If you’re looking for a way to give back but you aren’t quite sure how to do so, consider combining your vacation with a volunteering experience. Also known as ‘voluntourism’, this is the act of setting aside our self-indulgent tendencies and using a vacation as a time to give something back and help create lasting change. The world could use a little more philanthropy, and doing so as a family abroad is an excellent way to spend your vacation. Helping out at a turtle sanctuary in the Caribbean? Teaching English in Thailand to the cutest little kids you’ve ever seen? To help you brainstorm your next family vacation, here are some quick tips for family volunteer vacations.
What Kind of Volunteering?
First things first, you’ll need to size up your family and see what they’re fit for. Are they capable of doing meaningful manual labor, or would they be better suited to less physically demanding work? Make sure your kids are old enough to truly dedicate themselves to a particular task. If they’re still needing naps and consistent attention, maybe it’d be better to wait a few years (and if your little ones are still learning to walk and talk, check out the Best Vacations for Toddlers and Young Children).
For families with younger kids, consider a trip involving animals. For example, working with sea turtles in Mexico or Costa Rica might be extremely rewarding (and frankly mind-boggling) for some kids. Working with wildlife orphanages in Africa is another great option where families can handle the animals, help prepare food, clean out enclosures, and promote environmental education.
If your family is grown and able to impart some more meaningful change, consider helping out at orphanages, hospitals, or schools.
How Long to Go For?
Most voluntourism projects range in length from one week to eight weeks, and sometimes up to six months — at which point it becomes more of a lifestyle than a vacation. Understandably, the longer your commitment, the greater the possibility of your work instilling lasting change. That being said, there is absolutely no shame in signing up for something less arduous. If this is your first foray into voluntourism, signing up for a few days or a single week of work is still very commendable. The idea is that you do what’s right for your family. Try to get an honest gauge for your commitment level and plan accordingly.
How Much Money to Spend?
Much along the lines of deciding how long to go for, the financial consideration of your trip is extremely important. The costs associated with volunteering abroad are usually allocated towards providing the resources needed to complete the particular project. If you go through a placement company that links you to local nonprofits, some of the funds will be used to cover their overhead as a service with organizations on the ground. On this subject, be sure to do your research when it comes to using a placement service. Make sure your money is being used in ways that truly benefit the cause rather than the intermediary agency.
Generally speaking, volunteering trips can range anywhere from $400 USD per week to over $1,000 USD per week, per person. These costs usually include basic accommodations, food, transportation, comprehensive support, and sometimes a donation to the host organization. Many people are surprised to hear that volunteering costs any money at all. In reality, depending on the location, the costs of volunteering are pretty comparable to the costs of a normal trip. When you factor in the expenses of meals and hotels and activities, volunteering programs abroad sound a bit less financially burdensome.
Where to Go?
All over the world, you can find a wide range of opportunities to volunteer as a family. Here are some ideas to get you brainstorming.
Private Island Marine Experience, Belize: Have you ever wanted to scuba dive? What about volunteering while you scuba dive? This program from Goeco allows volunteers of all experience levels to combine their passion for adventure and marine conservation. Suit up and help document information useful for the preservation of coral ecosystems and help eradicate invasive species. Projects can range anywhere from one week to eight weeks and kids must be at least 16 years old.
Education and Community Building, Thailand: Another one of Goeco’s projects, this is an opportunity to lend your hand to the Singburi community of Thailand. Choose to either help with construction projects where you will construct much-needed buildings or a teaching program where you will teach English to students aged 4-21. Typical days range from three to six hours of work, so you will have plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas on your own.
Florida State Parks, Florida: Depending on where you’re located, Florida may not exactly be “abroad,” but that isn’t to say it doesn’t need help. The park system in Florida is a massive network of protected areas that wouldn’t survive without the help of volunteers. If you volunteer in Florida, you can dedicate your time working in lush mangrove forests or on expansive white-sand coastlines. For other opportunities in the Sunshine State, check out the Best Volunteer Organizations in Florida.
Think of volunteering abroad like being a guest in someone else’s home. There’s an etiquette and a respect for cultural values that comes as a responsibility when volunteering, so just be aware, non-judgemental, and tolerant in all situations. In the same sense, think about what is needed rather than what you want to do. Yes — this is very much a trip that will provide tons of self-happiness, but this is primarily a trip to give something back to the community. Ask questions, be flexible, and strive to make as much change as possible.