“Voluntourists” --those who plan trips to serve others -- are giving up all inclusive beach resorts in the Caribbean or road trips through Europe for the opportunity to sleep in less-than-luxurious rooms and work while on vacation.
People are doing it happily, as evidenced by the increasing popularity of the voluntourism industry, which is growing rapidly. There are literally hundreds of outfits that organize trips for those seeking to do some good. Even the upscale Sandals Resorts is getting in the game by arranging holiday makers visit local schools in the Caribbean and help children learn to read.
But as with any trip, you want to make sure you maximize the positive and minimize the negative. Even the best of intentions can be misguided, and while bottle-feeding orangutans in Borneo sounds like fun, the back-breaking task of digging a well in India may not.
Fox News Traveler spoke with Viridian Energy CEO, Michael Fallquist, who says through the Viridian Foundation people can get the opportunity to plant trees in the Amazon Rainforest. He and his associates, who have traveled with the company, as well as some on personal voluntourism trips, give us some tips about how to get the most out of a service-oriented trip.
1. Find your passion: Figure out what type of service interests you. Whether it be building a home in Mexico with Habitat for Humanity or planting trees in the Amazon with the Viridian Foundation - find an organization or group that focuses on what matters to you.
2. Research the organization: Make sure to adequately vet any organization or group you are considering going on a service-oriented trip with to make sure the goals of the excursion meet your expectations. Know how the funds will be used to support the mission of the trip or organization.
3. Prepare for the worst: Expect anything and everything to be more difficult or rough than you initially anticipated. Plan to be self-sufficient so you’ll have what you need in your suitcase – minus food and water (though it never hurts to pack some granola bars).
4. The essentials: Get your passport, visa, and other necessary documents as well as required vaccinations plenty early. Don’t stress about waiting for them to come in the mail at the last minute.
5. Be open: Prepare for the experience to change your mind set. Let the experience sink in and have a lasting impact on your perspective.
6. Embrace the experience: While serving abroad, respect and even embrace the local culture and people. You’ll leave with a full heart and mind.
7. Take it in: Write a blog, keep a journal and/or take pictures. You can continue to impact people or further the cause by sharing what you learned and experienced when you get home.
8. Expand your contribution: Before you leave, research the needs of the specific communities you’ll be serving. Sometimes it’s a simple donation of books, hygiene kits or sports balls that could make a big difference.