to effectively work through what appears to be a no-win situation.

A different kind of travel memoir.
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on February 3, 2014
This book was an interesting account of six various volunteer experiences done by the author. He shared some great advice about getting the right fit with reputable sponsors. Amazing things are done each day by sponsors and willing hearts.
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on May 11, 2012
After Ken Budd's father succumbed to a fatal heart attack suffered on the golf course, Budd took a long, hard look at his own life and decided that something was missing. His was a childless marriage, but Budd was reluctant to push his yearning for children because he knew that his wife did not want a child. Budd did know that he wanted to live "a life that matters," one in which his good deeds would live on long after he was gone - but he did not know where to begin.

When, just a few months later, he received an email from his employer outlining opportunities for volunteers to help New Orleans residents clean up and rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Budd decided this was just the thing to turn his life in a new, more positive direction. His two weeks in New Orleans, as described in The Voluntourist, would lead to five more "voluntourist" trips around the world, trips during which Budd and other travelers would pay for the opportunity to perform the most basic labor for people in desperate need of relief.

After New Orleans, Budd would spend two weeks: in a Costa Rican school; in a Chinese school for mentally handicapped children; deep in the Ecuadorian jungle working with a conservationist group; observing daily life in Palestine through the eyes of ordinary Palestinian families; and working in a Kenyan orphanage. Along the way, Budd reminded himself to live (and to test himself) by a philosophical truth he picked up in Costa Rica from another "voluntourist" - "you only learn about yourself when you're outside your comfort zone." This would certainly be the case for Ken Budd.

The Voluntourist tends to drift a little, often resulting in a feeling of repetitiveness as Budd returns time and again to the same personal issues he struggled with during this period in his life. Perhaps, this was done because Budd intends for his readers to watch his thinking evolve over time as he experiences the cultures of more countries and deals with numerous children - but it makes what is already destined to be long book (near 450 pages) longer than need be.

That said, The Voluntourist will be of great interest to arm chair travelers because of how much time the author spends with ordinary working citizens of the places he visits. Budd is definitely not a tourist; he literally gets his hands dirty by being very willing to take on whatever task he is asked to perform. It takes Budd a while to figure out that he is not expected to perform miracles, or to make permanent changes in the lives of those he comes into contact with - it is more about bringing some relief to people whose lives are harsher and more physically demanding than his own. In the process of doing this, he will achieve his heartfelt goal of living "a life that matters."
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