Volunteer Tourism: Doing Good While Traveling on the Cheap

in Ecotourism, Trip Planning

Why do you travel? It’s an interesting question that I ponder from time to time. Is it the thrill of the unknown? Is it the “escape” from my daily life that I find so appealing?

Perhaps it’s the opportunity to try new cuisines? Whenever I ask myself these questions, I always come back to a strong, resounding reason: I travel to meaningfully connect to a place, a culture, or specific people. I know that I am not alone in this. There are many alternative travel philosophies that embrace this concept, one of which is volunteer tourism.

Volunteer tourism consists of spending part or all of one’s travel time engaging in some sort of volunteer work. I know people who go on volunteer trips themselves (without the support of an organization), but most volunteer tourism is done through specific organizations or companies that have the contacts and resources to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

If volunteer tourism appeals to you, there are some important things to consider before embarking on your volunteer trip.

1. Ask yourself what issues you care about (water safety, HIV prevention, child safety, women’s health, ecological issues, etc.). It’s good to have several interests, this way it will be easier for you to find an organization that shares your goals and values (see step 3).

A volunteer run food and health center in Niger. Engaging in volunteer tourism is a great way to meaningfully connect to people, places and cultures.

2. Decide approximately how much of your vacation you want to dedicate to volunteerism (there are many ways to combine volunteer travel with more traditional vacation scenarios).

3. Decide approximately how much you can spend on your volunteer trip. Prices for volunteer trips range from free (if the entire project is subsidized by a supporting organization) to expensive (certain trips require you not only to cover your airfare and lodging, but also kick in extra funds for resources for the people/community you’ll be helping). Because of this wide range, it’s important to have a budget in mind before researching various trips.

4. If you don’t want to travel alone, identify other people who might be interested in embarking on this adventure with you. It’s fun to engage in volunteer travel with like-minded individuals. If none of your friends feel like going with you, don’t worry. You’ll meet plenty of wonderful people along the way.

5. Research various organizations that share your goals and values. It is important to do more than just a web search; actually speaking with people who have traveled with this organization will give you a better idea of the reality of the work they do. It is also important to remain aware of the fact that there are a lot of volunteer travel organizations that are 1) flat out scams or 2) do not respect local cultures and customs and therefore do more harm than good. This is why it is crucial to do plenty of research before committing to a certain organization’s trip.

6. Prepare for your life to be forever changed by the things you see, do and feel during your volunteer tourism experience. Open yourself to new opportunities and the possibility to change others’ lives and experience change in your own life in the process.

Here are some places to begin researching your volunteer travel experience:

Rotary Internationalhttp://www.rotary.org

VolunTourism Internationalhttp://www.voluntourism.org/

Off the Radarhttp://www.travelofftheradar.com/

Transitions Abroadhttp://www.transitionsabroad.com/


Volunteer: A Traveler’s Guide (Lonely Planet, 2010)

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