I'm interested in taking a volunteer vacation, but I haven't the foggiest on how to begin. Any tips on choosing a destination or program?
–Kathleen, Punta Gorda, Fla.
Before you embark on a volunteer vacation, answer these four questions to ensure you choose a program that fits your needs.
What type of work do you want to do? Projects range from tracking whale-migration patterns on a boat to building a house in rural Mexico, so make sure that you are up to the task. Some programs require physical labor or technical skills, such as plumbing and electrical engineering, while others allow you to teach conversational English, which would not require much special knowledge. If you have a specific skill that might be helpful, let your potential volunteer-vacation organization know. Also ask them about the extent of physical demands, and let them know about any health concerns.
Where do you want to go? Since this is a vacation, choose a location that interests you. Opportunities to travel abroad for your volunteer vacation span 6 continents. Decide if you would like a tropical vacation in Thailand or an urban city experience in Italy. This brings us to our third question. . .
What level of comfort do you need? Locations like Italy can offer four-star resort accommodations, while volunteering in Tanzania may require sleeping on cots on a concrete floor. Consider sleeping environments (Dormitory or single-occupancy?), transportation (Walking or public transportation?), and meal preparation (Family style or in a local restaurant?).
Before you sign up for a volunteer vacation program, make sure your vacation needs are met so that you can best volunteer in your community of choice. Global volunteers (www.globalvolunteers.org), Earth Watch (www.earthwatch.org), and Global Aware (www.globeaware.org), are three sites that can help you narrow your search. And there's one more: Airline Ambassadors (a great charity group for which, in the interests of full disclosure, I serve on the board). It brings 10–12 missions a month to orphanages around the world delivering supplies, aid, and expertise (www.airlineamb.org).