Lisa Rivera

What does a holiday mean for you? Is it simply about relaxing and forgetting your life in the real world? Or is it about enjoying yourself while helping out a good cause?

If we’re being completely honest, when it comes to holiday planning, most of us want the time to ourselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the only chance we have to get away with our family, friends, or even solo.

However, I’m all for trying something new, and this type of holiday not only promises a memorable time, but it also provides the opportunity to give something back.

Choose wisely

Voluntourism has been around for more than 20 years, and is popular for many reasons. Most volunteer vacations take place in warm and exotic locations, and offers travellers the chance to connect with nature, or to help out in the community.

On top of this, many projects in voluntourism are flexible in length as well as in price, leaving plenty of options to choose from.

Volunteers

That said, it’s essential to properly research which companies or organisations actually help out the causes they say they support.

In recent years, murky stories of organisations duping western tourists have left voluntourism with a less than positive review.

Types of voluntourism to choose from

Suffice it to say, there are hundreds of voluntourism options on the internet, making it very difficult to know where to start. Below are a few ideas that may be a useful starting point.

Scuba-dive for research and conservation in the Seychelles

GoEco is the organisation behind this project. On this trip, you’ll spend most of your days underwater collecting data on coral reefs and sea turtles.

Scuba-diving

Volunteers will also get to identify many species of tropical fish while scuba diving among deserted tropical islands. The price of the trip also includes PADI Advanced and PADI Coral Reef Research Diver training, meaning you’ll be an expert when you leave!

Improve the conservation of sea turtles in Costa Rica

Another sojourn underwater, this time in Central America. GoVoluntouring organises this project, where you can help to improve the conservation of the beautiful creatures that are sea turtles.

Volunteers help to patrol the beaches at night, looking for sea turtles, relocating their nests and helping them to survive. Ultimately, the volunteer’s role is to help sustain the population for future generations.

Sea turtles

During free time, volunteers can spend time on the beach, practice their Spanish and of course go swimming in the Caribbean Sea.

Building homes in Cambodia

Voluntourism isn’t just limited to young people and students. Hands Up Holidays, an organisation that arranges luxury volunteer trips, arranges many projects for the whole family.

For families with children over 12, building projects are ideal for getting everyone involved. In Cambodia, volunteering families can help to build a home for locals, while seeing the country at the same time.

Cambodian school children

Bear in mind that Hands Up Holidays is all about luxury, which is reflected in the cost. To find out more about this project or others that may be more suitable, head to their website.

Hotels giving back

If the idea of spending your entire holiday helping out another cause doesn’t quite float your boat, there are other part-time ways of helping out. Many large-chain hotels now offer ‘philanthropic programmes’ — projects that offers guests the chance to volunteer during their stay.

Lightbulbs

Choice Hotels’ Room for Responsibility programme includes promoting environmentally-friendly practices in their 6,300 hotels around the world. Ritz-Carlton also offers its members the opportunity to give back to the local community through its Give Back Getaways programme.

As an example, guests staying at the Ritz-Carlton Club St. Thomas, are able to help preserve the island’s natural habitat via its ‘Walking Among the Mangroves’ project.

Volunteer vacation: things to consider

There are a few things you can do to choose a successful voluntourism project:

Pick an efficient and reputable organisation that ultimately helps communities work independently long after the volunteers have returned home. This way, you’re selecting a project that sustains the local community.

Sustainability

Ensure that the cost of the trip goes to the right people. Before booking your volunteer vacation, ask the organisation about what percentage of your money goes directly to the local community.