If you’re planning a unique, off-the-beaten-path vacation that’s also entertaining and age-appropriate for children, a volunteer vacation could be just what you’re looking for. This niche form of travel is a fun and interactive way to expose kids to diverse cultures and customs, while teaching them about the significance of helping others.
From bringing medical and educational resources into rural communities to protecting native wildlife from environmental impacts, the whole family can benefit from this immersive and rewarding experience. Before jetting off, keep these five criteria in mind to ensure that your volunteer vacation is unforgettable for everyone.
Research the Culture Beforehand
Once you choose a destination, it’s fun to research the region as a family. Learn about the various cultural, linguistic, social and ritualistic nuances you’ll encounter during the trip, along with travel options, and any specific regulations or customs unique to that culture.
“It can be difficult to make an impact if you have no social and historical context about where you are going to help. All too often, ‘voluntourists’ make the mistake of going into a project with little cultural education and background. By knowing the situation on the ground, you can better assess where you can make an impact,” adds professional travel writer Suzy Guese. Make sure your family is equipped to understand and respect these different lifestyles and world views.
Align Your Trip With Skills and Interests
Does your family love a good renovation project? Then consider building houses or digging wells in a Central American village. Are you passionate about literacy and education? Then look into teaching at-risk youth in the inner cities of Southeast Asia. Do your children love animals? Conserve kangaroo habitats in the Australian outback.
When deciding which volunteer mission to undertake, find something that everyone feels confident in doing and that aligns with your family’s interests and expertise because, after all, it is a vacation.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Volunteering within your wheelhouse doesn’t mean that you should avoid new opportunities and adventures altogether. Use free time to discover local activities the area is known for. For instance, if you’re in Africa, embark on a wildlife safari, or if you visit a coastal region, take a deep-sea fishing excursion; an exciting and enjoyable trip for anglers of all ages. Trust us – watching the look on your children’s faces when they see their mom zip-lining is worth the nerves you’ll be keeping on the inside until you’re down the mountain.
Decide How Much Time to Give
Depending on the ages of your children, be realistic about how much time you can spend volunteering. If you want to include sightseeing in your itinerary, for example, decide in advance how to split the vacation between leisure and service. There are numerous options for how long you can volunteer, ranging from a portion of the trip to the whole vacation.
The first is an ideal starting point “since it allows you to see how your kids do before planning an entire trip around giving back,” suggests Colleen Kelly, creator of the PBS series Family Travel with Colleen Kelly.
Bring Only the Essentials
You may not be staying in a spacious hotel room where you can stash large suitcases filled with the comforts of home. As such, be strategic when packing. Only take the essential gear your family will need and consider factors such as the season and climate of the location, along with the work you’ll be doing.
For most trips, you’ll likely want to pack versatile clothing options for layering, comfortable and durable hiking boots, a journal or camera to document the experience, basic toiletries, sunglasses and sunscreen, a refillable water bottle, necessary medications, and an umbrella or rain jacket, all of which are essential items that we recommend at Discover Corps.
Volunteering abroad can instill a passion for traveling and a heart for social consciousness in your kids. Whether you’re working to fortify the infrastructure of towns or helping the caretakers of endangered elephants, a volunteer vacation is sure to create memories the entire family will never forget.
Discover Corps has three distinct product lines: Nature & Wildlife Adventures, Volunteer Vacations, and Cultural Explorations. Below are just a few of the Volunteer trips offered from Discover Corps:
- Belize: Wildlife Volunteer Adventure
- Costa Rica: Family Volunteer Vacation
- Cuba: Building Bridges
- Dominican Republic: Global Health Initiative
- Galapagos: Family Volunteer Adventure
- Peru: Children of the Andes
- South Africa: Wildlife Volunteer Adventure
- Tanzania: Safari & Service
Have you ever experienced a volunteer vacation with your family? Let us know more about your experience and what made it special in the comment section below!