Volunteer vacations are often short-term service vacations where the travelers live and work with people who are in a position of needing help from the global community. That help may be due to natural disasters, famine, poverty, disease and more. Volunteers usually try to match their skills and abilities with the opportunities available.
Although a few service projects pay a stipend to volunteers, in most cases the volunteer funds the entirety of their own costs (sometimes through fund-raisers back home). Volunteer vacations do not include luxury accommodations, but the organization often provides extensive pre-trip information, introduces you to the team, and helps you deal with local officials (when necessary). Volunteers are expected to do the work presented to them and often prepare their own meals, clean up, and care for the facilities where they are staying. Information about how volunteer vacations work can be reviewed at Volunteer Guide.
Different volunteer organizations offer varying opportunities, but some of the things volunteers can do include:
- Repairing and painting buildings
- Teaching children
- Rebuilding destroyed homes, churches, and schools
- Caring for at-risk or abandoned children
- Providing medical and/or dental care
- Protecting animals
- even repairing and restoring hiking trails in America
Risks to Volunteers
People of all ages – teens, families, retirees – take volunteer vacations for a variety of personal reasons, but travel to locations that are hard-hit by hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters poses a risk for the volunteers.
It’s important to understand that many volunteering organizations have travel insurance for their volunteers, but many do not.
Take a look at our missionary/volunteer travel health insurance information to understand the risks, what coverage you need, and where to get it. Even if your volunteer organization provides some coverage, you may want to have your own (just in case).
Either way, as an informed traveler, even if the volunteer organization does include travel insurance with their service, it’s important to check the policy and verify that it will protect you. After all, you’re no help to those you’ve come to help if you are injured or very ill.
Matching Volunteers to Opportunities
Some websites that match volunteers with different activities are the following (but be sure to do your own research into which volunteer organization is right for you):
- Global Volunteers
- International Volunteer Programs Association
- Volunteer Abroad Opportunities
You can also read this 2010 article on how to find the right volunteer vacation.