Worlds of Opportunity to Give
Volunteer vacations make travel meaningful
Exploring the globe through do-good ventures is not just for idealistic college students, philanthropic church groups or Brangelina anymore. A growing number of families are seeking worthwhile projects, expeditions and experiential opportunities around the world to donate their time and energy to. And what they get back in return is extraordinary.
Volunteer travelers of all ages learn the value of hard work and see how small steps can make a big difference. Family bonds are strengthened as parents and children work side-by-side on purposeful tasks. Participants acquire critical thinking skills and an appreciation for the interconnectivity of the world. They experience personal growth and develop deeper insights into foreign cultures.
It’s a rare but growing breed of family travelers who opt to spend their holiday embroiled in physical labor with rustic living quarters, self-catered meals and dubious plumbing. Perhaps a dirt- and sweat-filled getaway doesn’t immediately appeal to you and yours, but don’t be so quick to dismiss the concept. Most families who’ve committed to a volunteer vacation report that it’s their most memorable, meaningful trip ever. Whether you commit to a few days or a few weeks, all ages come out of the experience feeling insightful, inspired and invigorated by a tangible sense of contribution and achievement. You can’t really say that about a cruise, can you?
Granted, a latrine-building project might be a hard sell, but most kids could get into something like counting sea turtle hatchlings, picking non-native wildflowers off a mountain trail, joining an archeological dig or interacting with local children at schools and orphanages around the globe.
Do your homework and find an opportunity that is compatible with your family’s values and outlook. Weigh in factors like where in the world you want to go, how long you want to stay, how much “roughing-it” you want to experience and how much free time you want outside of the project at hand.
Note, volunteering doesn’t necessarily come free. You often pay for the privilege to work on a project, or at least contribute to the costs of food, lodging and operational expenses. Some of the grand environmental missions or scientific expeditions cost as much as a resort vacation, but are tax deductible.
So lend a hand through voluntourism and dare to expose your kids to issues like poverty, conservation, development, disaster relief and ecological concerns, either within your own borders or abroad. A world of need and opportunity awaits.
You’ll open your kids’ eyes to a world beyond the suburbs and beach resorts, instilling an appreciation for comforts often taken for granted. You’ll be helping to foster a new generation of cross-culturally sensitive, environmentally aware, globally conscious citizens. Plus it’ll make for a great unconventional “how I spent my vacation” school report.
Well, you probably won’t get a lot of rest and relaxation on your trip. Not all projects work you and the kids to the bone, but a serious effort and focus is required.
While some projects allow young children to participate under parental supervision, most have an age stipulation of 8, 10 or 12, depending on the physicality of the tasks involved. Most volunteer vacation opportunities are more suited to families with tweens and teenagers.
Open your mind to the possibilities. Find a grassroots project that is well suited to your kids’ ages, interests and abilities and relish the adventure and your contribution to the greater good.
Each location and project has its own requirement.
Cross-Cultural Solutions allows families (ages 8 and up) to work alongside local people on community projects in Africa, Asia, Russia and Latin America. Their week-long Insight Abroad program is ideal for families with limited time to commit.
Global Citizens Network has volunteer opportunities in Mexico, Nepal, Guatemala, Kenya and Tanzania for ages 8 to 80.
Habitat for Humanity International’s Global Village Program allows families to help build and restore affordable housing around the world.
Earthwatch Institute lets children 10 and up join in scientific field research, conservation projects and educational programs that promote environmental sustainability. Some expeditions carry a high price tag, but these are well-organized opportunities.
Sierra Club is an American environmental organization with volunteer vacations that include trail maintenance, wilderness restoration and the eradication of non-native species. Check specific trips for age requirements.
Volunteer America offers U.S.-based projects including trail maintenance, whale counting and archeological expeditions.