I love to travel, but I also know the toll that travel can have on popular destinations. The Sistine Chapel and the Great Pyramids of Giza are being slowly destroyed by over-tourism — and those are human-built monuments. Much more fragile treasures like the Great Barrier Reef and the Himalayas are literally being trampled to death because so many people want to see them firsthand. Even cities like Niagara Falls and Puerto Vallarta suffer under the weight of tourism, as economies struggle to stay afloat during the flood of seasonal visitors and tread water once the off-season starts.
That’s why I only travel when I have a mission.
While some travelers might sneer at the idea of “mission trips,” believing them to be a leftover of colonialism and to have negative impacts on native populations, I believe that traveling with a mission — either on your own or with a dedicated mission group — is a good way to see the world while ensuring that you are doing good. Here’s why.
What Missions Are
Most people believe that missions begin and end with Christianity — that mission trips are always guided by the Church’s interest in spreading religion to all corners of the globe. While missionary work is a great bulk of missions, it isn’t the only mission you can have in travel. In truth, a mission is an assignment or a goal, and because you are in control of your mission trip, you get to determine what that assignment or goal consists of.
To start, I consider my current passions. For some time now, I have been committed to fighting ecosystem destruction and conserving wildlife, especially in areas highly affected by tourism. However, many other travelers make their mission to improve the lifestyles of native populations, perhaps by offering modern healthcare or access to clean water, and still other travelers focus their missions on economic services, like loaning certain populations money for local business development or training native people in certain commercial skills. You should make a list of causes you care about and identify those that will help you see (and improve) the world.
Why Missions Matter
For the last 10 years, I have focused my travel on my mission — to reduce environmental impact and clean up natural areas affected by tourism — and I have seen the positive impact that missions can have on an afflicted area. Perhaps my favorite success story is the Ibera Wetlands in Argentina, where conservation and clean-up efforts have brought back species that had been locally extinct, like the giant anteater and the green-winged macaw. My missions to the area have helped conservationists remove waste left from other travelers. I also am proud of my contributions to beach cleaning efforts in Australia, which prevent trash from visitors from entering the oceans and poisoning delicate ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef.
Missions don’t solely help the environment — but because I have focused my mission trips on environmental issues, these are the examples I can provide. By building a mission trip around other causes, like medicine or economic development, you can provide solutions to other pressing problems around tourism.
How to Organize a Mission Trip
The easiest way to go on a mission trip is to join a mission group. The best mission trip organizations have a wide variety of missions, both in terms of where they go and of what issues they try to solve. There are major benefits to joining an established group; for instance, you don’t need to fundraise for supplies, which can take an immense amount of effort. However, you are relinquishing some control over your trip by joining up, which you might not want to do if your mission is extremely specific.
My missions have almost always been either coordinated by a mission group or solo-missions, where I set out on my own to do good. In the latter cases, I have to learn about local regulations, contact local groups and generally do more legwork to ensure I make a noticeable impact and accomplish my travel goals. When you can, I suggest opting for an organized group, so you can spend more mental and physical energy traveling and providing aid.
Mission trips are evolving, and I am happy to see them gaining popularity with modern travelers. You should consider changing your travel tendencies to align with your values — and plan your next travel adventure to be a mission trip.