volunteering abroad sounds like a great way to experience another culture and give back while doing so. But truth be told, not all volunteer opportunities are good ones. And if you don’t do your research — like really do your research — your volunteer efforts can bring more harm than good to the community you are supposedly helping.

There is a trend called “voluntourism” where well-meaning volunteers come into a place in need, do some work, take photos to post on Instagram, and then they leave after a week or two.

There are some shady organizations that capitalize on this desire to help, and before long it becomes a money-making venture rather than a way to truly make a positive impact.

And the cycle looks like this:

Volunteers start to take jobs that local people could be doing, and are sometimes allowed to perform tasks for which they are not trained and would never be able to do in their home country. Communities they work with have to deal with a constant stream of people coming in and out, and never see much improvement in their situation.

This cycle continues and in order to keep attracting volunteers, the organization needs to maintain a level of need. This means entire communities are sometimes kept in a state of poverty in order to attract overseas volunteers, aka “poverty porn”. And likewise, animals aren’t released into the wild, but instead are kept in captivity.

Oh my goodness, I am so excited to finally be writing this blog post! Katie and Tyler’s intimate wedding in Zion National Park last fall was such an amazing weekend, and I think it’s a really great example of how you can travel for a destination adventure elopement, but still hold on to some of the wedding traditions you care about. These two invited their closest friends and family to Zion with them, had a campfire welcome dinner, a private sunrise yoga class with all their guests, a romantic ceremony in Zion canyon, a beautiful catered reception on a property bordering the park, an epic dance party in the desert, and then we woke up for a sunrise adventure in Zion the following day! It was incredible!

The whole planning process was so fun, I always loved getting voice memos from Katie updating me on everything wedding and life related. I knew from the moment we started working together that she was really sweet, but now that it’s all over, I honestly think she’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. While planning HER wedding, Katie would constantly ask how WE were doing, how she could pray for me, and want to know updates on my life. By the time we got to Zion for their wedding weekend, I felt like I was photographing a close friend’s wedding! We arrived for their welcome dinner at Under Canvas Zion and were immediately welcomed by their whole family. One thing I really love about the small weddings we photograph is how the guests have usually already been briefed on us, our names, and they almost always ask for Charlie (our dog) immediately 🙂 Callen went to get Charlie, and I sat down to chat with guests. Everyone made us feel SO welcome and like we were much more than “just vendors.” By the end of that night, we were just so SO psyched for their wedding the next day.

Their wedding day began back at Under Canvas Zion with a sunrise yoga session led by Stella Blue Trincado, a good friend of ours and amazing yoga instructor! Most of Katie + Tyler’s guests joined in, even some who had never done yoga in their lives. It was hilarious and relaxing, and absolutely set the calm, close-knit mood of the entire day! After that, they had a little brunch for everyone and then made their way to the cabins to start getting ready. Callen met up with the guys and I met up with the girls for getting ready photos. One amazing thing about having a smaller wedding is how chill it can be — you’re not glued to a strict timeline, and everyone is so much more relaxed. Katie and her mom got to sit out on the porch at Lazalu and soak in the beautiful day together before getting started with hair and make up. Then everyone started making their way to the canyon and Katie got to have some quiet moments with her closest friend before heading to their ceremony.

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