Travel Tips: How to Plan a Volunteering Vacation


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Lars Leetaru

A volunteering vacation can be a meaningful way to spend your time off, said Courtney Regan, the founder of the San Francisco travel company Courtney Regan Travel and an expert on what is known as voluntourism. But she added that there are several factors to consider to make the trip fulfilling and ensure that your efforts are productive both for you and the cause you’re supporting.

Ms. Regan shares her advice on planning the ideal giveback getaway:

SUPPORT A PERSONAL CAUSE There are hundreds of causes to volunteer for, and finding one close to your heart will lead to a more worthwhile trip. “You’re going to be working hard and likely staying in bare-bones accommodations, so you need passion to stick with your commitment,” Ms. Regan said. Possibilities include wildlife conservation, education, environmental sustainability, health and nutrition, and economic development. Also, consider any personal and professional skills that you can contribute; if you’re a doctor, for example, working at a health clinic for the underprivileged in South Africa could be an ideal fit.

CHOOSE A DESTINATION AND SETTING Your charitable getaway will be more enjoyable if you use it to reach a bucket-list destination; as a bonus, you’ll get to see that destination with a unique perspective. If Southeast Asia is on your mind, helping with reforestation in Bali would benefit the environment and let you appreciate the island’s scenic setting. If Ecuador is of interest, possibilities include teaching English at a school in the picturesque Andean mountains or working at a community center in vibrant Quito. And think about the surroundings you want; is volunteering outdoors in a tropical or snowy climate appealing, or do you prefer being in an air-conditioned office?

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS The more you know going into your trip, the more successful it will be, Ms. Regan said. Be aware that most volunteering programs require a weeklong commitment. Ask if the cost includes only accommodations or meals and transportation too. Inquire about the sleeping situation; on many volunteer trips, travelers stay in dormlike settings with both men and women. Other questions: How many hours of work per day is required and are there days off; who you will report to; if you’ll be working individually or as part of a team; and what the goals of your efforts are and how they will be assessed.

WORK WITH A CREDIBLE CHARITYFinding a reputable charity is important, Ms. Regan said. Charity Navigator is a watchdog for charities in the United States. Well-respected organizations that can help with worldwide volunteering opportunities include GivingWay, International Volunteer HQ and Volunteers for Peace, she said.

If you’re looking for a daylong volunteering option, Ms. Regan said Give a Day Global was a good resource.

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