'Voluntourism' options available for all budgets and schedules
Many people know all about "voluntourism," the option of volunteering while traveling. But not all of us can - or have the time to - spend vacation doing more work, even if it's in a beautiful locale.
However, there's a growing trend that lets people still kick back during most of their time off but still kick in to help the local community.
Kim-Marie Evans enjoys seeing the world first-hand and sharing it with her children. She finds ways for her family to have a good time but also do good.
"Exposing them not just to the hotel pool and the kids club, but exposing them to the local culture, to the children and getting them a chance to really get to know the locals changes their opinion of what the world is like," she said.
Her daughter Macie believes this only makes vacation better.
"You got your time to relax but you also did something that was very meaningful and actually got something out of your vacation," Macie said.
They've stumbled upon a new mini-version of "voluntourism" where you donate just a bit of time or supplies instead of dedicating an entire week of work.
"Traditionally, travelers who were attracted to voluntourism were people with a lot of time, say college students or retirees. Now, with a lot more drop-in opportunities for short-term experiences with voluntourism, pretty much anybody can get involved…families, couples," Anne Banas of Smarter Travel said.
She said the options vary.
“Sometimes it's as simple as reading to the local school children, donating school supplies, or even helping out at local soup kitchens or making repairs that they otherwise wouldn't have the resources to do that," Banas said.
And the opportunities are easy to find.
"You could go through your hotel or resort, as well as cruise lines, theme parks," Banas said.
"Look toward local tourism boards who are actually doing something, who can advise you," Jason Clampet of Skift.com said.
Clampet works for the site Skift.com, which monitors travel trends. He stresses you really need to do your homework before you go beyond the resort walls. First, be honest about your skills.
“You can fix a paper jam but you probably can't dig a well, and if you actually can't offer a specific set of skills, is there money that you can give in a certain instance that can help people who do have those skills," he said.
If you do decide donating money is best, be careful.
"Sometimes your money's not actually going to the organization that you're trying to help, so you really want to make sure you're dealing with reputable organizations," Clampet said.
Another suggestion: buy local.
"Shopping at local farmers markets, when you're eating out at a restaurant, look for mom and pop independently owned," Clampet said.
Kim-Marie likes doing a bit of everything.
"You get to take home very different memories than if you had spent all of your time at the resort," she said.
Another tip from Skift.com: you may want to investigate how the company you're dealing with - whether it's a cruise line, hotel or theme park - treats its employees, especially if it's arranging programs for giving back. Skift says that's a good way to see if they're truly interested in caring for the community around them or putting together programs for promotional benefits.