In a 2014 essay that went viral, Pippa Biddle revealed the inequities and absurdities baked into voluntourism—the pairing of short-term, unskilled volunteer work with tourism. In the years since, Biddle has devoted herself to understanding the origins, intentions, and outcomes of a multibillion-dollar industry built on the premise of doing good, and she tracks that investigation in Ours to Explore.
The flaws of voluntourism have included xenophobia, racism, paternalism, and a “West knows best” mentality. From exploitative orphanages that keep children in squalid conditions to attract donors to undertrained medical volunteers practicing their skills on patients in developing regions and to those looking for an inspiring selfie, Biddle reveals the hidden costs of the voluntourism complex. Along the way, readers meet inspiring activists and passionate community members, as well as thoughtful former voluntourists who still work to make a difference—just differently.
Ours to Explore offers a plan for how the service-based travel industry can break the cycle of exploitation and suggests strategies for travelers who want to improve the places they visit for the long haul.
About the Author
Pippa Biddle is a writer based in the Hudson Valley. Her work has been published by numerous publications, including the Atlantic, Guernica, AMC Outdoors, Maine Magazine, and Wired.
“Fascinating, informative, and a beautifully written book. . . . We learn something of the unscrupulous exploitation of young people by some of the eco-companies in the volunteer industry today. It offers really good advice to young people wanting to volunteer but uncertain how to go about it.”—Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace
“When you know better, you do better—and this book makes us all better in how we navigate the world.”—Tammy Tibbetts, coauthor of Impact: A Step-by-Step Plan to Create the World You Want to Live In
“Pippa Biddle courageously shows that voluntourism may not be what it seems. Ours to Explore is a powerful read for anyone who wants to change the world away from home.”—Alex Banayan, author of the international best seller The Third Door
“An essential read for anyone who loves to travel and hopes to make a positive impact in the world. . . . A masterful storyteller, Biddle’s stories are full of compelling characters and intriguing experiences that bring the impacts of voluntourism to life. Ours to Explore inspires readers to think critically about the best ways to turn good intentions into actions that produce meaningful change.”—Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After
“Pippa Biddle doesn’t demonize voluntourists—she’s been one, and so have others interviewed in Ours to Explore. Their stories show how this rite of passage for those wanting to help can lead to so much harm. If you’re contemplating broadening your horizons by volunteering abroad, broaden your mind first by reading this book.”—Tina Rosenberg, cofounder of Solutions Journalism Network
“A brilliant must-read for anyone who has a passion for exploration and doing good. Biddle has a beautiful way of weaving a rich narrative together for a thoughtful, compelling, and raw critique of an industry that’s long overdue for reform.”—Kelley Louise, founder of Impact Travel Alliance
“Pippa Biddle unwraps the history of what we now call voluntourism, showing us that what’s billed as ‘development’ is really exploitation. . . . Ours to Explore should make us all reevaluate what we do abroad and why.”—Sarah Enelow-Snyder, travel industry journalist
“Biddle offers a blistering takedown of voluntourism and a sweeping reckoning with the omnipresent force of colonialism. Her case studies of abuse and malpractice within the industry are damning and revelatory. Ours to Explore will inspire critical discussions about building a world where Black and Brown people of the Global South can live free of domination, plunder, and the white Western gaze.”—Nikhil Goyal, sociologist at the University of Cambridge
“Ours to Explore is an unputdownable exploration into the collateral damage of good intentions. Immersive, vivid, and thorough, it is required reading for those who seek to help in contexts that are not their own.”—Elizabeth Greenwood, author of Love Lockdown: Dating, Sex, and Marriage in America’s Prison System
“Ours to Explore combines Biddle’s experiences as a former voluntourist with real-world examples and perspectives to clearly demonstrate that just because international volunteering feels good doesn’t necessarily make it so. An important and accessible read.”—Noelle Sullivan, author of The Business of Good Intentions: Reframing the Global Health Volunteering Debate
“In a world of those who believe being an ally is enough, this critical read is a challenge for quality civic engagement and true service-learning opportunities.”—Eddie Moore Jr., founder and program director of the White Privilege Conference
“A well-written look at a thoroughly fascinating and little understood subject.”—Trae Crowder, comedian and coauthor of The Liberal Redneck Manifesto