Tips to Choose the Right Volunteer Vacations

Choosing to volunteer on vacation with so many options available can be a daunting task. This is especially true for families and teens looking for community service. At its best, volunteering on vacation is an opportunity to enrich lives and serve others. At minimum, these programs provide ways to see the world and, for students, give their college resumes a boost.

Here are tips to help families select an appropriate volunteer vacation. Choose carefully and you will make the most of the experience with all ages on board.

Teens and group leader
Teens can join a variety of volunteer programs, in groups or with their family.

What are Volunteer Vacations and Who Runs Them?

The term ‘volunteer vacation’ first inched its way into our vocabulary in 1993 from author Bill McMillan. To volunteer on vacation now describes the work of more than 2,000 non-governmental organizations and for-profit companies. Most would-be volunteers are eager to help those less fortunate. Of course, most assume they’ll make a positive impact in their volunteer communities simply by lending a hand.

Unfortunately, only a handful of non-profits offer truly helpful economic and human assistance to the communities they claim to serve. Because students are idealistic and generous, they may jump into a volunteer project that does more harm than good. Some projects are criticized for contributing to the “Ugly American” stereotype abroad.

But with so many programs and causes to choose from in the “voluntourism” area, how do families and students find safe, reputable, and enriching experiences?

Advice on Selecting Volunteer Vacations

Global Volunteers has helped people connect with volunteer projects worldwide since 1984. They design volunteer programs for families and students, professionals and groups. Their team offers some insightful advice. Learn tips to carefully choose programs that benefit their host community and avoid projects that appear exploitive.

1. Trust local leaders. Help the community through the projects they request, not in the manner you believe is helpful. Don’t let your own ideas get in the way of truly serving.

2. Resist the urge to give money or personal gifts directly to local people. Experts say this can generate inequities between community members and make recipients targets of jealousies, and worse. Ethical organizations channel volunteers’ contributions through community leaders and local institutions.

3. Remember you’re a guest in the local community, even as a volunteer. Observe local customs, adhere to local laws, and respect traditions. Err on the side of caution.

4. Choose sustainable volunteer programs that are firmly rooted in the long-term development of the host community. Commit sufficient time to truly contribute to development work. Avoid service “add-ons” that are designed to generate revenue for the sending organization. Typically they offer minor, if any, assistance to local people.

How to Make the Right Decision on Volunteering

To ensure volunteers choose reputable programs, students and volunteers should seek out programs with a minimum of one day of service. Otherwise, it will not conform to IRS requirements, could possibly have unethical intentions, and bring little impact to the community. 

Bud Philbrook, Global Volunteers CEO has added: “Genuine international service with a credible non-profit organization engages volunteers in full-time work projects, five days per week and is tax-deductible for U.S. tax-payers.”

Other Volunteer and Sustainable Development Issues to Consider

Make sure the volunteer project doesn’t cause the local people and community more effort than the project warrants. Many part-time opportunities feature a day of touring an orphanage or working in the community. Instead of truly putting in the adequate time to help the community, volunteers may be benefiting from their volunteer efforts at the expense of the local people.

Global Volunteers’ motto is “Travel that feeds the soul.” That’s why Philbrook notes that terms like voluntourism can harm genuine volunteer vacation efforts. Voluntourism puts an emphasis on tourism in a place of service. While true, it can often slow the foundations for true volunteer efforts and progress.

Check out these other Teen and Family Volunteer Opportunities where the community effort comes first.

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4 Replies to “How To Volunteer On Vacation”

  • Martin Snedden

    Thanks for sharing this! you’ll be able to do good as well as have fun and make a difference in the world. Whereas volunteer is always appreciated by all people.

  • Ewen Chatfield

    Indeed, a good list. Everyday. At home or on the road.

  • sabretoothed chickens

    We are a family who likes to travel and volunteer where possible. We give gifts of time and service. We find that finding small grass roots organisations when on the ground or at your destination creates the best win-win for all concerned. For example we taught English in a small village in Indonesia –
    In the end it is not the actual work you do as a volunteer that is of the greatest impact but the stereotypes you breakdown and the connections made 🙂

  • ToddHogan

    Volunteer vacations, or voluntourism, is one of the fastest growing trends in the travel industry. By taking a volunteer vacation, you’ll be able to do good as well as have fun and make a difference in the world. Whereas volunteer is always appreciated by all people. One of my friends is a working as a volunteer for voyage humanitaire, these trips offer a great charity experience, Where you can offer your support to the needful people.

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