Voluntourism Goes Mainstream
There has been an increasing interest among travelers in having meaningful and impactful experiences during their trips, along with a noticeable shift towards more responsible and sustainable forms of tourism. This includes a desire to engage in activities that positively contribute to the local communities they visit. Consequently, volunteer vacations, also known as voluntourism, have become a significant segment of the travel industry.
Voluntourism is particularly popular among younger travelers, including Millennials and Gen Z. These groups often seek experiences that are not only unique but also allow them to give back to communities or causes they care about.
The variety of volunteer opportunities available worldwide—from wildlife conservation to teaching, healthcare, and community development—makes it an attractive option for a wide range of travelers with diverse interests and skills.
The rise of social media has played a significant role in popularizing voluntourism. Travelers often share their volunteer experiences online, inspiring others to engage in similar activities.
While volunteering on vacation is popular, it has also faced scrutiny and criticism. Concerns about the sustainability and actual impact of certain volunteer projects have led to calls for more ethical and responsible practices in voluntourism.
Several group travel companies are known for leading voluntourism trips, offering a range of experiences in various parts of the world. These companies often stand out for their commitment to sustainable practices, community engagement, and providing meaningful volunteer experiences. Some of the notable ones include:
Projects Abroad: A leading organization in volunteer travel, Projects Abroad offers a wide range of opportunities, including teaching, medical work, conservation, and more, in various countries around the world.
International Volunteer HQ: Offering affordable volunteer travel experiences, IVHQ has a wide range of projects, including teaching, wildlife conservation, community development, and more, in various destinations.
Global Vision International: Known for its focus on impactful and sustainable volunteer projects, GVI offers projects in wildlife conservation, education, and community development in multiple countries.
Plan My Gap Year: Specializing in gap year travel, PMGY provides a variety of volunteer opportunities in areas such as teaching, wildlife conservation, and medical work in various countries.
Earthwatch: Earthwatch can customize trips to fit the needs of your group. Help sustain the environment by working with scientists on expeditions in the field. Group leaders go for free (on select expeditions with 6 or more people going).
Habitat for Humanity: When you volunteer with Global Village, you will learn about adequate and affordable housing needs from the local community’s perspective and will also contribute to safe and affordable housing solutions.
United Planet: United Planet will partner with your group to design a volunteer experience that offers cross-cultural field experience and that is built specifically around your group's interests, goals and budget.
Responsible Travel: Responsible Travel maintains a catalog of over 100 volunteer travel options covering everything a wide range of activities and trip durations.
So find a cause you believe in, choose an area around the world to explore up close, and give your time and talents on the vacation of a lifetime. Plan the trip with family members or other band of like-minded folks and the trip will be even more memorable.
Finally, we really appreciate the thoughtful comments we've received on this article:
Will V. wrote to share, "As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I believe this is an excellent trend in travel. However, sometimes the cash-costs associated with voluntourism seem (to me) to be inflated. In the same way that buying 'green' or recycled goods should bot be more expensive than buying 'regular' items, I don't think the costs for doing good work should increase your vacation. Once travel operators can figure out how to make money AND encourage their visitors to do some good, I think we''ll see this trend explode. Then, all we have to worry about is whether the 'good deeds' vacationers are doing are what's best for the locals!"
An anonynous reader, wrote, "Philanthropic Travel is an alternative to Voluntourism for families who desire an authentic cross cultural connection with locals and the humanitarian outreach projects that enhance those locals lives. Many travelers prefer not to use their time in a foriegn country while sleeping in spartan accomodations Peace Corps style. Instead, they are choosing to enjoy the experience, accomodations, ambience and cuisine they expect while dedicating a morning or afternoon to personally connecting with the people their generous tax deductible contributions will support. Philanthropic travelers have funded in projects like these in Zambia, Burma, Tanzania and elsewhere in the developing world."
And Andy W.B., who works for Global Visions International, reached out to share more details about GVI's programs: "We send out approximately 1,500 volunteers per year on a variety of responsibly run projects and expeditions. These include programs in about 30 countries, with themes from teaching in indigenous communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia to wildlife conservation in all the same areas. Examples include working with orangutans in Sumatra, desert elephants in Namibia and vervet monkeys in South Africa alongside teaching programs all over the world from Ghana to Nepal, Guatemala to Peru and even unique and extensive TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) programs run in Tulum, Mexico."
Article updated November 2023.