The popularity of volunteer travel, or voluntourism, has increased dramatically over the past decade. Whereas before, it was rare to know anyone who had volunteered abroad outside of a religious mission trip, there are now options for nearly anyone who wants to make a difference while vacationing.
Having operated in this space throughout that time, Discover Corps has noticed one exciting trend among our travelers—that more and more families are signing up to Vacation with Purpose.
I sat down with Discover Corps Founder and Director Andrew Motiwalla to discuss this trend, and to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to volunteer abroad with children. I also asked him which Discover Corps programs are best for families, what makes voluntourism is so special for to do together, and more.
Check out our interview below:
How many Discover Corps travelers are families?
Slightly over 60% of Discover Corps travelers are families. This is a major shift in the industry over the past 15 years or so, and I love it. It makes me excited for the next generation to grow up and inherit the earth, so to speak.
What kind of families tend to be interested in this kind of travel?
We facilitate trips for a fairly diverse group of travelers, but one major trend is that our families are busy people who want a high quality, turn-key vacation. In the past, they may have vacationed at resorts with their kids, but as the kids get older they want to expose them to the real world. Discover Corps families also tend to be savvy travelers. They are looking for a vacation that is unique and off-the-beaten path. We are also seeing more and more intergenerational groups traveling with us—with grandparents booking the trip for themselves, their kids and their grandkids to experience together.
Why is voluntourism growing in popularity among families?
Quality time is a scarce commodity, and the one thing that families want more than ever is quality time together…not just watching a movie, but something more meaningful. Time is the one thing you can never get more of, and families really want to make the most of if.
Volunteer trips are a way to pass on their values to their kids, and also to educate them in an impactful way. Our travelers see volunteer vacations as the perfect way to teach their kids about the world while still having an enjoyable, safe, and memorable vacation.
Which Discover Corps trips seem to resonate most with families?
Great question. We have many family-friendly options, but there are a few trips that seem to be really exciting our traveling families.
The Sea Turtle Initiative and Family Volunteer Vacation in Costa Rica have been very popular, as well as the Family Volunteer Vacation in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. We also just launched a new program working with elephants in the southern islands of Thailand that is getting a lot of attention!
I think these trips in particular resonate with families because they focus on interaction with animals and nature. Many of us love animals, but kids just get so excited about interacting with animals in this new and unique way. They really geek out on it! And it’s a great way for them to be motivated to learn while also lending their hands to a worthy cause.
What do you think is the best age for children to volunteer abroad with their families?
I honestly think the experience is valuable at any age, but I think it’s logistically more challenging before kids are 7 or 8 years old. When you have younger children, they may not have the attention span or the capacity to understand what is going on, which might make their experience less impactful. By the time kids are in 2nd or 3rd grade, they totally get it—and they love helping out!
This is also totally dependent on the trip’s activities, along with the maturity and attention span of the child. If we’re looking at sea turtle projects, the time spent on volunteering days are only about 2 or 3 hours. Other trips are more involved. You’d want to make sure you get a good sense of the per-day time commitment of a trip before you book to make sure it’s realistic for your children.
How many of your Discover Corps trips are family-friendly? What do they cost?
We also have some trips specifically designed for families, but 75% percent of our other trips have family-friendly sessions available. We try to schedule as many family-friendly sessions during common school breaks as possible, since we know that most families travel during those periods.
In terms of cost, the average price per person is about $2,500 for an 8-day trip. That includes meals, accommodations, activities, an English-speaking guide, transportation, and a donation to the host project. Families of 4 people or more qualify for our Group Discount, which can total up to $300 per person. This results in a savings of up to $1,200 for a family of four.
On a personal note, how did you get into this niche of providing volunteer trips for families?
I served in the Peace Corps after college, and I’ve worked in sustainable travel ever since—but most travelers in this space were adults. Then, a few years ago, I took my daughters on a vacation that I thought would blow them away, and we ended up scratching a good portion of it so that they could interact with animals on the hotel grounds, play with local kids, and go swimming.
I realized that it was possible to make a trip really special for both kids and adults, so we developed these trips that appeal to everyone in the family. They’re not only special because they include meaningful volunteering, but the kids learn things they’ll never forget. It’s amazing to see their brains and hearts in action! We take care of the logistical piece for families so that they can make a difference, learn together, and have tons of fun while they’re at it. -Sara McDaniel
BIO: Sara McDaniel is a San Diego-based educator who uses her summers to explore the world, often alongside her students! In addition to writing for The Volunteer Traveler, she has directed international programming for various travel organizations. When she’s not writing or researching, she can often be found swimming in the ocean, eating all of the delicious foods she can find, and teaching in San Diego State University’s College of Education.