How to Pick the Right Volunteer Vacation

A volunteer vacation can be part of solo and family travel, a romantic getaway, and a small group trip with friends. It’s not just taking a half hour break from the pool and spa to check out a resort’s recycling efforts, though; a volunteer vacation should push our boundaries, even if just a little, and help us realize that we’re capable of more than we might have thought prior. Giving back enriches our own lives as well. Volunteer vacations, and the services provided therein, are a great, recommendable travel option. However: Anyone considering taking a volunteer vacation is bound to have lots of questions — I know I did. Researching online helped me figure out how to pick the right volunteer vacation for my family: Asking the right questions is the best place to start. Here are 5 tips to help pick the right volunteer vacation.

Volunteer Vacation Service Trip to Costa Rica Church (Jennifer Miner)

How to Pick the Right Volunteer Vacation

1. Decide what type of service you’d most like to do. There are lots of church-group led humanitarian missions, for example, and several highly reputable nonprofit organizations that focus on environmental voluntourism. The Sierra Club and BlueVentures both have strong ecological focuses, and are very well-regarded. A smaller organization caught our eye for its attending to both environmental and cultural volunteering needs of Costa Rica.

2. If you have any special skills, such as carpentry, consider using them to benefit the community to which you travel. But be honest with yourself: If you really want a break from what you do every day, that’s perfectly fine. It’s your trip.

Rainforest Reforestation Family Travel Volunteer Vacation in Costa Rica (Jennifer Miner)

3. Don’t be afraid to ask (call, email) the organizers personally. From what I’ve seen they’ve eager to spread the news about their nonprofits — and to help determine if their service trip is the best fit for any potential guests. It’s acceptable and accepted to do some background check on the volunteer vacation’s lead organizer as well.

4. Decide what part of the world you’d like to take your volunteer vacation in first. Narrowing it down to a general area is good enough — no need to limit yourself to a specific country if you’re simply thinking “tropics” versus “temperate zone,” for example. Also, research the living conditions. This means not only how remote the area is, but what sort of bed you’ll be sleeping in (if its a bed at all). It’s important to be honest with yourself here. While pushing your boundaries is part of an exciting volunteer vacation, if you detest camping you’re not going to be any happier camping in a new-to-you destination.

5. Make sure there’s enough down time, and fun excursions for your own vacation desires. The Sierra Club, for example, has well-organized beach and hiking trail clean-up service trips that involve picking up litter and clearing trails in the morning, with every afternoon having relaxing down time for the volunteers. Others may spend a full day doing wildlife preservation work, with the next day completely unscheduled. Make sure that the balance of “volunteer” and “vacation” is right for you.

Costa Rica Family Volunteer Vacation (Jennifer Miner)

Now, these 5 tips barely scratch the surface. A thorough travel planner will think of other questions to research (I did). Nevertheless, these tips are a good starting off point for planning the volunteer vacation that’s best for you. And remember — have fun while you’re there!


12 Responses to “How to Pick the Right Volunteer Vacation”

  1. 1
    Paul says:

    I’ve seen and liked a lot of what you have to say about volunteering some time during vacations, thank you.

  2. 2
    Rebecca says:

    Heard a lot of good things about the Sierra Club.

  3. 3

    Don’t know if you used any books to help you research, but I found Volunteer Vacations by Doug Cutchins and Anne Geissinger to be very thorough and authoritative.

  4. 4
    Theodora says:

    Great tips, jen, thanks. I’d add that if it’s a paid-for volunteer vacation you should check how much of the money you pay goes to the organisation you are volunteering for. And be very cautious about orphanages in S-E Asia, because some are deliberately kept in bad condition to tug volunteer heart strings and make money for the organisation behind it…

  5. 5

    I love the idea of a family volunteer vacation, teaches kids both travel and community.

  6. 6
    Mara says:

    Now that my kids are older, I’ve been thinking seriously about this type of trip – thanks for the tips.

  7. 7

    i LOVE nola lee kelsey’s 500 places to volunteer before you die (i think that is the right number)…it’s amazing.

    great tips – thanks!

  8. 8
    Tee says:

    Voluntourism is on the increase in Costa Rica and there’s always things that need to be done and groups to help., but #5 is so very important to keep morale up and Costa Rica has so much to offer in terms of things to do and see, that it’s a great vountourism destination.

    Cheers, Tee

    Tee is the founder and senior editor Costa Rica CLOSEUP, a Travel Guide to Costa Rica with Events, Articles and Information for everyone traveling, retiring and/or purchasing real estate in Costa Rica.

  9. 9
    Donna Hull says:

    Great tips for planning a volunteer vacation. This would make a great multi-generational experience.

  10. 10
    Cailin says:

    Good info. I’ve never done a volunteer vacation but now this has me thinking :)

  11. 11

    I would love to take kids for a volunteer vacation, never even thought of it before… thanks for giving some food for thought.

  12. 12

    these tips looking helpful I’m looking for that thanks for sharing these tips for my summers vacations

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