Voluntourism is a trend in traveling that doesn’t seem to be leaving us anytime soon. And as you’re planning your next solo adventure or trip with the family, you may want to consider choosing destinations based on the volunteer opportunities they provide. Below we’ve provided a closer look at what exactly voluntourism is and what you need to know before choosing to participate in volunteering abroad.
What Is Voluntourism?
Voluntourism, also known as volunteer tourism or international volunteering, is a type of tourism in which visitors or travelers participate in volunteer activities. These activities or trips are often organized by a charity or other organization to connect foreigners with local groups or work opportunities.
Important Considerations About Voluntourism
While voluntourism sounds like a great way to fulfill your desire to help others and provide assistance to communities in need, it’s important to do your research and consider the pros and cons before deciding if this type of trip is right for you.
Cons of Voluntourism
A potential downside of voluntourism has less to do with the experience itself, and more with the motivations and intentions of the tourists. With the rise of voluntourism’s popularity in recent years, it has also experienced a growth in sharing these experiences on social media. If you’re going into a community in need and sharing pictures online to garner attention, increase “likes” or make others think more highly of you, you’re likely there for the wrong reasons. In addition, this can lead to a lack of empathy for the community you’re helping and commitment to the work you’re doing - meaning poor craftsmanship or assistance in whatever it is you’ve volunteered to do.
While it’s common to find an organization that does the heavy lifting of planning and coordinating for you, it’s important to do your own thorough research and vetting before choosing the right company to travel through. Some companies may only highlight the “fun” parts of the trip on their websites or marketing brochures, creating unrealistic expectations of how much work you’ll be expected to perform. Additionally, you’ll want to look into the impact voluntourism has had on the communities you’re thinking about visiting. In some areas, it’s created a dependency that becomes problematic for the locals, or it lowers the number of jobs available to members within that community.
Pros of Voluntourism
Don’t let those important considerations keep you from embarking on your volunteer tourism opportunities altogether. For those who choose to participate with the right expectations in mind, it can be an incredibly rewarding, fulfilling and helpful experience.
Voluntourism often offers a unique opportunity to become immersed in local culture in a way traditional tourism doesn’t. You have the chance to work side-by-side with local community members, stepping off of the resort and into the streets of the country or region you’re visiting.
While there are places in which voluntourism has resulted in a dependency, there are others that are simply unable to accomplish important tasks on their own and need the assistance brought to them by outside volunteers. Additionally, you may be able to provide a certain skillset (teaching English, carpentry, masonry, etc.) that local community members may not have. Not to mention, the money you’re spending on the trip including lodging and food, is going back into the community you’ve committed to helping.
When done with the right intentions and adequate research ahead of time, embarking on a voluntourism experience can be mutually beneficial for both the traveler and communities in need. It can be a fulfilling alternative to traditional vacations and offers unique insights into local cultures you may otherwise never have the privilege to experience. Just be sure you’re researching both the company you’re traveling with and the area you’re interested in visiting to see the type of impact you have the potential to make.