For many of us, vacations are all about sun, sand and sea. We spend most of the year planning and saving for our dream holiday, counting down the days till we can escape the rat race for sunnier climes, swapping coffee for cocktails and computers for cameras. Of course, we’re now more aware of the impact of international travel on the environment, and it’s usual practice for many travel companies to provide carbon off-setting services to customers, charging a discretionary fee based on your air miles, which in turn helps to fund a range of carbon reduction initiatives.
However, for a growing number of people, the idea of combining their vacation with something altogether more meaningful is on the rise. Instead of simply paying a fee for carbon-neutral travel, the more conscientious tourists are looking for opportunities to make a more significant contribution when they arrive at their holiday destinations, volunteering their time and talents to get involved in service projects. Forget sipping margaritas on the beach – and welcome to the wonderful world of Voluntourism.
A holiday with a difference
Voluntourism gives you the chance to combine sightseeing, exploration and cultural immersion – while helping local people to take action on some of the most pressing issues facing our planet. From well-digging and supporting the work of clinics and health centers to running education classes or helping with animal conservation – there are a variety of ways to share your skills and talents to make a real difference. Interested? Here’s a few tips if you’re keen to find out more:
• Getting started
It’s important to put some time into researching your volunteering placement. Think about the kinds of causes and issues that matter to you, as this will help to refine your search. Idealist and Transitions Abroad both offer volunteer brokerage services, with searchable databases to enable you to find the right opportunity for you.
Many people are concerned that they may need specialist skills to volunteer in another country. Unless otherwise specified, most international volunteering opportunities require energy, enthusiasm and commitment – nothing more. The very best charities and NGO’s should provide pre-departure preparation, as well as in-country training on arrival. Many also offer great alumni programs, so you can keep in touch with fellow participants once you return home. Voluntourism can be great way to share your skills but also to learn new ones – which might help if you’re considering a career change, or simply want to pursue a passion or interest further.
Contrary to popular belief, volunteering is not free. Alongside the travel, visas, immunization and other medical costs, it’s likely that you’ll also be expected to make a contribution towards the overall management of your volunteering project. It’s important to remember that the charities or NGO’s you’re working for are likely to be operating with fairly limited resources – but they’ll want to ensure that you have a safe and worthwhile experience, hence the additional placement costs. However, before paying any fees, be sure to check the credentials of the organization you’d like to volunteer with – they should be able to provide a full breakdown of program costs. As a guide, some of the best NGO’s will aim to spend between 80-90% on the cause itself, with minimal additional project costs.
You’ve taken the decision to help a worthwhile cause, so why not fundraise to cover some of the costs of the trip? It may seem a bit weird to ask people to donate towards your holiday, but it’s important to bear in mind that you’re taking part in a service project. You won’t be spending donations on margaritas and massages, but rather on helping the people or ecology of your chosen destination, and most people will be happy to support you.
Voluntourism is a unique way to experience another country, and a fantastic opportunity to do something incredibly worthwhile. One thing’s for sure, once you’ve become a voluntourist, holidays will never be the same again!