The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem

( 2 )


n. 1. A guy who attempts to save the world in an attempt to save himself.
2. Someone who can only do it two weeks at a time.

When Ken Budd was thirty-nine, his father collapsed after eighteen holes of golf. Ken and his wife raced to the hospital—but it was too late. In the weeks that followed, as grieving friends revealed how his father had changed their ...

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The Voluntourist

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n. 1. A guy who attempts to save the world in an attempt to save himself.
2. Someone who can only do it two weeks at a time.

When Ken Budd was thirty-nine, his father collapsed after eighteen holes of golf. Ken and his wife raced to the hospital—but it was too late. In the weeks that followed, as grieving friends revealed how his father had changed their lives, Ken started questioning his own life—and admitting, after years of denial, that he and his wife would never have children.

And then, still struggling with grief—his grief at losing his father, his grief at not being a father—Ken received an e-mail with the subject line: "Katrina Relief Volunteer Opportunities." He signed up. He went to New Orleans. And he kept volunteering: Costa Rica, to teach English; China, to work with special-needs children; Ecuador, to study climate change; the West Bank, to assist refugees; Kenya, to care for orphans. His goal: to find purpose by helping others, one trip at a time.

Wry, funny, and heartbreakingly honest, The Voluntourist will linger in your mind long after you've turned the last page.

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Editorial Reviews

“Readers of this unique travel memoir will undoubtedly be inspired to take a voluntour of their own, and the author includes helpful tips on how to do just that.”
Vertge Magazine
“Heart-warming...tempered with exactly the right amount of acerbic wit...Unless you’re comfortable laughing loudly in publis, you don’t want to read this on your daily commute.”
Jae-Ha Kim
“For those of you who haven’t read Ken’s book yet, get your copy NOW! It’s really that good.”
The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy
“Funny, touching, insightful and compelling.”
“Lively...Entertaining...The author’s intelligence and autobiographical honesty engage the reader...Budd is a skilled writer with a good ear for dialogue.”
Library Journal
After a year of retirement, freelance writer Budd's father drops dead on a golf course. This causes Budd to reevaluate his own life and, especially, the prospect that he and his wife won't have any children. With no genetic legacy, he looks to make a difference in another way. He decides to get out of his comfort zone and do volunteer work, for weeks at a time, both stateside and abroad. Starting with rebuilding homes in New Orleans and ending with working at an orphanage in Kenya (with stints in Costa Rica, China, Ecuador, and Palestine in between), he encounters universal sorrows, hopes, hardships, disappointments, and injustices while he confronts his own fear and anger. But don't let this summary deceive you: this is an extremely funny book. VERDICT One of the best-written travel memoirs this reviewer has read in a long time, Budd's book spins a compelling yarn, linking six varied experiences into a cohesive narrative. Recommended for anyone who has been, or is interested in becoming, a "voluntourist."—Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
A travel memoir, volunteer-style. After the death of his father, Budd confronted the age-old question about life's purpose. With no sufficient answers, he volunteered to help with hurricane relief in New Orleans. What started as a work-sponsored week of helping out morphed into a full-fledged journey to find himself by traveling the world as a volunteer. But volunteer tourism brought a whole new set of questions--e.g., how helpful can he really be in two weeks and whether these trips make him a better person or a worse one. "My renewed quest to be a better person began with my being a selfish jerk," he writes. Though he's often an unsympathetic narrator, his honesty helps readers accept the flaw and keeps him relatable. Each of six trips--New Orleans, Costa Rica, China, Ecuador, Palestine and Kenya--makes up a section of the book, with vivid details about his experience in each place delivered through vignette-like memories of certain days and moments. Travelers will recognize the mish-mash of memories that accompany trips like these, but the narrative occasionally feels like an unedited journal. Readers may wonder when they'll find their way back to the narrative thread, but they will still enjoy the journey. Ultimately, Budd comes to his conclusions about life quietly, with little of the fanfare common in memoirs. For much of the story this works well, but questions will linger over his relationship with his wife and his plans for future volunteer trips. Not for readers easily frustrated with wandering thoughts, but a solid introduction to the world of volunteer tourism and a pleasant diversion for those who don't mind a winding road.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061946462
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/8/2012
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 689,311
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

KEN BUDD is an award-winning writer and editor whose writing credits include Smithsonian, the Washington Post, McSweeney’s, Stuff, Washingtonian, Modern Humorist, Opium, and Worldview. Ken lives in Burke, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 26, 2012

    Ken writes with amazing description and a great sense of humor t

    Ken writes with amazing description and a great sense of humor that had me chuckling throughout the book as if I was reading a text message or e-mail from a good friend. His insights are well explained and objective. Without the notion to persuade, his thoughts have persuaded mine into putting forth a bit of effort if any at all to help keep our planet eco-friendly. He doesn't rant and I know I'm not going to become some hippie but I'd like to start contributing in my own possible way, something better than nothing. His book shows how travel and giving can help a person grow spiritually and emotionally. I look forward to purchasing a copy and hopefully have it signed for my kid sister who is to graduate this summer.

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    Posted March 21, 2014

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