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That one-of-a-kind special volunteer vacation

August 23, 2016

Wisconsin State Journal
By LISA M. DIETLIN For Lee Enterprises

Are you always in search of that one-of-a-kind special vacation? Are you constantly trying to find time to do good?

There’s a tremendous opportunity to have a very special vacation, meet amazing people, visit places you’ve never been all while making a difference by taking part in voluntouring or in a do-good vacation.

Volunteer vacations

Volunteer vacations offer countless benefits and opportunities

Voluntouring is a chance to  participate in programs around the world that make a difference within a short time frame – anywhere from one week to about three months, while vacationing!

Because you’re donating your time and effort to a nonprofit organization, a significant portion of your vacation costs may even be tax deductible.

Here’s how voluntouring works:

You will be working side by side with a community and its residents.

Voluntouring vacations are available around the world in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia.

The projects cover many important areas, such as children, the environment, health care, education, historic restoration, animal conservation, senior care, construction and others.

Voluntour participants often speak about building tremendous new friendships that last for many years.

While some trips are for adults only, there are many that are appropriate for families and young people.

Voluntourism has become both a big and global business primarily supported by the increasing desire of travelers to take worthwhile and meaningful trips while trying to do some good.

Examples of voluntouring vacations

Through Projects Abroad, a two week program offers voluntourists the opportunity to work in archaeological ruins of ancient pre-Inca structures in Peru. Anyone 16 years or older can participate. The work would include preliminary investigations, excavations, analysis and registration of cultural materials, site visits, office registry work, working at museums, archaeology presentations, classification of ceramics and community activities including working at an elementary school. The group also organizes social events for volunteers.

Another example of a trip takes place with Greenforce (www.greenforce.org); for approximately $3,900 you can work to save the endangered orangutans in one of the oldest and most beautiful rain forests in Borneo.

Other types of trips include voluntourists working on restoring temples by spending half the day cleaning paintings or building walls with the monks. The rest of the afternoon they spend their time sightseeing.

Or a penguin rescue and rehabilitation program in South Africa with accommodations and a meal allowance during six weeks of catching, feeding and cleaning up after penguins and other seabirds. But you also have two days off per week to sightsee.

The possibilities and opportunities are truly endless.

Alternatively, you might also want to consider a do-good vacation, which includes travel to more common holiday destinations in places like Ireland, Italy and Spain. These vacations are different from voluntouring in that you will be working with a nonprofit to raise money for a cause and not be working in a local community.

Often travelers create their own trip by raising money or awareness on behalf of a cause or organization that is near and dear to their hearts. Work with your favorite nonprofit organization to create a plan of action that includes doing good on your next vacation.

Tips for voluntouring

  •     Find an organization that matches your passion and has a proven track record.
  •     Select a trip that suits your abilities and interests and be prepared to work!
  •     Speak with people who have been on the excursion before or worked with the company you choose.
  •     Learn about local customs – even a bit of the language – before you go, but be prepared for a trip that may be tremendously different from what you might expect.
  •     Expect none of the comforts of home, in other words, you will be “roughing it.”
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Volunteer vacations take many forms

Travel Pulse writer Janeen Christoff explores the many forms and partners volunteer vacations are available. 

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Carnival’s new social impact cruise line, Fathom, debuted with much fanfare in April — and has continued to garner accolades from the traveling public throughout its inaugural sailings. One of the keys behind the experience that separates Fathom from other cruise lines is its dedication to voluntourism.

Fathom's shore excursions are designed to give travelers the opportunity to interact with the local communities in an impactful way. (photo courtesy of Fathom)

Fathom’s shore excursions are designed to give travelers the opportunity to interact with the local communities in an impactful way. (photo courtesy of Fathom)

Fathom provides cruisers the chance to immerse themselves in the cultures of Cuba and the Dominican Republic and make a difference by participating in a variety of volunteer projects offered as shore excursions by the cruise line.
Its success speaks to the growing popularity of social impact in the traveling community. Voluntourism is one of the fastest-growing trends in travel at the moment and research from the Family Travel Association suggests that it is a trend that will be on the radar for a long time.

Ten percent of families surveyed in the Family Travel Association’s U.S. Family Travel Survey said that they had taken a volunteer vacation. Maybe more importantly, 29 percent said that they would be interested in this type of travel. Of those who had taken a volunteer vacation, 72 percent said that they would do it again.

If any parent has been searching for schools for their children lately, they will recognize the buzz words “raising global citizens,” “citizens of the world,” and “fostering a sense of global awareness.” There is an increasing focus in education to create meaningful experiences for children that give them a greater worldview.

But Voluntourism goes beyond just multigenerational groups. It’s a growing trend among boomers and millennials as well. According to a recent survey on Huffington Post, Americans age 60-plus were the most likely to have taken a volunteer trip in the last year and retirees were actively seeking out ways to volunteer and give back, especially while traveling.

You don’t have to sail with Fathom to have this type of experience — although it’s a great way to give back, if you do. There are a surprising number of hotels, tour operators and even other cruise lines that offer these opportunities. There are also entire organizations that are devoted to helping people organize trips that are focused on voluntourism.
Here are some of the many ways that travelers can give back while on vacation — and even some that you can incorporate into an existing trip.

Globe Aware
Globe Aware is an international organization that offers travelers the opportunity to participate in weeklong projects in a variety of destinations around the world.

Together for Good
Together for Good is a nonprofit organization that serves as a go-to resource for finding voluntourism trips and opportunities for giving. It is run by family travel expert Nancy Schretter and provides a list of opportunities within a variety of destinations, at resorts and on cruises as well as anecdotal experiences and news on the impacts of voluntourism.

Ritz-Carlton Impact Experiences
Ritz-Carlton’s Impact Experiences provides its guests with a memorable and enriching addition to the resort experience by offering opportunities for its guests to contribute to the local community. Impact Experiences are social and environmental impact activities that are unique to the destination in which they are offered and designed to have a lasting and authentic effect within the communities that they serve.

Sandals Foundation
Sandals Resorts’ Sandals Foundation provides a number of opportunities for families to give back, including its Reading Road Trip, which enables guests to visit foundation-adopted schools and help kids learn to read.

Pack for a Purpose
If you already have plans for the summer but want to include some form of giving abroad, contact Pack for a Purpose. The organization helps travelers select and deliver items that are needed in the communities that they are visiting abroad.

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Ways to Give Back Through Volunteer Vacations

Emma Sarran Webster writing for Teen Vogue explores how to turn spring break into a truly worthwhile, beneficial vacation through volunteer vacations with Globe Aware and other working vacation facilitators.


6 Spring Break Ideas That Allow You to Give Back While You Vacation

From a Kindergarten in Argentina to the health campaigns in Ghana.

This Spring Break, take the opportunity to travel and help others, through a volunteer vacation. The combination of volunteering and travel is growing in popularity as an increasing number of companies offer the chance to explore and make a difference. You can take your pick from working at orphanages in Africa, assisting in wildlife conservation efforts in South America, or protecting natural environments right here in the States. “Volunteering overseas is, without a doubt, one of the top experiences anyone could hope to undertake in their lifetime,” Dr. Ken Dorman, a board member of service travel organization Globe Aware, wrote on their website. “Even a short-term volunteer adventure can change your life and world perspective. Few things can give you a greater sense of meaning.” So as you plan your Spring Break, consider gaining perspective through one of these six companies that offer service trips at home and abroad.

Globe Aware

Globe Aware offers 8-day, Saturday-to-Saturday international volunteer vacations — perfect for a full and fulfilling Spring Break. The company focuses not on giving charity, but on helping host communities build renewable, sustainable programs. “The goal is not for volunteers to change the host communities, but rather to help them in the needs that the host community has identified as important,” the Globe Aware site states.

As a Globe Aware volunteer, you can travel to places like Cambodia to help with reforestation efforts; Brazil to help build a community center; or Romania to help teach English. And fear not: You don’t need any special skills or prior qualifications to join; the volunteer coordinators will help you throughout the process. Book your trip as a solo traveler, with your family, or even a group of girlfriends.

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad, a company that sends more than 10,000 volunteers overseas every year to work on service projects, offers week-long Alternative Spring Break Trips designed specifically for college students. Sign up to volunteer at a kindergarten in Argentina or Fiji; help with public health campaigns in Ghana; participate in renovation work in Morocco; or help protect sea turtles in Mexico, among other options. Not in college yet? Check out Project Abroad’s High School Special programs.

Fathom

Fathom gives travelers the chance to head out on a cruise — with a purpose. Depart by sea from Miami to one of two Caribbean destinations: the Dominican Republic or Cuba. While on board the ship, you’ll get to know your fellow travelers, learn about your destination and its customs, and participate in orientation activities and lessons that will prepare you for your on-land experience. Sail to the Dominican Republic to serve the local communities through projects like working with a women’s collective on their successful artisanal chocolate business, or helping locals gain access to clean water. Or immerse yourself in Cuban culture through visits with Cuban professionals, entrepreneurs, and family business owners to learn about education, economics, the role of government, and more in this country that was, until recently, mostly off-limits to American travelers.

Sierra Club Outings

Sierra Club is the country’s largest grassroots environmental organization, on a mission to “explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.” As part of that mission, Sierra Club Outings offers environmentally friendly, outdoor excursions throughout the year — among them, inspiring and adventurous service trips. Head to Big Sur State Park to help with trail improvements; to New York City to assist with maintenance and invasive species removal in the Thain Family Forest; or to Florida to work on restoring the ecosystem on the island of Cayo Costa.

Earthwatch

Earthwatch Institute gives adults and teens alike the chance to work with scientists on various expeditions focused on protecting the planet and its species. As a “citizen scientist” on an Earthwatch Expedition, you can explore the impact of climate change on the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park; research ocean health as it pertains to whales and dolphins in Costa Rica; or learn about wildlife and ecosystems as you help conserve river dolphins and monkeys in Peru’s Amazonian forests.

American Hiking Society

American Hiking Society (AHS), a national organization that promotes and protects foot trails and the surrounding natural areas, offers volunteer vacations focused on building and maintaining trails throughout the country, with a healthy dose of backpacking or day hiking. Explore AHS’s Project Guide to find a trip that’s right for you, whether that’s assisting with boardwalk maintenance at Virginia’s Kiptopeke State Park; protecting the sand dunes at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; or helping construct a new trail at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee.

AHS also offers Alternative Breaks, open to groups of 8-15 students who sign up together and are touted as “part volunteer work project, part kick-back outdoor vacation” on the website. Though the Spring Break trips are full, summer trips to places like Texas, Florida, and California are open — perhaps a sign to get a head start on your summer break planning?

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