Travel: A Season of Giving

Ninos de Cristo Orphanage

While the arrival of vaccines in the UK and US provide a bright beacon in the midst of the pandemic, travel for most of us is close to at a standstill.  However, with restrictions starting to lift, I thought back to past holidays I celebrated the season by volunteering abroad or “voluntourism”.  When we can head back abroad, volunteering both for special holidays or year-round can be a good way to make a contribution while seeing a new destination and getting an authentic sense of that community off the beaten tourist track.

This brought me full circle thinking back to my first solo travel abroad as a teenager.  I had very enthusiastically applied to join a group of 5 other girls for a summer “Y” project in the dual island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. With youthful enthusiasm, I didn’t do much background research before applying. I was surprised, but pleasantly, when I discovered my highly anticipated volunteerism “off the coast of Florida” was actually much farther south within sight of Venezuela!

More recent years found me taking a brief volunteer trip to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.  Having learned my lesson about being unprepared, I did become familiar with both the region and the scope of the local charity’s work before leaving home.

Before you head out to volunteer, check out the 6 tips below based on my adventures and even some misadventures.

  1. Consider how much time you can take from work, school or family responsibilities. For example, if you have always dreamed of a remote Pacific Island but have only two weeks’ vacation/leave, look closer to home. The US, the Caribbean and Central America offer multiple opportunities to volunteer with a relatively short(er) travel time.
  2. Identify programs that match your skill set. I quickly discovered at Habitat for Humanity my construction skills were close to non-existent, and just the thought of balancing high overhead and wielding a hammer wasn’t going to work for me. I did find that I could handle toting a large black trash bag around the grounds and collecting debris. Ironically in working with children’s groups, I learned that the number one request/skill set required was being able to lead singing, or even performing acapello solos! After Cambodian children sang a great rendition of “Old Macdonald had a farm” in Khmer with our group to follow in English, I  prepared in advance for the Dominican Republic, if necessary, to lead off with “viejo macdonald tenía una granja”.
  3. Look at the reputation of the charitable organization acting as sponsor. In the US, such organizations make public tax filings that give a good view of their finances. Be sure that the sponsor’s views and public positions are in keeping with your own.
  4. Find out what your costs and financial responsibilities will be. Ask if you are expected to make a cash contribution or ongoing pledge to the organization and what your travel costs and expenses are expected to be.
  5. Via social media, look for reviews by past volunteers, and see if you can connect with them to answer any of your questions.
  6. When you take a tour, you will find that many travel groups have their own charitable foundations that you can contribute to in the footprint that they cover, like Overseas Adventure Travel, or in select countries beyond their own tours’ focus, such as Riviera River Cruises, with its Hope and Homes for Children in 8 countries in Central/Eastern Europe and Africa.

For a range of options around the world, check out our specialty tours under “Volunteering”.

See, for example, this catalogue of 2020-2021 best global volunteering opportunities compiled by International Volunteer HQ.


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