09 January 2017
Voluntourism: Travel with a Purpose

Voluntourism is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of volunteering and tourism. Instead of traveling just to see some sights, spending money on tourist traps, or relaxing by the beach, voluntourism enables people to experience parts of the world which they’ve never seen, while also helping people in need – not just with their wallets, but with their time and effort.

Voluntourism can come in many forms, including construction, child care, agriculture, education, environmental work, and more. Many people are content to focus their charitable offerings on monetary contributions, but more and more people want to visit places of need first-hand and offer up a helping hand. It’s often cited as one of the fastest-growing travel trends. In 2014, it was reported that over 1.6 million voluntourists were spending about $2 billion per year on travel.1

Typically, voluntourism trips are booked through organizations that handle the details and set up the accommodations and work for you. Some of the more well-known organizations include Projects Abroad2, We Go Global3, Global Volunteers4, and Cross Cultural Solutions5. People can do it on their own if they choose; it just requires a lot more work and connecting of dots.

To embark on a voluntourism journey on your own, you’ll have to find the place of need, determine if your help will be accepted, reserve a place to stay, take care of health and travel insurance, book your flight, and take care of a myriad of other details. In most cases, if you elect to go with an organization specializing in voluntourism, many of these tasks will be taken care of. Just be prepared to pay for this convenience.

Many people find a sense of fulfillment by electing to take a voluntourism trip instead of a traditional vacation, but while nobody is disputing the good intentions of voluntourists, the practice is not without its critics. The main argument against it is usually that the majority of voluntourists just don’t have the expertise needed to truly help, and in some cases are doing more harm than good. For example, The New York Times once reported that voluntourists who flew to Haiti to aid in building construction were unable to build properly, and at the same time (perhaps inadvertently) they took work away from local construction workers.6 Before finalizing arrangements, consider sticking to an area of need where you have some level of experience or expertise.

There is also some concern that the goodwill of voluntourists (as well as the beneficiaries of the voluntourists’ efforts themselves) will be exploited by those looking to make a profit. For example, that same New York Times report cited research from South Africa and elsewhere into “orphan tourism,” finding that due to the rising popularity of voluntourism, some orphanages intentionally subject children to troubling conditions in an effort to sway volunteers into donating more money. Before taking a trip, it’s a good idea to do as much research as possible into the reputation of the organizations you’ll be working with, determine exactly what you’ll be doing, and find out who will be directly benefiting from your efforts.

Plan your trip carefully, try to get feedback from other voluntourists who have taken similar trips, and have a meaningful conversation with the trip planners about any concerns before making a final decision. When you do get to your destination, don’t be afraid to ask questions to get a better understanding of exactly what is expected of you and how you can best help those in need.

A well-thought-out voluntourism trip can not only provide an opportunity to travel to new places and build lasting memories, but it can provide valuable assistance to people in need of your help.

1. http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2014/07/31/336600290/as-volunteerism-explodes-in-popularity-whos-it-helping-most

2. http://www.projects-abroad.org/voluntourism/

3. http://www.wegoglobal.org/

4. http://www.globalvolunteers.org/

5. http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/

6. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/magazine/the-voluntourists-dilemma.html

 

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.

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