Your next getaway could change more than your view. More travelers are finding a way to help others while exploring experiences and cultures through volunteer vacations. Social impact travel is growing in popularity for individuals seeking unique experiences and real connections with locals as they explore new communities. This type of vacation may be described as a cultural exchange, service adventure or educational tourism.
Volunteer vacations can also strengthen family bonds while working together to help others. Volunteer get away programs may offer opportunities to spend meaningful time as a team while learning new skills.
Travel adventures for a cause can involve some tropical paradises or exotic scenery, but require more planning than your typical vacation advises travel expert and author of Voluntourist, Ken Budd: “Taking a volunteer trip isn’t like spontaneously going to the beach. It requires a lot of homework and research. You want to find organizations that are meeting a legitimate need, and projects that need volunteer labor; not projects created to give volunteers something to do.”
Finding a great volunteer vacation opportunity starts with being realistic about your desire and abilities for the adventure. Taking a good look at what you’d like to get out of the trip will decrease your chances of disappointment.
Think about what areas and subjects are important to you: Do you want to study climate change in Alaska, volcanic activity on a tropical island or preserve the campground where you vacationed as a child? Budd suggests you ask questions about a volunteer vacation adventure before packing your bags.
- What is the volunteer work?
- Who will benefit?
- Who runs the volunteer programs?
- Where does the money from program fees go?
- May I contact previous volunteers about their experiences?
Many volunteer vacation organizations will ask you to submit to a background check, particularly if you’re working with children. Others will want you to provide references or to write an essay on why you want to volunteer. When organizations don’t require some kind of registration that should be a warning sign.
There are many volunteer vacation opportunities close to home. For example, public conservation trips combine service and vacation locations. These popular options combine living in national or state parks with service projects.
The National Park Service offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals or groups to work behind the scenes or in front line positions at park locations throughout the United States, including the territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean. There are artist-in-residence programs at some parks for visual artists, writers, musicians, and other creative media.
Some volunteer adventures travel on the rails as Amtrak and the National Park Service are partners in an initiative to educate travelers on the heritage and natural resources of a specific region while traveling by rail. In 2017, there were 600 Trails & Rails volunteer guides who gave 43,000 hours of time to the program.
Wildlife refuges are another popular option to volunteer and get away within the United States. Volunteer opportunities may be found at more than 500 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges and hatcheries. Volunteer conservation opportunities may include activities like wildlife photography, trail work, counting butterflies, banding birds, maintaining gardens and sprucing up buildings.
Volunteer vacationers often get access to parts of wildlife preserves and parks not open to the public. There is always have free time to enjoy the beautiful public lands they’re helping.
Whether your volunteer tourism takes you across your nation or around the world, it can change more than your view and teach you a lot about people and the places they call home.