Here are some tips to help plan an upcoming vacation where you can volunteer a part of or all of your time away from home.
Local organizations are always looking for volunteers. Even if you can only dedicate one hour to help others out, that is okay. Any amount of time will be a tremendous help for those organizations. Determine how much time you can give during your trip. Ask yourself if the sole purpose of the vacation is to help others. If it is not, figure out how much time you can and want to volunteer.
Knowing how much time you have available will help you determine where to volunteer. Those with only a few hours to give should consider volunteering at a local food bank or soup kitchen, while those who have a full day to dedicate to an organization may be best suited to help with an area clean up, build a home or work at a local homeless shelter.
The skills, expertise and experience you have to offer will also help determine where you volunteer during your vacation. For example, if you do not have any construction experience, it might not be the best idea for you to volunteer to do the electrical work for Habitat for Humanity.
Some of the most desired volunteers are those with experience as doctors, nurses, attorneys, teachers, computer specialists and scientists. However, even if you do not have experience in these fields, it does not mean you should not volunteer your time. There is always something to do.
Think about what you have to offer and match it with what you would like to do. Determining both will make your volunteer experience more enjoyable and feel less like work.
Just like your expertise, you need to consider your interests. If traveling to a third world country without electric and running water is not a place you wish to visit, you probably should not plan volunteer your time there. Determine what location interests you and do a search for local organizations that need volunteers or talk with the many national organizations to find out if they have any programs in your desired vacation destination.
Before heading out and volunteering your time, it is imperative to do your research so you know what you are getting into. Plus, you want to make sure you volunteer for a reputable organization. There are many online resources available to help you find volunteer opportunities and more details about the organization and the work you will be doing.
Online volunteer travel resources include:
- Volunteer Abroad: Volunteerabroad.com
- Idealist (volunteer directory): Idealist.org
- GAP Adventures: GAPAdventures.com
- Planterra: Planterra.org
- i-to-i: i-to-i.com
- Cross-Cultural Solutions: Crossculturalsolutions.org
- EarthWatch: EarthWatch.org
- Global Volunteer Network: GlobalVolunteerNetwork.org
- Habitat for Humanity: Habitat.org
Write down all of your questions and make it your mission to get answers to each and every one. Do not enter into a volunteer agreement blindly. Questions you need answers to include:
- What is the organization’s overall goal?
- What resources are available to volunteers?
- Is the program flexible? Or is there a predetermined schedule?
- Is there a minimum age requirement?
- How safe is the area?
- Is there a fee? If so, what does it cover?
If this will be a family adventure, make sure that all members of your family are on board and willing to volunteer. In order for it to be a fun family trip, everyone must want to be there and not feel like they are being forced to be there.
Not all organizations will pay for your travel or even a portion of your travel. It is important before deciding to plan a vacation to work out a budget. Find out what you will receive from the organization, such as food during the day, accommodations, discounted travel and local transportation. Because you are volunteering to help the organization, you should never assume or ask if they will help pay your travel costs. It should be up to the organization to offer it.
Things to figure into your budget include travel, local transportation, accommodations, food and spending money. You are there to help others, but at the same time you do not want to put yourself in a tight financial situation.
Some organizations have agreements with travel agents or have their own travel clubs that help offer volunteers discounted travel prices in exchange for volunteering their time. FlyForGood.com offers online resources to help fund travel for humanitarian projects. Other resources for those on a budget but still wanting to volunteer include:
- Appalachian Mountain Club
- Cross-Cultural Solutions
- Sierra Club
- Washington Trails Association
- Catalina Island Conservancy
- Habitat for Humanity International’s Global Village
- Global Citizens’ Network
- Wildland Adventures
Also, keep in mind that all of your vacation costs associated directly with your volunteering can be deducted from your taxes, which is a big discount on its own.
Make arrangements with the organization and set a time frame for when you will be in the area. From there, you can make your travel and accommodation arrangements. Once all of that is complete, it is time to pack your bag and head on out.
A volunteering vacation is one that will allow you to enjoy time away from your day-to-day life, while still offering plenty of opportunities to help others. Even long-term volunteering opportunities allow some time off to explore the local area. It may feel like work, but in the end it is a very rewarding experience.
Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at Examiner.com.