Is Voluntourism Bad? This Kind Is…

Are you pondering that overseas volunteer vacation with excitement? Who can blame you? We sure can’t!

Once you start checking out voluntourism companies, it can be tempting to choose one with a packed itinerary that has you hopping from one point to another. Though traditional travel is about seeing as much as you can, you should be wary of this trend in volunteering.

We call this type of voluntourism “drive-by volunteering” — and what often happens is you only touch upon the surface of development and service, when you could be digging deeper.

This is the kind of voluntourism that makes people question our industry; it is the kind of altruism people only partake in to polish a resume or share on social media.

If you’re in search of a truly meaningful volunteer experience, here are four reasons why you should avoid drive-by volunteering:

 1. You’ll only skim the surface

Volunteering the right way means understanding a community: their needs, wants, and challenges.

Spending quick spurts in different locations won’t allow you to see what’s truly happening behind-the-scenes. Some tour operators may even gloss over important local issues — instead of letting you fully explore and learn about them.

At Discover Corps, we focus on traveling deep, not wide; we focus on taking the time to understand a place and its people.

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 2. You won’t develop friendships

Committing to a deeper itinerary doesn’t mean you’re cutting yourself off from experiences —  it’s actually the opposite! A rushed volunteer trip with many locations doesn’t allow you to get to know people.

But as a volunteer traveler, you crave human connection. You’ll get this by staying in one area. Exposing yourself to the same people and routines every day does something magical: it helps you form cross-cultural friendships.

Whether you’re sharing stories at a communal table, or working side-by-side to build a bottle clinic, you’ll discover culture and meaning through these special bonds.

3. You won’t contribute as much to the community

The more you hop from place-to-place, the more money your tour company is spending on transportation, staff, and logistical needs. Which, simply put, means that less of your money is going where it counts: into the community.

By staying in one place and utilizing our cozy home bases, we ensure that the majority of your money goes directly into the community you’re helping. We prefer to pay local cooks and donate to grassroots projects, rather than support private transportation companies and chain hotels; this is how we keep our volunteer vacations sustainable.

4. You’ll have less long-term impact

As we mentioned before, a quick stay in a location means you won’t be able to understand the community or develop friendships. But more importantly, it also won’t have as deep of an impact on the people you’re serving.

Development is not a fast turnaround, and progress takes time. You may spend an entire morning meting out an English language lesson, or building a single wall of a health center — but your small efforts are part of  a long chain of volunteer hours that will resonate for years.

On a personal level, offering your skills and energies to one project will also have a deeper impact on you — perhaps altering your outlook permanently.

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We’ve made it our focus to build long-term relationships in the communities we visit, ensuring that your volunteer vacation leads to long-term impact.

Even though a volunteer vacation with a full travel itinerary may sound fun, make sure you ask questions before handing over your money and time. You’re going on a volunteer vacation to make a difference — not get some token photos for your Facebook profile.

Do you prefer to travel deep or wide? Let us know in the comments!

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