How would you like to spend a few weeks in Thailand, or wander mysterious ruins of the Incas in Peru, or maybe you’d like to explore the rain forests of Costa Rica, canoe down the Amazon in South America, or the Nile River in Egypt?
Too expensive you say? Check out the growing enthusiasm for volunteer vacationing – or recently dubbed: Voluntourism.
“Volunteer travel, volunteer vacations, voluntourism, or vacanteerism is travel which includes volunteering for a charitable cause. In recent years, “bite-sized” volunteer vacations have grown in popularity.
The types of volunteer vacations are diverse, from low-skill work cleaning up local wildlife areas to providing high-skill medical aid in a foreign country. Volunteer vacations participants are diverse but typically share a desire to “do something good” while also experiencing new places and challenges in locales they might not otherwise visit.
There are also other types of travelling that engage people with scientific research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. Participants cover a fee that would include expenses on the different sites worldwide, and engage in projects according to their interest or location.” – Excerpted from Wikipedia
Doing a little work on your vacation doesn’t have to be arduous however. You could be leading tour groups, teaching a skill or a language to villagers, or just doing a little research. It all depends on what you’re willing to trade for the cost of accommodations and meals. Sometimes even your airfare is partially covered. That really takes the sting out of paying for a dream vacation!
“Voluntourism is not about martyrdom,” says Christopher Hill, CEO of Hands Up Holidays, a London-based company that arranges high-end excursions that incorporate volunteering. “It’s about making a difference, even if you’re staying at a luxury hotel.”
With a growing number of hotels and tour operators offering trips that give back, the experience is more accessible than ever — from stints building houses with Hands On New Orleans and four-week HIV awareness programs in Thailand with the Global Services Corps to helping orphaned children in Kenya with Micato Safaris.
But the key to a successful volunteer vacation involves a few basic considerations: What kind of an impact are you looking to have? How will the project you choose benefit the local community? (The latter is of particular concern, since less reputable charities and companies that overstate responsible-travel claims are all too common.)
“The most efficient and reputable organizations are those whose ultimate goal is to help communities work independently,” says Brian Mullis, president of Sustainable Travel International, in Boulder, Colorado. Travelers who would prefer a relatively simple, low-key project, such as conducting a wildlife survey in Costa Rica, can opt for a hotel program. For a longer trip that involves daily contact with locals, a tour operator or nonprofit may be your best bet.
If you’d rather devote only part of your vacation to a cause, there are other, less demanding ways to give. Check out the many philanthropic programs offered by hotels (both high-end and chain brands) and travel companies, including opportunities for guests to volunteer.
According to the International Ecotourism Society, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, more than 66 percent of American travelers believe that hotels have an obligation to protect the environment and support local communities. The concept isn’t entirely new — eco-lodge Lapa Rios in Costa Rica, for example, has offered travelers the chance to volunteer for almost a decade. Travel + Leisure: Best new green hotels.
The Ritz-Carlton recently launched Give Back Getaways (givebackgetaways.com), a program that invites guests at 62 properties to help with projects ranging from research at Dubai’s Hutta Dam to river cleanups. Fairmont (fairmont.com/environment) and RockResorts (giveandgetaway.com) have also instituted outreach programs at properties worldwide.
So if giving back a little, or doing some hands-on adventure traveling appeals to you anyway, why not save big money on your vacation next time? Check out the many sources online for Volunteer Vacations and maybe you’ll be able to combine a little passion for travel with some gratitude and discounts on your next excursion abroad. And don’t forget, there are many opportunities for Voluntourism in the United States as well – maybe right in your own home state!
Portions of this post were excerpted from: How to take a Volunteer Vacation, at CNN Travel