Volunteer Travel Vacations – Trend or New Lifestyle?

A growing phenomenon in travel these days is short term volunteer travel vacations, also known as “voluntourism,” “travel philanthropy,” “charity vacation,” or “traveling for good.” It’s to travel someplace and serve as a volunteer or add on a volunteer element to your holiday or vacation. A less hands on approach includes supporting local concerns either through staying in local hotels, using local services, buying fair trade, etc. or seeking companies, products or services dedicated to giving back to the community.

For many of us, volunteering abroad evokes images of dedicated young people and retirees living in makeshift huts in remote corners of the world. While these traditional volunteer vacations still attract thousands of people, this total immersion model is no longer the only option for people who want to combine adventure and altruism. Travelers are discovering they can do both — play and work — on the same trip.

According to the Travel Industry Associations of America (TIA), more than 55 million Americans have taken some form of volunteer vacation and nearly twice as many are considering doing so. More than one in ten travelers said they were more interested in taking a volunteer vacation now compared to five years ago. A recent survey sponsored by msnbc.com and Condé Nast Traveler revealed that 20% of those polled had taken at least one volunteer vacation, and 62% more said they are likely to take one. A University of California, San Diego study reported in 2008 that roughly 40% of Americans say they are willing to spend several weeks on vacations that include volunteer service. Their top priorities include helping schoolchildren, families and people in poverty.

920255158 b93f58524f - Volunteer Travel Vacations - Trend or New Lifestyle?
Photo by Pierre Holtz | UNICEF

Is this a sustainable trend? Through a confluence of world events, people are redefining their perception and expectation of travel, experiences, personal fulfillment and altruism — all of which influence their lifestyle choices. They want to experience destinations, full cultural immersion, and give to a community. People recognize that they are not trying to save the world, but they can still make a difference. People have a fundamental desire to contribute to making the world a better place. In our sophisticated society today, people want to seek unique experiences, something they have not tried before. They know they can make a difference in a fun way as they travel.

What are your thoughts…trend or lifestyle?

6 Comment

  1. voluntourismgal says:

    I’d say it’s definitely a lifestyle. The research proves that the ‘trend’ is here to stay and as we see a growth in the LOHAS industries we will naturally see a growth in voluntourism.

    The expansion of volunteering into the adventure travel segment will also help keep the ‘trend’ alive; giving people a taste for volunteering so they can go back later and commit more time.

    Love the blog!

  2. Thanks voluntourismgal for your keen insights! Despite these uncertain times, there’s strong momentum for this type of travel which speaks to people’s value for meaningful contribution in their travels.

  3. asalvesen says:

    Trend or lifestyle, "voluntourism" is definitely gaining momentum. I vote for it being a lifestyle.

    My parents are retired, and they spend half their time down in a small village in Central Mexico. There is a volunteer project based there for those who are interested in working with migrant children. The project has been steadily growing over the last few years. Families travel together, groups of friends, high school students looking for a good way to venture to another country to do good, without their parents tagging along.

    I actually work for a nonprofit called UniversalGiving, which is basically an internet platform that allows people to choose from a variety of fully vetted projects in over 70 countries. You can choose by interest area and/or region and select a specific start day for the volunteer opportunity search. I just searched "Seychelles," and the result was a coral and coastal ecology project on a little-explored island in the Indian Ocean. You should visit our site at: http://www.universalgiving.org.

    Lastly, I wanted to thank you for writing such a great blog post! It's really great that you took the time to aggregate some of the best statistics about "voluntourism." Thank you. 🙂

    Now if I could only stop thinking about volunteering in the Seychelles…

    Warm regards,

    Anis Salvesen
    New Faithful Blog Follower

  4. I think voluntourism is becoming more of a lifestyle than a trend.

    I work with Hands On Manila, an international affiliate of Hands On Network and for almost a decade we’ve been providing flexible volunteer opportunities to locals. But more and more international volunteers are contacting us, which gave way to our program on volunteer vacations. Volunteers now want to cross borders and do not limit themselves to helping at their own backyard. I believe this is a positive thing because, after all, we are all citizens of this planet.

  5. travelanthropist says:

    I think you’re right on that we are global citizens. Volunteering need not be limited by borders. Volunteer vacations provide the opportunity for people with limited time to volunteer abroad — those who would otherwise not be able to do it because of the longer duration usually required by volunteer orgs. That said, we need to monitor providers carefully to ensure best practices are followed.

  6. OUr family has been doing this for years. It is very rewarding and keeps you from being stuck in the tourist traps!

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