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Bonnie Kassel

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The Exceptional Traveler: Travel and Volunteer

Posted: 10/03/2013 5:21 pm

   Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.— Miriam Beard

How To Do Exceptional Things Inexpensively

Post #7  Travel and Volunteer

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Photos courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

Depending upon what you enjoy doing, you can combine travel and volunteering in virtually any part of the world. Here's one suggestion for people who like to drive, take beautiful walks or more strenuous hikes, be dazzled by nature and world-class views, relish peace and quiet, and seriously love animals in the gloriously unrivaled southwestern part of the United States.

Start by snagging a cheap flight to Las Vegas and an inexpensive car rental. This would be a great time to use one of those domestic Companion Flies Free certificates offered with many airline credit card promotions. Plan to arrive early. Kanab in southern Utah will be your base, and while you can drive there on the highway with a turnoff skirting Zion National Park, the longer 4 1/2-hour route through Zion is spectacular. If someone in the car is a senior (62+), instead of paying the single entry toll, buy the Lifetime Pass for $10. Good at all National Parks in the U.S., this is one of the best deals anywhere in the country.

Kanab is a small town perfectly situated for seeing many first-rate sites on day trips. It's less than 1 1/2 hours to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The south rim attracts big tours and masses of visitors from nearby Las Vegas: a more tranquil authentic feel pervades the north rim. The 1927 park lodge offers lunch in a setting comparable to that of a movie location; at "cocktail hour," we saw people-in-the-know bringing a bevy of hors d'oeuvres to enjoy as they watched the sun set from one of the impressive vistas. Bryce with its unique rock formations is 1 1/2 hours away, Zion less than 40 minutes. Even if you drive through Zion to Kanab, trust me, you'll want to experience it sans car. This trip should only be taken in the spring or fall. In the summer when kids are out of school and families take vacations, instead of oohing and aahing at the sheer cliffs and drop-offs, you'll be creeping around hairpin turns in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

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Best Friends Ethan Gurney rescues a dog after Katrina

Best Friends Animal Society is the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the United States. Nestled in the canyons of southern Utah, this is where they used to film many of the early Westerns. Their mission is to reduce the number of animals euthanized in "shelters," and those who have been abandoned, abused or are in need of socialization are given a second chance at finding a home. A dedicated staff run the immaculate sanctuary and their organizational skills are beyond impressive. Each of the 1,700 animals living here has a chart with their personal history, dietary requirements and medications if necessary. Best Friends took in several of Michael Vick's fighting dogs after they were rescued and pets evacuated after Hurricane Katrina. The "forever homes" for old dogs and cats with disabilities who can't be adopted will restore your faith in people. The cemetery with engraved messages on stones and wind chimes may make you cry. I confess I did reading, "If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever" beneath the photo of a German shepherd. At lunchtime, the restaurant on the property serves a delicious varied buffet (vegetarian, of course) that can be enjoyed outside on the terrace overlooking the magnificent canyons.

Best Friends offers half-day tours, but everyone who volunteers here agrees it's one of the best experiences they've ever had. Make arrangements prior to your arrival so that you can request a specific type of animal to work with for the entire time you're staying: rabbits, horses, birds, dogs, cats, goats, pigs, etc., or a different animal on each day. If you organize your schedule with a coordinator in advance, you can break up volunteering with day trips. My niece Amelina and I stayed at the nearby Shilo Inn (now Days Inn) which suited us perfectly. We liked the convenience of the washing machines for laundry and microwave and basic utensils in our room. But there are several good places to stay that, like Days Inn, offer a discount if you're volunteering at Best Friends.

There are also few individual cottages at Best Friends in high demand. For me, a few nights here divided with a motel like Days Inn would be perfection. Sitting on the porch experiencing complete silence under the stars at night and waking up in the morning to the neighing of horses in the facing pasture is a true delight. If you're lucky as we were, wild turkeys may pay a visit. Whether staying at the sanctuary or in one of the neighboring pet-friendly accommodations, a dog, cat or rabbit can spend the night with you on a sleepover. It's a really fun thing to do and they love the extra attention. Visit bestfriends.org for all information.

This trip is ideal to share with someone of any age with similar interests -- a family member, friend, child or grandchild. It's equally rewarding if you're by yourself. Visitors come from all over the world to this part of America and there are so many like-minded people easy to talk with, you won't remain alone for long!


Let me hear about your experiences. Ask questions. I'm happy to offer suggestions and look forward to solving challenges together. And check back every two weeks for my latest travel tips. Next blog: The Mileage Game.

* Disclaimer: I accept no compensation for my recommendations.

 
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