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There is no doubt that travel feeds the soul. Travelers return from trips often refreshed and a smidgen wiser for experiencing a new part of the world and a new culture vastly different than their own. The effect is reciprocated by those countries and cultures that thrive from the inward flow of money tourism brings.
But oftentimes those cultures need more than money. They need help building schools and shelters. They need help learning skills and languages. They need help preserving the fragile environments and historic sites that draw tourists to their small part of the world. That is where voluntourism steps in.
Voluntourism involves people from all age and social classes traveling globally to give aid to communities in need and intimately experience the culture. This combination of exploration and inspiration is growing in popularity, mostly due to an increase in the number and variety of opportunities now available. No longer do travelers need to stay enmeshed in a foreign land for months to make a difference - they can now impact an entire community over the course of a week or two, or even during their honeymoon.
Regardless of how these travelers choose to contribute their time and energy into such a globally beneficial cause, they always return satiated, their souls well fed after making a lasting difference in the lives of their international neighbors.
Do You Have What it Takes to Volunteer Abroad?
Many of us have a strong urge to help others around the world, especially after witnessing such high-profile devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Thailand. Voluntourism is the perfect way for everyday people to make a difference; however, they should first know what they're getting themselves into.
As a voluntourist, you must be realistic - you are not going to single-handedly save a village or build a new school. During a week-long stay in Tanzania, you may only build a few desks and paint a classroom, which will not seem like much at the time. But the schoolchildren who later sit in those desks and enjoy that classroom will appreciate your efforts for a lifetime. Every improvement - no matter how miniscule it initially seems - helps form an essential foundation for further social and economic improvements.
Voluntourism is more than an alternative to a standard vacation. It's about offering your skills and time while being part of a team and interacting with diverse cultures. Anyone considering this line of travel should be flexible, take direction well and have both a sense of adventure and humor. No special skills are needed - you only need an intense desire to make a difference and experience a destination in a way few tourists ever will.
What to Expect on Your Trip
While each voluntour trip is unique, they generally share a few similarities when it comes to the services and amenities provided. Your fee will usually include meals, which will feature delicious and adventurous local cuisine; accommodations, where you'll stay in a hotel, guest house, community center or private home; and ground transportation from the airport to the community site.
The program fees do not typically cover airfare, visas or medical and trip cancellation insurance. For those crucial components, many wise travelers turn to a travel agent. Travel agents also offer good advice when you're considering various options during your free time. While the purpose of these trips is to serve the host community and learn from the local people, most programs include free time for their volunteers to venture outside the community and experience more of the host country.
The trips usually last one to three weeks, depending on the location, but travelers who wish to stay longer may sign up for additional programs, which are often offered in succession. As for the other people on your trip, you can expect a wide and diverse range of allies. People of all ages are traveling abroad, including families, grandparents and grandchildren, to experience this life-changing vacation together. Regardless of who else is on your tour, you all will automatically have several important traits in common: an innate desire to help others and a passion to experience the world.
Types of Voluntourism
The variety of programs is matched only by the variety of emotions each volunteer experiences during their stay.
You can teach English to Hungarian children, helping them fulfill their education requirements. You can nurture children in Ecuador, working at an orphanage. You can restore villages in the fabled Blue Mountains of Jamaica, restoring dignity to villagers. You can help care for disabled children in China and experience life through their eyes. You can repair Aboriginal homes in Australia, helping these proud indigenous people in their struggle for equality. You can help save lives by providing basic health-care screenings, such as diabetes tests, well-baby checks and prenatal exams, in Northern Greece.
Within the United States you can tutor the children of immigrants in Minnesota, construct playgrounds for Blackfeet Indians in Montana, help deprived Appalachian families start fresh in West Virginia, work with senior citizens on an Indian reservation in South Dakota, restore community buildings in Mississippi and more.
If you're a budget-conscious college student who wants to see the world, a volunteer abroad program overseas is ideal. Set your sights on the unforgettable scenery of Yorkshire, England, while taking part in a conservation program. Soak in the gorgeous South African sunset and learn how to protect dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds. Or venture to Costa Rica and get your hands dirty rebuilding homes. These trips are often less expensive than normal vacations, and you get more out of the travel experience than just a few souvenirs.
You will find many of these altruistic travel options and more at Global Volunteers, an organization that mobilizes teams of volunteers to live and work with local people on human and economic development projects.
Let a Travel Agent Help You Help Others
At the core of voluntourism is the desire to help others. When it comes to travel, no group of individuals understand that core principle better that travel agents, for helping others travel better, safer and smarter is what they do best. Travel agents can help you set up your voluntour program, save money with your airfare tickets and plan some exciting adventures for your free time.
Become immersed into another culture, build bonds of friendships with villagers in need and positively affect an entire community. Click here to find a trusted travel agent or click here for Global Volunteers and start planning a voluntour vacation that will send you deep into the heart of someone's life.