This is a guest blog post from Reed Sandridge. Sandridge lost his job in 2009 and did the unthinkable - he started giving away $10 a day to complete strangers! He captured the story of every recipient at www.yearofgiving.org. A frequent writer and speaker on volunteering and micro-philanthropy, Sandridge lives in our nation's capital.
As we settle into the heart of the summer, many people are getting ready to embark on vacation. It's a time to relax and leave our daily routines behind us. But what if you had the opportunity to spend part or all of your vacation volunteering - would you do it?
Well, according to a 2008 study by the University of California San Diego, 45 percent of Americans have considered a volunteer vacation. "More and more people in all stages of life are thinking of becoming 'voluntourists,' " says Bob Benson, director of the Center for Global Volunteer Service at UC San Diego Extension, the sponsor of the study. "People are looking to spend their vacations and retirement in meaningful ways that make contributions to others."
According to the study, which surveyed more than 1,400 U.S. adults specifically about global volunteering, Americans older than 65 showed the greatest interest in longer-term service commitments lasting multiple weeks or even months. Although the over-65 age bracket was the most willing to commit to doing a little good while traveling, they tended to stay stateside, whereas Generation Y (age 18-24) respondents preferred going overseas.
While some people might rightfully question the relaxation involved in volunteering during their vacation, it all depends on the activity that you choose to do. There is a big difference in helping to rebuild low-income houses and helping others learn to read. Whatever the case may be, most people who have done some volunteering on their vacation say that it is extremely rewarding.
Two years ago, Kim Perry of Washington, D.C., went with some friends to New Orleans to help rebuild houses that were casualties of Hurricane Katrina. "We worked through the St. Bernard Project," she explained. "We got to meet the family, too. It's incredible. They were so grateful to us and the St. Bernard Project, not just for helping them rebuild their home, but for helping them to rebuild their community." She had a very positive experience and recommends the St. Bernard Project highly. "You are not there to save them, but you are there to work alongside them and help them," she added.
I asked followers of my blog to share experiences about "voluntourism." Cathy L. told me about Pueblo Ingles. It's not exactly the most altruistic of volunteer experiences, but it does sound interesting. She spent a week in Spain and spoke English to locals who wanted to improve their command of the English language. "In exchange for me speaking English to Spaniards," she wrote on my Facebook Page, "I was given room and board for a week." Not a bad deal!
If you think that this type of experience might be right for you and want to explore the possibility further, I suggest checking out a few websites that focus on voluntourism:
My curiosity got the best of me, and I started doing some searching to see exactly what types of voluntourism experiences I could find. Check out these amazing opportunities:
- Spot whales off the coast of Oregon
- Help impoverished children in Nepal, India, Vietnam and Guatemala get proper dental care
- Give an hour, a day or more taking care of the Appalachian Trail
- Lend a hand to the Sierra Club for a week to restore habitat in Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Help chimpanzees that were once used for biomedical research, in the entertainment industry, or as exotic pets at Chimp Haven in Louisiana
- Spend a week in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe or Latin America with Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteering in teaching, health care or community development areas
- Tag endangered sea turtles on Pacific beaches or measure snowpack density on the frontlines of climate change with Earth Watch
And if money is no object, check out Hands Up Holidays, a luxury travel company that provides not only an amazing vacation, but prides itself in creating a remarkable experience that combines expertly led sightseeing with meaningful community development through volunteering or philanthropy.
You can also potentially save money on airfare if your travels include service work. Take a look at Fly for Good - they offer discount rates on several airlines and routes for individuals who work, volunteer, or are an immediate family member of an employee of a registered nonprofit organization that's involved in humanitarian work.
There is indeed a volunteer vacation for every persuasion. It is a great way to spend some of your time. Not only will you find it enjoyable and rewarding, but you will open your mind to new experiences and touch the lives of others who are in need. Bon voyage!
Miss a post by Sandridge?
Post 8: Are you a Philanthropist? Maybe
Post 11: A World Without Volunteers