Guide to Voluntourism - Take a Volunteer Holiday

What is Voluntourism and Is It Right For You?

Woman volunteering with African children

Do you want a chance to participate in reef research and conservation but you lack the resume to get such a job?

Do you want to help communities in Africa by participating in tree planting projects?

If so, look no further! Regardless of what's on your personal bucket list, voluntourism may be just the opportunity you've been looking for. Through volunteer vacation opportunities, you have the chance to get your hands dirty supporting a cause that fans your altruistic flame, whether you want to help protect pandas, collect and log rare plant samples, or help a community develop sustainable agricultural practices. Volunteer holidays allow you to invest yourself in a soul-enriching experience while doing something good for the planet.

This relatively new phenomenon is gaining in popularity. A recent survey conducted by University of California San Diego Extension found that people are interested in pursuing a cause they believe in and contributing to something meaningful in the community by participating in volunteer vacation opportunities, with 12% of respondents interested specifically in working for environmental causes [1].

 

How do volunteer holidays work?

  • Nail down your interests: Start by considering your passions. Do you want to help as a wildlife volunteer to end the ivory trade and protect elephants? Or are you interested in exploring national parks to assist in trail maintenance?
  • Determine your budget: In most cases, you pay for airfare, accommodations, and even some program fees. However, in some countries, you can apply to receive tax credits for things like program fees and airfare when you work with an approved organization [2].
  • Work out logistics: Next, you'll want to determine things like how long you'll be able to travel, what regions you're interested in venturing to, who will be traveling with you (your family, some college friends, or your work buddies?), as well as whether there are any other things you want to accomplish while on your volunteer vacation (a few days on the beach perhaps?).
  • Choose an organization: Once you've narrowed your eco-volunteer aspirations, zeroed in on your budget, and figured out administrative details, start researching organizations that fit well with your parameters for travel volunteering. Consider calling or emailing your final 3-5 options to ask questions and explore possibilities.
  • Seal the deal: Now you're ready to sign on the dotted line and pay your fees. Be sure to follow the organization's recommendations for passport requirements, vaccinations, health insurance, packing guidelines, and other preparatory details so that you're ready to go when the date of departure finally arrives.

Planning and executing a volunteer travel experience may take a little more effort than your average beach vacation, but won't the personal and environmental benefits be well worth it?

 

Determining your suitability for voluntourism

Like your average European adventure or family trip to the local campground, a volunteer vacation can either feed your need for adventure or help you unwind and relax. With so many options for getting involved, there is bound to be a volunteer holiday option perfect for you. But before you dive in, take a moment to determine if it's a good fit. You're an ideal candidate for voluntourism if:

  • You've got a passion to make a difference for the planet through hands-on work.
  • You're willing to invest your own funds to cover trip and project costs, ranging anywhere from $50 to $3,000 or more [3].
  • You're excited about meeting new people and learning about different cultures.
  • You're in relatively good health and are able to perform manual labor, regardless of age (there are opportunities for solo travelers, families, baby boomers, students, and even seniors).
  • You're willing to live in fairly simple, modest accommodations ranging from sleeping on the floor in a resident's home to being put up in basic motel-style accommodation.
  • You're willing to take direction from local leaders and work collectively with a team.
  • You're looking for opportunities as a business or corporation to make a difference as a group. There are many great benefits of voluntourism for groups, including team-building, skills development, demonstrating social responsibility, as well as increasing employee-retention and client or donor affinity.

 

Top volunteer travel opportunities and resources

Ready to get started? These are our top sources for finding the perfect green volunteer holiday opportunity for you:

  • Earth Routes as a Co-op America Approved organization, Earth Routes offers both green travel and eco-volunteer vacations.
  • Earthwatch Institute Expeditions: Help scientists in environmental conservation projects and field research during 3 day to 21 day experiences.
  • GlobeAware Adventures in Service: Focusing on cultural awareness and sustainability, this organization has options around the world, from Ghana to Vietnam to Peru.
  • i-to-i: This well-known volunteer tourism company sends over 5,000 people to 30 countries every year. Choose from beach, mountain, tropical and city destinations and tailor your adventure to your desired level of experience (independent, first time, comfortable, and challenging).
  • Sierra Club Outings: With opportunities for people of all ages and abilities, you can trust that you'll get an amazing experience and do some environmental good while on a Sierra Club Outing. They've got both national and international options for beginners, families, seniors, and multigenerational groups that center around activities like backpacking, cycling, kayaking and canoeing.

For more opportunities, check out Charity Guide's list of reputable environmental organizations offering green voluntourism opportunities focusing on the environment as well as animal welfare. Or, look into the Eco-Index Sustainable Tourism, maintained by the Rainforest Alliance, to find opportunities with green certifications (use the "Able to accommodate" field to specify "Volunteers" for your search).

Want to learn about the voluntourism? Check out these educational resources:

  • Travelocity's Voluntourism: Working with GlobeAware, Earthwatch, Cross-Cultural Solutions, and American Hiking Society, Travelocity helps take the stress out of planning a volunteer vacation.
  • VolunTourism.org: A site that includes a regular newsletter, in-depth articles, a research forum, webcast, blog, and more for travel planners, travelers, nonprofit organizations and NGOs, tour operators, hotels, corporations and educators.
  • World Volunteer Web: This United Nations program is a clearing house for volunteer information worldwide. They've got some great vacation volunteering information as well as specific suggestions for environmental volunteer holidays.

If the experience of past volunteer tourists is any indication, you won't regret your decision to get into voluntourism; those who've taken a volunteer vacation in the past are 35% more likely to do it again according to a 2008 Travelocity poll [4]. So what are you waiting for?






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References

1 2008 Travel Forecast Poll. (2008, January). Retrieved March 17, 2010, from Travelocity: http://hg.travelocity.com.edgesuite.net/i/polls/2008_PR_Poll_US.ppt

2 DeVries, H. (2009, June 22) Study: Interest in global 'voluntourism' continues to grow. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from US SanDiego News Center: http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/newsrel/general/06-09Voluntourism.asp

3 How to Make a Difference On Vacation - Volunteer Vacations. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2010, from Charity Guide: http://charityguide.org/volunteer/vacation/topic/animal-protection.htm 4 Tax-deductible Service Program Fees. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2010, from Global Volunteers: http://globalvolunteers.org/serve/tax.asp

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