Soulful travel

“I want to make a difference,” she said with a sigh. “I’m tired of feeling like I’m on the outside looking in when I travel to these foreign countries. 

"Is there any way I could help out while I’m there?”

This is part of a conversation I had recently with one of my clients. She is the perfect example of why there is an exploding popularity in volunteer tourism or voluntourism.

In the past, most oversea volunteer projects required weeks if not months of commitment and were generally managed through local churches or charities. 

Now, there are many options to consider if you wish to mix volunteering with your holiday travel. 

Before you commit to anything, be honest with yourself first. Are you looking to be fully immersed into the project or do you want to spend most of your time on the beach and only spend a few afternoons volunteering?

Both options are laudable, but are completely different experiences.

This style of travel, even if only for a week, is an excellent way to immerse yourself into the local culture.

You’re usually housed with a local homestay program and get to be involved with very hands-on activities. Projects vary from at-risk youth, to wildlife research programs to working with women’s rights groups.   

There are even programs in which families can partake. What an incredible opportunity to show your children just how fortunate they really are.

It is important to choose your organizations wisely. Programs that swoop in and out of communities tend to cause more harm than good. 

Creating situations where the locals become dependent on the volunteers is not a self-sustaining program and tends to create a welfare mentality. 

Look for programs that promote mutual understanding and learning, empowerment and education.  Don’t get waylaid by advertising claiming you’ll make a difference in just a couple of weeks. Be realistic in what your personal efforts can achieve. 

It’s not all about how good you feel volunteering your time. Ideally your actions are benefitting others as well.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • How long has the organization been established and been working in the community?
  • How do they measure results? Can they show measurable improvements?
  • Do the organizers speak the local language? Let’s face it, if you can’t communicate, how effective are you?
  • Sustainability. Is the program geared to being eventually self sustaining without foreign support?
  • The old saying “Give A Hand Up – Not a Hand Out” is imperative when deciding where to place your support.

International voluntourism is a growing market. In today’s world of chaos, violence and nonsensical politics, the idea of giving back and ideally making a difference is enticing.  

Spend your time and money wisely.

Here is a short list of reputable and effective volunteer organizations to research.

  • Projects Abroad: 20 years in the business with offices in both Toronto and New York City.
  • Global Volunteers: Over three decades of experience and more than 33,000 volunteers to more than 34 countries.
  • Transitions Abroad: A magazine dedicated to volunteering and working abroad.


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About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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