Many travelers, myself included, attest to the fact that any sort of travel is eye-opening, fostering global understanding and reducing prejudices. Taking your kids out of their home environment, no matter how far, will undoubtedly broaden their minds. This said, should you consider turning your family vacation into one of the many family volunteer vacations?
What are family volunteer vacations?
Volunteer travel means precisely that: you and your family are traveling for the purpose of lending aid or volunteer effort in the country of your destination. It can be arranged during domestic or international trips, and can be arranged by you, of course, once you touch ground in the country you’re visiting, but is most often planned well ahead of time through a volunteerism travel organization.
Is volunteer travel right for you? To decide, consider the following questions:
1. Do you have the means to volunteer abroad? Ironically, volunteer travel is not cheap. Of course, if you’re planning to travel internationally with kids, few trips will be truly economical. Consider whether you have the means to join a volunteer travel organization.
2. Are your kids old enough? Again, this is a question only you can decide, but most tour companies recommend volunteerism travel for tweens and teens. Kids under age 12 may not have the emotional strength to handle the extremes of poverty, sickness, or plain sadness they may encounter. On a practical side, kids must be old enough to be of use from a volunteer work standpoint as well.
3. Is volunteer travel the best way we can help? For some families, the answer to this question will be yes. If you have limited time but less-than-limited funds and a desire to help, a volunteer trip may be the best way to do your part. If you have a skill set that would be of particular use, such as building or medical expertise, a volunteer trip may be the best use of your abilities. However, if your own resources are limited, there are other ways to show you care (more on this below).
Volunteer vacation organizations:
If you’ve decided a volunteer vacation is right for your family, the three organizations below offer a good place to start. Each with a different emphasis and at a different price-point, they showcase the range you can expect to find in volunteer travel.
1. Me to We: Me to We is one of the most expensive volunteer travel organizations (a trip to Kenya starts at over $4000 per person), and it combines volunteerism with pleasure, adding in safari game drives, for instance, and some upscale lodging. At first glance, the idea of offering such perks may sound insensitive or incongruous with the purpose of the trip, but bear in mind the need to take breaks, disconnect from your efforts, and regroup…all valid coping measures while volunteering abroad.
2. Global Volunteers: Global Volunteers offers programs both domestic and international, with trips as low as $995 per person to the Blackfeet reservation of Montana, for instance. Through community development partnerships, Global Volunteers (a non-profit) pairs volunteers with longer term projects all focused on serving at-risk youth. Kids traveling on these programs can easily relate to the peers they’re helping.
3. GlobeAware: GlobeAware offers week-long programs for a middle-of-the-range price. (A trip to Laos, for example, starts at $1,400.) Like the other programs listed, GlobeAware does not include international airfare in the cost of their trips, but once there, nearly everything is covered, from lodging to food, so families can focus on the reason for their visit.
If you can’t leave home:
For many parents, the best way to teach kids about global need and injustice is through local travel.
1. Volunteer at a city homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food pantry for the day, or better yet, sign up for one day per month.
2. Support global relief organizations that are travel-based, such as Passports with Purpose. This year, Passports with Purpose is serving underprivileged families in Haiti with sponsor Expedia.com. Families can assist their efforts every holiday season by bidding on fun travel adventures.
3. Help other children broaden their minds through travel with the Passport Project. This organization helps teen girls obtain their first passport, allowing them to travel and gain perspective on their world.
Families don’t have to travel far to help those less fortunate, nor do they need to spend thousands on volunteerism organizations abroad. All travel opens the mind, and need can be found in every corner of the world. Consider one of the many family volunteer vacations available it could be a fit for your family.