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Fred Carlson: Where Serving Meets Sightseeing

Fast Facts About Fred Carlson

Company: SerVacations

What is your favorite Bible verse?

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

— Matthew 20:28

Where are you from?

Tampa, Florida

What is your favorite Destination?

“After undergrad, I lived for three months in the South of France in a small beach town just south of Marseille called La Ciotat, the birthplace of the motion picture. We love taking our kids back there on vacation to enjoy Provençal life, its simplicities and its delicacies. While it’s lesser known than many of its more lavish rivals on the French Riviera, we consider La Ciotat the pièce de résistance!”

What are your hobbies?

Carlson serves in leadership for his small group at church and on advisory boards for the Salvation Army and Georgia Tech. He enjoys travel. When he’s not traveling, Carlson likes to bass fish with his boys.

Combining Service and Fun

Fred Carlson doesn’t come from a tourism background — he’s a civil engineer by trade and has made his career in construction and real estate. But he has always wanted to be in the travel industry, even at a young age. 

“If you’d asked me when I was 7 years old, I would have told you I wanted to be a travel agent,” said Carlson. “Back then I didn’t know what a travel planner or a tour operating company was about. But during the pandemic I really felt called to create a travel company that could integrate doing something positive for a neighborhood with hitting local hotspots to eat and sightsee while giving people an immersive experience.” 

That’s when Carlson founded SerVacations, an organization that combines community service projects with fun group tourism activities — something that has proven appealing to families, homeschool groups, and youth and church groups alike. The company currently offers experiences in the Tampa area, although Carlson is looking for opportunities to expand to other destinations. 

The trips can be either single or multiday experiences. Part of each experience is dedicated to service that can range from a beach clean-up to working with a charity in an urban neighborhood distributing meals. Those hands-on experiences helping others are coupled with fun vacation activities, like a cruise with a marine biologist and a stay at a resort with pool amenities and a day at Busch Gardens. 

“We aspire to have people leave as cheerleaders for the community and the nonprofit we’re serving with — that they leave feeling connected and that they want to return in the future,” said Carlson. “We often use vacation as an escape instead of a way to engage, and I think people have a desire to volunteer if the logistics are easily planned. So those are the needs SerVacations meets with our trips.”

Even though SerVacations is still in its infancy, Carlson feels it has a lot of potential to change the face of voluntourism, especially domestically. Rather than the type of international experiences that have gotten a bad rap thanks to unscrupulous tour operators, Carlson has seen his trips combine service in the community with recreational activities, educational experiences and alignment with Christian values, including communion with God and service to others.

“In my favorite verse of the Bible, in Matthew, the main emphasis is for man not just to allow himself to be served but to serve others, the same way Christ gave up his life for us,” said Carlson. “We’re trying to instill those same values in our children, in our churches and in our communities to see how we can get them thinking about how to get out of their own head and away from the temptation to self and start thinking about others. There are opportunities to serve right in our own backyard. And it’s so rewarding to serve, then be able to return and feel like an honorary member of the community. It inspires a desire amongst families to serve more regularly.”

Travel Tips 

1 .“I like to use Google Flights alerts and get to know annually when flights to certain countries and regions tend to go on sale via their national carriers.” 

2. “Whether traveling domestic or international, we like to try to choose local independent guides. You can use apps like Withlocals or toursbylocals or contact us to access our network of local certified guides.” 

3. “I prefer to pack light [one carry-on for 10 days] and even do laundry while traveling. We also buy each family member a compact package of cheap, comfortable cotton T-shirts to sleep in each night. After each night or two, they leave that shirt behind at the hotel. As the trip goes on, they have the necessary extra room in their suitcase for any little souvenirs or gifts.”