"Voluntourism" - Making the Most of Travel

by shutton / Apr 13, 2010 / 0 comments

"Voluntourism" is a relatively new term, but it describes an idea which can bring about the best traveling experiences. Voluntourism is exactly what its name implies - combining volunteering and tourism. It can be a great experience for anyone trying to travel on a budget, or anyone who wants to see a different side of a city or country.

In my opinion, there are varying degrees of voluntourism. For anyone who read my blog post about bridging language gaps, I consider my trips to Khayelitsha in South Africa and the Terre de Paix school in Mauritius to be voluntourism on some level. I paid a small fee of around $30 for these trips. A small portion of that cost went to the bus company but most of it was a donation to wherever we were visiting. Since I took these trips with a group, the donations could really add up for such poor areas. We would spend the day with children, learning about towns from actual residents. There was nothing fancy or "touristy" about these trips and while they technically don't really count as "volunteering" either, I got something completely different out of them than I did touring major cities or seeing famous sights. There are many companies that will offer these types of trips to visotors.

For more intense voluntourism opportunities abroad, all you have to do is google voluntourism. One organization gaining populatrity is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF. People participating in this organization volunteer on a farm for a few days in exchange for food, accomodations, and a chance to see a very unique side of a country. Many people who travel abroad only see major cities or famous areas, whether because those are the places we hear about most or because it can be hard to find lodging in more rural locations. Through WWOOF, people get a much more personal experience than they would get staying at a hotel or hostel while also seeing a part of a country they may never have visited otherwise. My friend Rachael, who is studying in Israel, participated in WWOOF a couple of months ago. Rachael says, "Overall, my experience on Moshav Idan was nothing like I have ever done before and I think that is what made it so special. It was completely out of element to head down to the Desert to volunteer at an organic farm. It gave me an opportunity to really see another side of life in Israel and the experience was necessary to understand the country a bit more." Her blog post details her WWOOF experience. 

Voluntourism opportunities don't just exist abroad; there are plenty of opportunities in the United States as well, we just have to look for them. Earlier this year, the Disney parks sponsored the "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" program. They wanted one million participants to spend a day volunteering in exchange for a free ticket to one of the Disney parks. This past February, I spent a few hours volunteering at Philabundance, a food bank in Philadelphia. Three of my friends made blankets for Project Linus. The four of us flew to California and surprised our friend (who had a season pass to Disneyland) so we all got to spend a day at Disneyland for free.

The Give a Day program has ended; Disney already got one million participants. But, this is just an example of one of the many opportunities that exist here in our own country. 

Combining volunteering and traveling is rewarding on a number of levels. For one thing, it is usually the cheapest way to travel, and it is always nice to know you saved a little money. For another thing, it is great to be able to combine one passion (traveling) with other passions you may have. When it comes down to it, volunteering can just make us feel good about ourselves. But ultimately, voluntourism can be the best way to truly learn about a place, whether it is a local city or a faraway country. And really, learning as much as we can about a place should be the goal of traveling.



S Hutton is the Student Travels Editor for Wandering Educators