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Vacationing as a Volunteer

Find the right trip for seeing the world while making a difference in people’s lives.


En español | Teaching a classroom of children in Nepal, caring for cheetahs in Namibia or studying sea turtles along Sri Lanka’s shores — exotic opportunities like these have made volunteering part of the growth industry in the travel biz. But the key to a good work experience is not the work you do on your trip. It’s the work you do before you ever leave home.

Just as a smart shopper researches sports cars before buying that new Ferrari (or a used Volkswagen, in my case), you’ll need to sort through the roughly 150 organizations offering trips under the new industry buzz called voluntourism to find the group that’s perfect for you.

Listen to Ken Budd talk about volunteer vacations with Alyne Ellis from Prime Time Focus.

To help make that ideal match, follow this seven-step plan.

Ask the right questions

Selecting an organization is a bit like getting married: There are plenty of possible partners; the hard part is finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. To narrow the often-overwhelming options, start with these three essential questions:

  • What kind of work do you want to do?
  • Where do you want to do it?
  •  How long do you want to stay?

Keep the questions coming. Think about living conditions: Are you OK sharing a closet-sized room with three college students or do you need your own space? How much are you willing to pay for your trip? Do you want to use your professional skills or do something entirely different? Are you hoping to spend eight hours a day working or are you more interested in lounging on the beach?

These questions may seem obvious, but travelers often don’t think about them until they’re already in a foreign land, grousing about the living conditions or the work assignment.

Become a snoop

On a travel site called, a blog about voluntourism led to this cynical post from a reader: “If you pay to volunteer, you are a total sucker.”

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