How to Plan a Volunteer Vacation

So, you’re thinking about taking a Volunteer Vacation. How exciting! But where do you start?

Planning a volunteer vacation can seem like a lot of work if you aren’t familiar with the process. But we’re here to ensure that, with the right guidance and a desire to make it happen, the planning process will be much easier than you think.

We’ve outlined the steps that you need to plan a volunteer vacation that’s just right for you. And if you have any further questions, feel free to contact us via the comments below or email at!

volunteer with elephants

Step 1: Decide if a volunteer vacation is right for you.

We’d love to say that EVERYONE should participate in a volunteer vacation. Instead, we’ll play it safe and say that almost everybody should give a try at least once in their lives.

In our experience, most people love the experience of helping others and seeing the world at the same time. But it’s important to acknowledge that volunteer vacations are not for everyone.

A volunteer vacation is not like a luxury cruise line or serene spa retreat. The best ones involve some hard work and an open mind. If your idea of a vacation is being pampered 24/7 or sitting on a beach drinking piña coladas, this might not be the best type of trip for you.

On the other hand, if you’re excited by the prospect of experiencing new things, getting your hands dirty, meeting new people, and diving into the culture of a new and exciting place, then this type of trip may be right up your alley.



Step 2: Explore the possible destinations and experiences.

When travel doesn’t involve a volunteer element, you’ll often pick your destination before anything else. But when it comes to volunteer vacations, the type of experience you sign up for is just as important as the place you’ll travel to.

Some volunteer activities will involve more physical labor than others. Some will involve working with children, while others will involve working with animals. In short, there are many different types of volunteer experiences travelers can choose from.

It’s important that the work you do should excite you and inspire you. You should learn new things, and do things that you enjoy. What type of volunteer work will have you thrilled to wake up each morning you’re there?

You should ultimately explore a variety of possibly experiences and destinations before deciding on one. Do some research, and you might just find a place or a volunteer experience that you had never even considered before!



Step 3: Determine your budget.

It’s also important to know exactly how much money you can afford to spend on your trip before you sign up for anything.

While you might find a great bargain on a tour, there are a few questions you should ask. Will you also have to purchase a flight? How much will it cost to get there? Will you have to pay for a Visa on arrival, or departure tax upon leaving?

Stressing out about money is no way to spend your volunteer vacation. So establish a budget early on, and leave yourself some cushion for unexpected expenses. (There are ALWAYS unexpected expenses when it comes to any kind of travel.)

Once you’ve established your budget, you’ll have a better idea of how long you can spend volunteering, how far you can go, and how much you can spend once you get there.



Step 4: Talk to other volunteers.

Once you have a destination, an experience, and a budget in mind, previous volunteers will become the best resource for your research. Talk to people who have done what you want to do and gather the information that will help you make the most of your experience.

Do they recommend the specific tour operator they used?

Was the volunteer work what they expected?

What kind of housing was provided?

How much money did they spend?

It’s great if you have a personal friend to ask these questions of, but that won’t always be the case. Some tour operators will offer testimonials on their websites. Others are willing to put you directly in contact with previous volunteers.

Travel blogs are another great resource for honest accounts of volunteer vacations. Bloggers are often candid and responsive when it comes to informing their readers. If you find a post about a particular volunteer experience, ask questions in the comments section or connect with the blogger on Twitter.


Tour Operator Associations

Step 5: Select a tour operator.

Now that you have an idea of what you want to do and where you want to do it, it’s time to select a tour operator.

Selecting an organization to take your volunteer vacation with is a crucial decision. You want to be confident that they’re able to provide you with the information and support that you need to get the most out of this experience. You also want to know that the values of the organization you work with align with your own.

Here at Discover Corps, we value ecotourism and sustainable travel. We ensure the sustainability of our trips by contributing money directly to community-based groups where we operate. We also pay our staff fair wages and focus on honoring the culture of each place through our flexible itineraries.

Once you’ve selected a tour operator, it’s time to sign-up for your volunteer vacation!



Step 6: Book any travel that’s not included.

Most volunteer packages do not include transportation to the origin location. So you’ll likely need to book your own flight in order to get there prior to the start of your volunteer experience.

It’s a good idea to give yourself a day or two, when possible, to enjoy and explore the location before your program starts. This will give you an opportunity to become accustomed to this new environment and you’ll be more relaxed and ready to dive into your volunteer activities.

Be sure to also book accommodation for any nights that are not covered by your volunteer vacation itinerary. Some travelers may wish to book a hotel or resort once they’ve arrived, to save money and have a better idea of their options in person.

But having a reservation for at least your first night is always a good idea. You don’t want to be searching for lodging in an unfamiliar place after a long flight!

passport stamps

Step 7: Get your Vaccinations and Paperwork in order. 

Depending on where you’re traveling, you might need to get some vaccinations before you go. Some of these will be required, and some will be at your discretion. Speak to a doctor or a qualified health care professional for advice on which vaccines you should receive.

If you’re based in the U.S., Passport Health is a convenient and trusted organization for all of your vaccine requirements. Just tell them where you’re going and you’ll receive comprehensive information on vaccines and any other health-related issues that you should be aware of while traveling.

As for paperwork, it’s a good idea to print out all of your travel confirmations, receipts, and anything else that you might otherwise access online. You never know what the wifi situation will be like once you hit the road, so have your hard copies in hand.

Important paperwork to print out includes copies of your passport and visas, copies of alternative photo I.D.’s, maps of the area, especially one that will help you find lodging when you first arrive, and confirmation receipts for all of the travel that you’ve booked for this trip.


Step 8: Brace yourself for a great volunteer vacation!

Your plans are made and your trip is booked… now it’s time to get excited! Sometimes the planning and anticipation of a trip can be almost as exciting as the trip itself, so enjoy this time leading up to your volunteer vacation.

You can also use this time to educate yourself about the places you’ll be visiting by reading books, watching movies, and listening to music that come from those destinations.

Learning about the culture of a place before you visit can really enhance the experience of your trip, so dive in and enjoy all there is to learn, and all there is to look forward to.

Your volunteer vacation will be a life-changing experience, and we wish you the best of luck, wherever that experience takes you. –Britany Robinson


Discover Corps Volunteer Vacations Footer


BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, Green Global Travel, and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes. 

One response to “How to Plan a Volunteer Vacation

  1. I totally commend the writer for this excellent blog. I learned a lot about how to set up a vacation like this.

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