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Travel can have much more significance than just seeing new places. Last weekend, the TPG team and some special guests used travel for something much greater than simply seeing a new place — to bring good to Puerto Rico, an island devastated by Hurricane Maria. This trip had far greater meaning most trips that we’ve been on previously.

We teamed with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (@seepuertorico) for a weekend filled with giving back, helping out and learning that the island is still there for tourists. Not only is Puerto Rico as a destination open for business, but its doors are wide open.

Image by Isabelle Raphael.
Image by Isabelle Raphael.

The TPG team flew from our respective locations — New York, Tampa or Miami — to San Juan (SJU). Disclaimer: We partnered with JetBlue to fly most of the team to Puerto Rico. The airline has played a vital role in helping to restore the island as part of its 100 days of caring for Puerto Rico initiative.

As TPG staffer JT Genter points out in his post on his heartfelt return to the island, normalcy is certainly making its way back to the island and the lives of its people. And our first sign of that came on Saturday, as the team made our way to Juana Díaz for a Three Kings Day parade.

Throughout the parade was a feeling of optimism from the people of the small town, as perfectly displayed by a “Don’t let Hurricane Maria take away your happiness” sign.

Image by Isabelle Raphael.
Image by Isabelle Raphael.

Following the parade, the team headed back toward our base at the La Concha Resort in San Juan, but first we stopped at the Puerto Rico Children’s Hospital in Bayamón. Like some other things on the island, the signage to the hospital was battered, but inside, spirits were high for Three Kings Day. For those not familiar, the popular holiday is a huge gift-giving day for children. The TPG team made our way through the hospital, distributing gifts to children. It was an experience many of us will never forget.

Image by Isabelle Raphael.
Image by Isabelle Raphael.

The following day was a rebuild day. The colorful La Perla neighborhood of San Juan, which you might know from the “Despacito” music video, was badly damaged during Hurricane Maria. At the time of our visit, just about four months after Maria made landfall, several homes were still without roofs, and the once-picturesque beach was littered with trash.

It was time to get dirty. The team split up: half pitched in to clean the beach, and the other half helped to rebuild a roof for a La Perla resident.

The entire weekend was incredibly moving. Not only were we able to see first-hand the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, but we were also able to help out. If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that the island is ready and open for tourists to come and spend money there.

That being said, there is still a long road ahead for the island. If you’re looking to get involved in the recovery efforts, we recommend checking out @SeePuertoRico’s Facebook page for updates on upcoming rebuild days, or reach out to the amazing hosts of our La Perla rebuild day, Local Guest. Additionally, you can still donate to help in the recovery effort.

It is hard to put into words how life changing this past weekend in Puerto Rico was. I was lucky to be able to take a majority of TPG employees and work with @seepuertorico, @ketchumpr and @jetblue to bring some incredible influencers who donated their time to bring awareness to Puerto Rico (it’s safe and FUN to visit!), visit the Bayamon Children’s hospital on Three Kings Day and help clean up La Perla neighborhood. Travel is meaningful when you can actually meet locals, make a difference and have some FUN! While Puerto Rico still has a lot of rebuilding to do, I learned one thing for sure- the people of Puerto Rico are resilient and will never be defined by any storm. 🇵🇷❤️🙏🏼 @lejuanjames @camilaainc @lemomjames @erubes1 @lesleyannemurphy @phiphiohara @theplanetd @beccaden @jri2 @cgccampos

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We will be following up with posts soon on the top reasons to visit Puerto Rico, the best ways to fly there and how to get there on points and miles. Stay tuned for those. For now, consider helping the recovery in Puerto Rico by vacationing there in 2018.

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