Do Volunteer Vacations Do More Harm Than Good?

Volunteer vacations Dominican Republic

You’ve probably heard of a “volunteer vacation” before. And you might have wondered if they really do any good.

After all, what impact can an unskilled person have on a week or two during their holidays? What does some couple from suburban America know about community development?

While these are easy criticisms to make, the truth is a bit more complex. When done right, we believe volunteer vacations can have a lasting impact on both the traveler and the community they volunteer in.

Here’s what we mean:

Thinking in the long term

Well-run volunteer vacation programs only partner with high-quality NGOs who know how to use short-term volunteers to the fullest.

This ensures your work is useful, because it is part of a larger ongoing commitment to the community. You become a link in a chain of volunteers — even if you only stay for a week or two. Though each individual volunteer’s impact may not be remarkable, your combined efforts will be.

Picture this: You help to build a room. Which may not seem like much, but more volunteers follow, building more rooms, and eventually a school emerges. The next volunteers may teach English classes at that very school. So you’ve just helped to develop an English education program that will benefit the community over the long term.

Starting to see the light?

Travel with a volunteer program that understands grassroots development and partners with organizations doing meaningful and sustainable work — and you can feel good knowing you’re part of a longer chain of impact.

Volunteering as a form of sustainable travel

Besides the direct impact you can have at a volunteer project, there are also collateral benefits to the community. Again, responsible volunteer vacation companies operate much like sustainable travel companies — working in partnership with the local community to supply guides, lodging, food, and transportation.

For example, we have sustainable volunteer travel guidelines, which are written into our contracts with our suppliers around the world. We focus on using local, small-scale suppliers to provide meals, accommodations, and activities — instead of large hotel chains and big bus companies.

Not only does this channel money directly into the community, it provides a more authentic and intimate experience for you.

The impact of returned travelers

Though this is harder to measure than our volunteer hours and locally-spent money, we’ve had enough experience to be confident that you’ll return from a volunteer vacation feeling enlightened, energized, and fulfilled.

You’ll have a deeper understanding of the country you traveled to, which will turn you into a de facto ambassador.

When you bring this positive energy and appreciation of shared humanity back to your job, community, and family, everyone benefits.

Volunteer vacations done right

There’s no doubt: volunteer vacations get a bad rap. And sometimes they deserve it.

That being said, there are responsible travel companies (like us!) who have thought long and hard about channeling the power of tourism into a beneficial experience — both for you and the communities they work with.

If you’ve been on the fence about taking a volunteer vacation, we hope this post addressed some of your concerns. Our advice: Travel with an organization that has demonstrated a long-term presence in the community and a strong commitment to sustainable travel.

Then rest assured that your volunteer vacation is more than just good; it’s a way to travel, learn, and give back in a way that’s sustainable and fun. And that’s awesome.

What other concerns do you have about volunteer vacations?

3 responses to “Do Volunteer Vacations Do More Harm Than Good?

  1. You don’t address the issue of money spent making the trip as opposed to simply donating money to an indigenous charity working directly with the people.

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for commenting! We absolutely encourage people to donate money to local non-profits. However, the purpose of our trips is not simply to accomplish a task — it’s also to expose travelers first-hand to the challenges and successes communities experience. You’re right, if the entire purpose of the trip were to build a school, it could be done without our travelers. But we seek to accomplish more than just a specific task — by bringing people together from different cultures to work side-by-side in solidarity we hope to build bridges of understanding across borders. So, if you’re going to take a vacation, why not take one that accomplishes things on many different levels? And of course, continue to donate to grassroots non-profits doing great work all over the world.

    Andrew – Founder, Discover Corps

  3. I would like to know what volunteer trips are available the last 2 weeks of December 2015

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