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.