Volunteer Vacations are becoming more popular all the time. Some organizations have been around for a long time...
Groups like Habitat for Humanity and Earthwatch. Others are gearing up to fill the need for tourists who want to volunteer.
These are programs where you travel for one to three weeks to "do good"....
You go to help the environment,
...to help educate,
...to build or repair homes,
...to help with research.
There are long term and short term volunteer programs.
Long term program include those like the U.S. Peace Corps, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) which was started by the French.
But even a week or two of volunteering can make a difference.
Volunteer Vacations are nothing new, but it seems like almost every day there are new opportunities to volunteer while you are on holiday.
More travelers say they want to do something beyond just sitting on the beach.
Non-profit organizations and others are rushing to fill the need by developing one and two week "volunteer tours".
Europeans and others have several weeks of vacation time every year.
Most Americans only have two weeks of paid time off.
But before you rush out and sign up... there are some things to think about.
Do you really want to spend your holiday time working?
It's a noble idea... and many people really do enjoy it and feel rewarded and rejuvenated by the experience.
But keep in mind that you WILL be working.
Some groups will have you working all day with very little time for seeing the country. Other organizations provide more time for recreation.
Be honest with yourself about what you want.
Do you have enough time to unwind? Will participating in that volunteer project help you relax and leave you feeling better about yourself?
Only you can evaluate this.
What we're saying is don't just rush into a volunteer vacation just because it sounds noble.
If you have any doubts, go with a program that has small amounts of
volunteering at first. Travelocity, for instance, has a "Travel for
Good" program where you can just spend an afternoon of your holiday
There are other programs to find out there. Just check on the internet.
You can volunteer to build houses or help study animals or go on archeological digs. Think about what your interests are and how much sun and dirt you want to put up with.
Some programs have nice accommodations, others must house their volunteers in very basic rooms or tents. Know before you sign up so you'll be happy with your experience.
Some of the programs that sound very exotic and exciting will fill up quickly. We've talked with friends who have tried to sign up with Earthwatch to dive with dolphins, for instance, and the program was completely full.
Sometimes you don't need any special skills, but you need to check on this too. There is no way you could scuba dive with those dolphins if you haven't been certified in scuba!
Don't think that a volunteer vacation will necessarily be a lot cheaper than other forms of travel.
It may be cheaper, but you will be paying at least for your own airfare to get there.
You may possibly have to pay for your lodging, and there may be small fees in addition to that.
Many of the groups sponsoring these volunteer vacations are non-profits, so they have to get the money from somewhere.
Even if you can get a tax write-off for the fees you pay, they are not necessarily a cheap way to travel...
...and you may spend so much time working on the assigned project, that you have very little time to visit any local attractions.
If you think that you can make it pay for itself by writing it off on your taxes, you may be right....
...But you'd better check with your tax man just to be sure.
Check carefully on the group you are considering volunteering with.
Depending on the group you go with and where you go and what country you are from, it may not be tax deductible... or only part of it may be.
Why not try some short term volunteering close to home? There are grass roots organizations all over the world that need help monitoring the environment or cleaning up trails and beaches. Choose the type of activity that you were thinking of participating in for that longer, across the world volunteer vacation.
If you don't like cleaning and clearing trails at your local park, do you really think you're going to like it any better if you're working in the heat in Africa or at altitude in Nepal?
If you think you would like to help care for sick or disabled infants in, say, a hospital in Ecuador... volunteer to take care of at risk infants at a hospital at home, so you can see if you have the patience for that.
If you think you might want to count albatrosses on a South Pacific Island, go on a bird count close to home for a day. See if you like birdwatching at all. Maybe that South Pacific Island is exactly what you need, but minus the birds.
Volunteering close to home will help you find the right niche if you do go on to a longer volunteer vacation. Maybe you don't like clearing trails, but you wouldn't mind hiking them and watching for damage to the trails and alerting rangers to the problems.
Maybe taking care of those sick babies is too hard on you emotionally, but teaching conversational English or another language to teens would be OK.
We all need to volunteer more, but not all of us will be better off using our vacation time for a volunteer vacation. You might just do more good volunteering close to home and saving that holiday to rest up for more volunteering.
Volunteer vacations can be rewarding... much more satisfying than just sitting on a beach. So if you have done some soul searching, and you think it might be for you, start looking around... you may soon find yourself helping people a world away.
If you find that volunteering is the best thing that ever happened to you, then go for that across the world experience, knowing that you will come home invigorated by the good you've done somewhere in the world.