Traveling for fun is great. But, what if your travels in a private jet were fun and made a positive impact on the world? Volunteer tourism has grown dramatically since the 1990s and several companies are making it simpler than ever to share your time, resources and talents. Going on a volunteer vacation isn’t only wonderful for those you help, it also helps you develop a deeper cultural sensitivity to issues that those in other parts of the world face. This Thanksgiving, express your gratitude by giving back.
Know Before You Go
Before you start planning your Thanksgiving volunteer vacation, it’s important to find the right program. The best cater to your interests and allow you to contribute in ways that are the most helpful and sustainable. To help you narrow down your choices, consider:
- Need: Some destinations have a greater need for volunteers than others.
- Your skills and interests: Think about your skills, talents, and interests. If you speak another language, for example, a vacation in a far-flung country may allow you to use your talents and language skills. If you like to build, there might be a remote school looking for an extra hand. Finding a project that aligns with what you like and do best will make the experience more meaningful for you and those you serve.
- Curiosity: What parts of the world spark your interests? While volunteering is supposed to be selfless, there’s nothing wrong with flying to a destination on your bucket list.
- Ethics: It’s best to volunteer because you want to help. If you’re looking for a photo-op with orphans or impoverished communities, for instance, you might not build cultural connections or make a positive impact. Thinking critically about where you want to volunteer will make the experience more fulfilling for all involved.
Volunteer Vacation Ideas
Help Animals: U.S., South Africa, Costa Rica
If you want to stay closer to home this Thanksgiving, consider volunteering at a large animal shelter. The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, is the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the country. It is home to a number of dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, pigs, parrots, and wildlife that need rehabilitation.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, check out the programs offered by GoEco or GoVolunteering. GoEco’s most-booked trip puts you to work at the Tiger, Lion, and Wildlife Park in South Africa. Here, you’ll help prepare meals, feed cubs, take cubs for walks, and document the animals’ behaviors. GoVoluneering’s most popular trip is its Sea Turtle Conservation Project in Costa Rica. During the holiday, you get to patrol beaches, care for turtles, relocate nests and collect eggs. GoVolunteering programs in other countries allow you to work with animals, such as gorillas, lions, sharks or chimps.
Help Communities: Around the World
Global Volunteers arranges trips to destinations on opposite side of the Earth and those closer to home. The organization has a need for those who can provide childcare, nutrition assistance and education, labor assistance, classroom tutoring, basic health care services, and health education. Global Volunteers has programs throughout the Americas, as well as Asia, Europe, Africa and India. Teach English in Portugal before sunbathing on a beautiful beach. Or, head to Tanzania to show teachers and students to use computers. The organization offers a variety of programs, so there’s something to suit every skill.
Get Cultured: Europe
In addition to helping animals, GoVolunteering offers cultural experiences that teach you about a destination’s traditions and history while allowing you to give back. Go to southern Italy to restore centuries-old frescos and paintings, tour historical sites, and make your own artwork. Conversation programs in countries like France, Belgium, Germany, Spain and other countries allow you to immerse yourself as you learn a foreign language. You give back by helping your host family improve their English skills.
Other programs with volunteer tourism include:
- Sierra Club (conservation)
- Solmar Foundation (help children, youth, and the elderly)
- Give Kids the World Village (Volunteer at a Florida theme park design just for kids with serious diseases)
- Global Citizen Network (focuses on cross-cultural experiences and helping communities)
- Youth Rebuilding (support youth building homes for their families)
- The Nature Corps (conservation)
- Globe Aware (cross-cultural experiences and community support in Costa Rica and other locations)
- Reading Road Trip (promote literacy throughout the Caribbean while staying at a Sandals Resort)