Volunteer vacations are becoming more popular as people realize that — now more than ever — we live in an interconnected world. And it’s clear we can learn from each other culturally and create lasting relationships through volunteering abroad.
But how sustainable are volunteer vacations? Do these types of trips help the planet — or hurt it?
When done the right way, we believe volunteer vacations are one of the best forms of sustainable travel. In fact, the World Commission on Environment and Development states that “preserving peace, reviving growth and satisfying human needs” are critical to a country’s progression.
Which is just what we’re doing. Here’s how volunteer vacations are sustainable:
Volunteering enhances environmental sustainability
Local communities drive volunteer projects. Whether you’re there to build a school or assist a village with a water well initiative — volunteering a short amount of time is a meaningful way to help one of these communities achieve their goals.
Responsible volunteer vacation companies ensure that volunteers take part in long-term projects with significant impact. And always, these projects are created with the environment in mind — which makes volunteer travelers vital to local conservation efforts.
Volunteering preserves social communities
Any legitimate volunteer project’s intent is to never overtly influence or negatively impact the local culture.
Part of this respect for a country’s cultural heritage is to learn about customs, which are sometimes taught through educational workshops or exposure to the rhythms of daily life.
For the local population, sharing traditions and skills strengthens pride in themselves, while travelers enjoy spontaneous experiences not found in mass-marketed packages.
Economics are fair when you volunteer
A common scenario in the travel industry is of a faceless resort that may provide employment — but along with it, low wages and hours. Typically, these operations rarely feed positive change back into the areas they occupy, because profits are filtered into the resort owner’s pockets and not towards local communities.
Responsible volunteer vacation companies ensure money is distributed to the local community — so it has a direct impact on the well-being and grassroots economics of the residents.
In addition, tours might be offered by small-scale suppliers, such as an artisan cooperative selling locally-produced goods and holding seminars on historical methods of production. Accommodations are provided by local business owners, instead of conglomerate hotel chains. Food is cooked and sourced locally, according to local customs; no KFC here!
Your carbon footprint is reduced
By the sheer nature of volunteering, your environmental footprint is greatly minimized.
Volunteer vacations generally take place in remote villages where you must ride local transportation, or more often, walk or bike to get where you’re going.
And because the focus is on connection and support, your consumption of material goods plummets. If and when you do purchase items — more often than not — you’re buying local products and services.
When practiced with proper guidelines, it’s clear that volunteer vacations are a sustainable form of travel. And though they may have a minimal impact on the environment, they leave a lasting impression on the people.
What are your other favorite ways to travel sustainably?