Volunteer tourism is an increasingly popular way to travel, and for good reason: Volunteering abroad can help people in need and enrich the lives of travelers doing the volunteering. These days, tour companies offer a wide-range of voluntourism opportunities, from building homes to helping teach kids. Here’s a look at just some of the benefits of voluntourism.
Cultural Immersion: One reason many people travel is to experience a new culture. On that front, voluntourism can help — in a big way. Working in a community offers a perspective on a place that you simply can’t get by sightseeing. If you’re working alongside locals, you just might find yourself bondingwith them. Rather than feeling like an outsider, or a tourist taking in the sights, you might begin to feel a deeper connection to the place and people. Many volunteer service trips utilize homestays to house participants. Homestays offer a great way to make friends with locals and eat authentic local food.
Developing Skills: Last spring I went on a volunteer trip to Guatemala. In five days my group built a house for a family in the small, impoverished town of Alotenango. Before going, I had no construction experience and almost no Spanish skills. At the end of the five days I was quite a bit “handier” and had learned rudimentary construction principles. Through interacting with my host family, who spoke no English, my Spanish skills improved. In fact, by the end of the trip, I was speaking conversational Spanish. I learned local cooking techniques and recipes, too. I ate well.
Meaningful Budget Travel: Because volunteer trips are often run by philanthropic organizations and utilize homestays or other inexpensive methods of housing, they can be a great way to travel on a budget. The price of a trip often includes lodging and meals.
A Base For a Great Trip: Interacting with locals gives you an opportunity to get the inside scoop on what to do during your free time — and how to do it cheaply. During my trip to Guatemala I not only helped build a house, but I hiked a volcano and surfed off the country’s black-sand beaches.
Gratitude: It all comes full circle. Undoubtedly the greatest benefit of a volunteer trip is the difference you can make in the lives of people who could use some help, and the gratitude they share with you.
There’s no better way to get to know a country than by immersing yourself right into the heart of it. Which country would you prefer for a local living experience – Ecuador (Amazon Jungle), Nepal, Mongolia (Nomadic Life), Italy (Tuscanny Garfagnana, Amalfi Coast, San Gimignano, Umbria, Sorrento) or Croatia (Southern Dalmatia)?
- What do you prefer: a Sightseeing tour, an active adventure tour or a Local Living Experience tour?