If you’re the type of vacationer who loves to absorb local people and culture, then voluntourism may be right up your alley. It’s a great way to enjoy some fun travel while also giving back to the surrounding community.
Like any program where people donate their time, there are ways it can help a community — and ways it can harm it as well. Let’s take a closer look at what voluntourism is and its pros and cons.
What is Voluntourism?
Voluntourism is a combination of “volunteering” and “tourism.” It’s a way for people who enjoy volunteering to travel around the world and provide free services and aid to the area they are vacationing.
In 2019, about 1.6 million people participated in voluntourism activities.
Examples of voluntourism include:
- Teaching children at a local school
- Working with a local animal conservation group
- Educate others on recycling and waste management
- Volunteering a local homeless shelter or children’s home
- Building homes for the local community
- Helping with a local medical program
Pros of Voluntourism
Some of the advantages to voluntourism include:
- The Best of Both Worlds — First and foremost, voluntourism gives volunteers a chance to do what they love while getting to see a new destination. And for those who wish they could volunteer more but don’t normally have the time, going away to focus on volunteering can be a powerful, fulfilling experience.
- Communities Fill a Need — For areas that are short on doctors, teachers, or just helping hands, voluntourism brings them willing helpers with the skills they are lacking.
- Experience a New Culture — If you’re travelling to an area you’ve never been to with a new language and way of life, voluntourism helps you get fully ingrained in that culture in a way a regular tourism group would not be able to.
- Financially Aid a Community — With voluntourism, volunteers pay their own way usually including travel expenses, lodging, and food. This helps boost the economy of the community you are travelling to.
Cons of Voluntourism
As with any program, voluntourism also has some potential disadvantages. These include:
- Dishonest Voluntourism Companies — Just Google “voluntourism” and a number of companies pop up with voluntourism opportunities for you to book. While there are quite a few legit companies out there, there are also ones that are not. Before signing up with any company, do your due diligence and vet the company you’re considering.
- Be Realistic About Your Qualifications — Are you really qualified to teach children English in a foreign country? Or do you really have the abilities it needs to build a stable home for someone? Make sure your abilities line up with the voluntourism program you’ve selected so it’s a pleasant experience for everyone.
- Make Sure You’re Not Taking Someone’s Job — There have been stories of volunteers travelling to a foreign location to do a job for free that ultimately takes away a paying job for someone who lives there. A legit voluntourism opportunity does not take possible employment away from those in its community.
Voluntourism the Smart Way
So how can you make sure your voluntourism trip is truly a help? Here are a few tips:
- Look for reputable voluntourism opportunities and make sure to do your own background check, including reading reviews online.
- Make sure to ask lots of questions, including what the trip cost includes, where you’ll be staying, and what type of travel and/or medical insurance or vaccinations you’ll need.
- Really examine the skills and hours required for the volunteer work you’re signing up for — will you truly have the time for it? And is it a match for your skills set?
- Research the cultural norms and background of the community you’ll be working with. This will allow you to acclimate quickly and not make any cultural mistakes.
And finally, make sure you are truly passionate about the volunteer work you’ll be doing. Voluntourism can be a great experience when the interests of both the volunteer and the surrounding community come together.
Written for Passport Health by Corrie Pelc. Corrie Pelc is a freelance writer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She has a passion for health and wellness, having written for publications including Exceptional Parent, DAYSPA, INVISION, Eyecare Professional, and Hepatitis Magazine.