by Crystalynn Nicole Cornevin
That previous time of year when you can toss the PDA, turn off your cell phone, and temporarily forget phrases
like "inter-office memo" and "team-building exercise". If vacation time brings to mind visions of pristine
tropical beaches, drinks adorned with miniature umbrellas and chaise lounges, the volunteer vacation experience
may not be exactly what you have in mind. But the quickly growing "voluntourism" industry offers many travelers
the opportunity to experience the culture and scenery of a unique destination while at the same time helping
that community and its people through volunteer projects.
Unlike a long-term project, volunteer vacations offer travelers a way to combine the "feel good" aspect of important
service projects with some down-time for relaxation and sightseeing. Typically, these trips range from five
days to three weeks, and can involve projects focusing on everything from animal welfare and environmental issues
to reducing poverty and educating children. But as opposed to volunteering at your local soup kitchen, volunteer
vacations do come with a price tag attached. Most begin in the neighborhood of $700-$1000, and prices increase
depending on whether or not airfare is desired by the traveler. Often times, a portion of the fees are used
towards supplies or training for the volunteer projects, or additional aid towards the community involved.
Volunteers who reside in the US may be able to take advantage of tax breaks or deductions for a portion of their
The projects in which travelers can engage are as diverse as the areas they serve. The organization Cactus
volunteers Abroad offers a wide variety of trips all over the world - from helping endangered sea turtles
in Costa Rica, to panda conservation in China, to teaching English at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in
Globe Aware's Jamaica Undiscovered program gives an opportunity for eco-minded tourists to work on sustainable
development projects in the Rock Spring community in rural Jamaica. Volunteers help clean up local rivers, teach
schoolchildren about protecting the environment, and build wash stations in rivers to filter residue which would
otherwise harm the natural landscape.
Vacationers can work in a school for handicapped children or volunteer at a free holistic healing clinic in Ulpotha,
Sri Lanka, as they stay a a premier yoga center that offers eco-friendly accommodation. On Turtle Island, Fiji,
guests stay in traditional island cottages by the water, dine on organic food and help save sea turtles and preserve
other marine life.
Volunteer vacationers should consider their own personal expectations and abilities when deciding to embark on
their journey. And something else to consider is the long-term effects of increased tourism, that, albeit
well-intentioned, are not immediately evident. Travel arrangers and non-profit organization usually consult
with the native peoples to determine where a particular service is needed, and volunteer activities are
coordinated around those needs.
While one particular volunteer vacation may only last a week, with additional contributions from other travelers,
communities around the world, wildlife and the environment can benefit significantly. And, of course,
volunteer vacationers can reap the personal pleasures of a job well done and the reward of giving back to others
While many websites offer volunteer vacation opportunities, interested travelers are strongly encouraged to
check into what is offered with each specific package to ensure they are getting what they desire in both
travel accommodations and level of volunteer impact on their hosting community.
Globeaware.org - Their "Adventures in Service" programs normally last one week, taking place in locations
such as Jamaica, Thailand, Costa Rica and Romania. Travel, including airfare, is entirely tax-deductible.