The Voluntourist by Ken Budd

"Sometimes, in life, you can drive a familiar road and not know where you are going."

After the unexpected death of his father, Ken Budd finds himself questioning his own life and what he wants out of it. His father's death leads Ken to examine his life and face some hard truths - namely his grief over the fact that he and his wife would never have children. His grief leads him to undertake six voluntourism trips around the world. With each trip, Ken seeks to find purpose, to lead a "life that matters." In his memoir, Ken recounts these trips, remembering the people he met and the lessons he learned along the way. 

I read a quote once (I don't remember exactly what it said or who said it, so I'm totally paraphrasing here) that said something like: "Nothing messes with our happiness like the vision in our head of what our lives are supposed to look like." I remember being struck by the absolute truth behind the statement (I know you're thinking, "How can that be if you don't remember the exact quote?" It was more of the message than the words that struck me). When I think back on the times in my life where I felt lost or uncertain, they are, more often than not, the moments where the reality of my life did not match up with the picture in my head of what my life should look like. In hindsight, I can now recognize those moments as blessings, as they often led me to something far superior to my original vision. But that is a realization that only comes after time has pasted, tears have fallen, and many prayers have been said. When you are in those moments, it's hard to let go.

I think this is what I connected to most in Ken's story. The reality of his life did not match up to the vision he had in his head, and because of that, he was forced to reexamine his life and redefine that vision. I think that this is a pretty universal struggle that all of us find ourselves facing at least once (probably more) in life. We are all searching for meaning in this life, for some way to spend our "650,000 hours" that will leave a mark in this world, so that we are not forgotten. Sometimes leaving home, the familiar, is the only way that we can put enough distance between ourselves and the vision and gain the clarity that we need. I think this is why many of us, including Ken, turn to travel. I love to travel. I love visiting new place and experiencing new cultures, and there are few things in life that will teach you about yourself quite like traveling, especially on your own. 

As I read about Ken's travels, I could not help drawing parallels between the lessons he learned while traveling and many of the things I have learned from my own travels. His stories are full of humor, honesty, and the truth that we are not as different from each other as we would like to believe. I appreciated his candor and honesty. This wasn't a quick read for me. I found lines that caused me to stop and ponder. I definitely felt inspired to undertake my own voluntourism trip, as I think many who read his book will be. A solid 4-star read for me. 

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