One trip to Thailand, one week of volunteering with rescued elephants, and the life of a corporate attorney was changed forever.
Liz Longacre gets to know a baby elephant in Thailand! Photo by Jaime Careathers
“I realized I wasn’t living the life I should be living and that I wanted to do things that were more in line with this type of experience,” said Liz Longacre of the recently launched Your Time Travels (YTT), a unique travel company she created for everyone who wants to make the world a better place for animals.
Interested in going to Costa Rica, Argentina, St. Martin, or maybe Tanzania? Want to help some sea turtles or an array of other animals while you are there? Or maybe you just want to see the animals in a way that is safe and enjoyable for everyone? Liz’s company is the one for you! YTT arranges trips consisting of a creative combination of exciting or relaxing vacation activities, meaningful volunteer experiences with animal welfare projects, and responsible ways of enjoying and learning about animals in their natural habitats. You will return refreshed, inspired, and you’ll have plenty of amazing stories to share with others. YTT also offers vegan/vegetarian vacation planning, travel itineraries focused on US animal sanctuaries, and help with traveling with your own animal companion.
I (Cindi Saadi) recently spoke with Liz to get the real behind-the-scenes scoop about her new adventure. As her clients return, we hope to share some of their experiences here on the FARM blog. (For more about Liz and Your Time Travels, visit www.yourtimetravels.com ~ see additional contact info at end of this article.)
FARM (Cindi): Tell us more about what inspired you to start Your Time Travels.
LIZ: I went to law school without really knowing what I would want to do with my law degree and I ended up going to work for a corporate law firm. I was working 12-14 hour days and was not happy. I knew I wasn’t being true to myself. In a way, I’m glad I was unfulfilled as it forced me to get to know myself, my passions, and what would really make me happy.
I knew my passion involved animals, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that. I began packing my limited free time with activities like volunteering at an animal shelter, photography classes, and other activities that spoke to me creatively.
Then I planned our honeymoon trip to Thailand. I have a fascination for elephants and wanted to spend time volunteering at an elephant sanctuary that I had researched. My husband (then fiancé) Jaime, was on board, albeit a little skeptical.
“After that trip I realized…. I love animals, I love volunteering, and I love travel. I asked myself, ‘How can I take those three things and make a life?’”
Elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. Photo by Liz Longacre
FARM: What was it like volunteering at the elephant sanctuary in Thailand?
LIZ: The abuse of elephants in Thailand is severe and it’s part of their culture. Young elephants endure a horrible process (the pajaan) of breaking their spirits so they can be working animals. They are tied up for several days, beaten, deprived of food and water, and basically tortured so they will obey their trainer. Sanduen “Lek” Chailert, the extremely brave local woman who started the Elephant Nature Park wanted to make a difference for these incredible animals. We were only there for a short time, but we learned so much about what animals go through in the name of tourism.
The nice thing about volunteering with animals is that it is something you can do easily and for a short time and still be of help to the organization. We mainly did maintenance work, such as cleaning the enclosures, preparing foods, and feeding the elephants and several other types of animals, but just being there was incredible. We also met a lot of amazing people from all over the world who had also come to volunteer.
“It was more living than I had done in a long time!”
FARM: Why is this type of service/company so important to you?
LIZ: I love animals and always have. People, myself included, love to be around animals, which is why they are such a large part of tourism. But they are abused and exploited in so many ways. The tourism industry often does not have the animals’ best interests at heart, it’s all about profit. I wanted people to be more aware of how animals are treated in tourism (not to mention the trauma they experience when being captured from the wild). There are better ways to interact with and enjoy the animals, such as through volunteer work. It’s also far more educational to view animals, i.e. dolphins, whales, or safari animals, in their own natural environments versus in captivity.
You can learn so much after just a few days of volunteering and then share that knowledge with others. You may not be saving the world, but it has a great give it forward effect.
Liz & the raccoons in Costa Rica. Photo by volunteers.
FARM: What goes into setting up these various trips?
LIZ: I do a LOT of research to make sure the organizations people will volunteer with are legitimate. I personally volunteered with each organization I launched with. I also researched all of the sight-seeing and vacation attractions for each trip.
FARM: Tell us more about the types of trips you are offering now.
LIZ: Currently we offer trips in Costa Rica, Argentina, and St. Martin. We also offer Safari trips in Tanzania and I am promoting certain cruises, including a yearly vegan cruise. A Thailand trip will be available soon, as well as resource itinerary guides for visiting U.S. animal sanctuaries. We also arrange hotel stays for people who want to travel with their own pets within the United States. I hope to eventually offer a volunteer trip in India and continually grow from there.
FARM: What are some examples of places where people will volunteer?
LIZ: Currently our volunteer trips include volunteering at wildlife rescue centers, volunteering to protect endangered sea turtles, volunteering at a center that breeds endangered Macaws, and volunteering to help street dogs and cats. I really want to grow our opportunities for helping street dogs and cats as that is a serious problem in many countries. And of course eventually there will be opportunities at elephant sanctuaries!
FARM: What are other examples of ways people can responsibly enjoy the animals?
LIZ: People can see animals in their natural environments through safari trips. We currently offer safari trips in Tanzania, dolphin and whale watching trips in Costa Rica, and also penguin observation in Argentina.
Liz gets to know Benjamin the kinkajoo
FARM: Does your company also arrange for the “vacation” portion of the trip?
LIZ: Yes, my company offers a WHOLE service with structured trips. You are picked up from the airport and transported to the various locations. You are always with a local guide and using local guides also keeps money in the local communities. They can also take you off the beaten path and offer you opportunities to experience local culture. And don’t forget, these are VACATIONS too! Part of our service is to arrange for your entire trip, not just the volunteer time. For example, St. Martin is a beautiful island. There are so many things to do and see. You can have a FUN vacation and still help the animals.
FARM: Where do people stay while volunteering?
LIZ: It depends upon each situation. In remote locations, volunteers will stay on site and pay a modest sum for their lodging. Other places have home-stay arrangements with local residents, adding even more to your entire experience. In other cases, staying at a hotel is the best option.
Feeding the babies! Photo by Liz Longacre
FARM: What other resources does your company offer?
LIZ: We will be providing itinerary guides for people interested in creating a trip that includes spending time at a US animal sanctuary. We will also offer resources for people who want to travel with their own animals, as well as guides for vegans & vegetarians in terms of restaurants, bed and breakfast options, etc.
FARM: Who are your trips best suited for?
LIZ: They are for anyone who is interested in helping the animals or enjoying and learning about them in responsible ways. I believe it is important to educate everyone about the animals.
FARM: What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
LIZ: I love that I get to spread a message that is so important to me. I also really enjoyed scouting out these initial volunteer sites. Traveling alone was very empowering. I felt very brave going to remote locations and felt like I was taking control of my life in ways I never had before.
Getting feedback from people who have made changes as a result of things they have learned from my experiences is also amazing. My first client will return soon and I am anxious to hear about her experiences. The Web site and blog have also been very enjoyable. I love writing and connecting with people.
FARM: What was your path like to becoming a vegan?
LIZ: I have been a vegan for about 10 months and was vegetarian for about 12 years before that. While working at the law firm, I was sort of in a bubble, not exposed to as much information as I should have been. So I did not know a lot about factory farming and didn’t understand why consuming dairy was just as bad as eating meat….until I saw an undercover video and saw the abusive practices that dairy supports. Once I saw one video, I started looking for more. I love animals and wanted to be sure I was not doing anything to cause an animal harm. Once I saw the videos, it was a no-brainer and I became a vegan.
Liz makes yet another adorable friend!
FARM: How does your husband, Jaime, feel about your new business venture?
LIZ: He also has a very strong entrepreneurial spirit and has been extremely supportive. I am very blessed, I could not have done a year of research without his support. I value his advice and consider him to be my “co-counsel” on just about everything. Although he was initially a little skeptical about our Thailand trip, it ended up being one of the best experiences of his life as well, and so he definitely sees the value in this work.
FARM: What’s on tap next for Your Time Travels?
LIZ: My creative juices are really flowing lately and I have lots of ideas for new trips, plus creative projects, such as my own line of vegan travel products.
Come see Benjamin in Costa Rica soon! Photo by Liz Longacre
For more information about Liz and Your Time Travels, visit www.yourtimetravels.com. You can also connect with Liz on her blog, www.yourtimetravels.com/blog. And you can reach her by e-mail at email@example.com. You can also find YTT on Facebook.