By Julie Bell, CEO of Luxury Link
Vacationing won't ever quite be the same now that we've Packed For A Purpose. I run LuxuryLink.com, an online marketplace for great deals on luxury vacations. I know vacations. I am at 25 countries and 34 states and love finding the next "off the beaten path" place to explore.
Like many first-world travelers, I've always felt a pang of guilt and helplessness in wanting to help the people in the areas I visit but never quite knew how. It was only this year that I became aware of Pack For A Purpose, and immediately knew it was an organization I and Luxury Link wanted to support. Luxury Link and PFAP have struck up a terrific partnership, where we provide introductions to hotels, and financial support through proceeds of special PFAP auctions. Our goal is to help PFAP get more hotels onboard, and to build awareness of their program to travelers about to take a vacation. Everyone should PFAP!
In July my family and our dear friends went to Costa Rica for a little R&R. Between us we were four adults and four kids ranging from two to seven years old.
We all live in the relative luxury of California life, but also all have high stress careers (well, the adults anyway), so unwinding in the beautiful laid back surf and jungle atmosphere of the Nicoya peninsula was just what we all needed. Just getting there was an adventure in and of itself, and Elisha my 4.5 year old and Joshua my 2 year old won't forget those bumpy roads anytime soon, but very well worth it.
We boogie-boarded and wave-hopped to our hearts content. But we also knew we had a special adventure planned, thanks to Pack For A Purpose.
Before we left, I searched PackForAPurpose.org for the area of Costa Rica we were going to be in.
The central Nicoya Peninsula is one of the few undeveloped areas of Costa Rican coastline, in no small part due to the lack of roads. There is some tourist/expat money, mostly through Americans speculating on the future potential of the area and buying vacation homes, or smaller boutique hotels or shops, but the cost of living isn't cheap. Getting goods into the area is challenging and drives the cost of everything up. As we maneuvered around on the bumpy, ditchy, filled dirt roads, we saw a lot of small agricultural subsistance, with cowboys on horseback driving herds of lanky cows from field to field, and corn and vegetable fields trying to thrive in the jungle heat.
There is a lot of poverty in the area, and lack of education is a problem, as families often need their children's help in the fields or with the animals.
Sure enough, PFAP has a partner there all set and ready to go, Harmony Hotel. Harmony supports primary and secondary schools in the area, supplementing their meager (or non-existent) learning tools with equipment to learn through games and sports. They asked for games and sports equipment. We were happy to oblige!
The day before we left, I headed to a local superstore, and had a field day loading up carts with board games, cards, balls of all types (which I later deflated for easy transport), crafts supplies, jump-ropes and more.
It was so much fun envisioning the smiles the toys and supplies would bring to the kids there. I got my kids involved packing everything up into a giant duffel bag and though it was at first hard for them to understand why mommy's haul of toys was not staying at home, once they understood it was going to needy kids, a light went on--one I hope stays on for the rest of their lives.
On Thursday of our trip, we met up with lovely Irene Morales, the General Manager of the Harmony Hotel. Even though we weren't staying at her beautiful property (we were staying at a villa nearby), she was more than obliging and thrilled to have supplies for the school. We could have dropped off the supplies right there but Irene had been kind enough to arrange a visit to the school we'd be supporting. She even providing an escort from the hotel (the very kind Eli) to help us find the school and the principal, Alicia.
The school was several stucco classrooms around a dirt plaza covered with tin metal roofing to provide shade from the jungle heat. While the kids sang songs and talked about the pride of their region, our entourage of eight travelers (including the four little kids) happily unloaded all the supplies into the school.
The kids - ours and the schoolchildren - shyly looked at each other and took in the differences and the similarities. As we waved goodbye at the schoolkids, and all the toys and supplies we were leaving behind, I could almost see the thought bubbles and learning that was going on in my kids head--about giving, about sharing, about leaving a place better off for you having been there.
What struck me the most was how easy it was--PFAP took away the barriers and enabled me to make a tangible and direct impact in the area I was going. Visiting Escuela la Esperanza, and doing good in an area I was spending time in, was such a highlight of our trip. My kids still talk about it. We make up stories about what the kids down there might be doing with the games and toys--how much fun they are having, and what they might be learning with them. The value and benefit of Packing For A Purpose has been wonderful, and we will absolutely incorporate it into our travels from here on out. Thanks, Rebecca and team. You not only have made life better for the kids at Escuela la Esperanza, but you've helped make ours better too!