Volunteer travel abroad and in the United States appeals to many vacationers. "We travel a fair amount, but it's valuable to us to really feel connected with other communities above and beyond seeing tourist sites. It's understanding what we all have in common and getting beyond our own individual day-to-day aspirations and seeing the bigger picture." says Warren, a Hawaiian physician. He, his wife and two children, ages 11 and 16, spent two weeks over Christmas at a refuge for troubled boys near Guatemala City. "It was very rewarding and actually one of the most enjoyable vacations we've ever had."
Last year, one-quarter of the travelers queried in the Voice of the Traveler survey by the Travel Industry Association said they were currently interested in taking a volunteer or service-based vacation. Baby Boomers formed the group expressing the strongest interest, and the largest share (47 percent) of those interested in taking a volunteer vacation fell into the 35-54 year-old range.
If you decide you'd rather be an armchair traveler, most of these organizations have a link where you can donate money to support volunteer projects or to help fund other travelers who want to donate time but may not have sufficient funds for a volunteer trip. Choose a cause that you feel passionate about, or one that sounds like a project where other travelers could offer valuable physical or mental expertise.
If you are trying to decide if a volunteer vacation is right for you read Visit How To Decide if Voluntourism -- Volunteer Travel -- Is for You.1) i-to-i
i-to-i is a company that sends more that 5,000 people a year to volunteer at local projects around the world and immerse themselves in local cultures. These travelers choose voluntourism -- combining traditional travel with volunteer work -- to help make a difference in their lives and others.
Voluntourism.org is a Web site with lots of information about taking volunteer vacations, and combining volunteerism and travel during Voluntour(sm)
CheapTickets.com has teamed up with United Way to offer travelers a route to setting up volunteer vacations, or adding a day or more of volunteering during a planned trip.
Sierra Club Outings runs volunteer travel trips around the United States from New York City's parks to Wyoming's rugged backcountry.
International Volunteer Programs Association is a consortium of international volunteer programs that have one- or two-week to six-month programs.
The Volunteer Abroad Web site lists many routes for finding interesting trips around the globe that let you travel with a purpose and immerse yourself in local cultures.
The United Nation's World Volunteer Web is an online global clearing house for information and resources linked to volunteerism.
On a volunteer vacation or trip with the non-profit Earthwatch Institute you could take an Amazon river trip to help with the conservation of monkeys, sea otters and birds; trap and track puma, jaguarundi and other cats in Argentina's pampas grass; or collect data to help save the endangered forest marsupials in Australia.
Run by a United Kingdom-based travel agency, the responsibletravel.com Web site focuses on eco-holidays, including many that offer a volunteer work component.
The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) offers individual and group service programs for Jews interested in traveling to foreign countries to volunteer for grassroots social change projects.
Are You A VolunTourist?
Combining a vacation or trip abroad with volunteering on local projects is one way you can immerse yourself in local cultures and make a difference. First, however, you need to ask yourself some serious questions to help decide where and what type of volunteer travel you'd enjoy. What's your passion? Animal conservation? Teaching kids or helping them? Rebuilding homes destroyed by hurricanes or a tsunami? Are you willing to live and work with people whose culture and outlook is very different that your own? Can you handle living in a tent or shack with an outhouse or do you want to be in a hotel? Visit How To Decide if Voluntourism -- Volunteer Travel -- Is for You.