Family Voluntourism for Vacations - 2
Family Voluntourism Strengthens Bonds and Local Communities
Give back to local communities by participating in voluntouring projects on your next family vacation.
While niche family voluntourists are leaning towards full-on volunteer vacations on one end of the spectrum, other families are attracted to what McCarthy calls “soft volunteer” options: short half-day or one-day projects offered at an increasing number of international chain hotels, resorts and cruise lines. In March 2008, Ritz Carlton initiated its Give Back Getaway program, in half-day voluntour projects ranging from Blue Iguana recovery in Grand Cayman to Sea Turtle egg preservation in Cancun.
Cruise lines are incorporating volunteer opportunities to their ‘on-shore’ components. And the Sandals family-brand resort, Beaches, branched out into the local community, by bringing its widely popular “Sesame Street Caribbean Adventure” children’s program to local Jamaican school kids.
Choosing Your Trip
If family voluntourism has at least piqued your curiosity, there is a somewhat-daunting array of options to choose from. So where to begin? And how can you be sure that you’re selecting a legitimate organization?
Volunteer abroad scams do exist. Cummings recalls hearing horror stories of gap year students who put down money for a program, flew to the host country and there was no airport pick-up—and no program at all.
As with any vacation, a successful voluntouring trip—especially with children—requires careful planning. While she believes the vast majority of programs out there are legitimate, Cummings says “do your due diligence.” Ask questions:
- Where is your money going?
- What do program costs cover (such as medical insurance)?
- What safety services are provided?
- What child-specific services are offered?
Legitimate groups should be able to answer your questions. Sarah McCall says that Globe Aware also links interested voluntourists with past participants who can share their personal experiences.
Other advice: Tap into your network base, says Cummings. Most of her family’s volunteer stints were found through referral from a friend of a friend. She also suggests volunteering with religious charity organizations, regardless of your religious or non-religious affiliations; after all, she says, isn’t celebrating cultural differences the whole point of the trip?
David Clemmons’ invaluable Web site, VolunTourism.org, is a veritable Voluntourist’s Bible, full of resources, articles, suggestions, planning guides, partner voluntour groups and more. The Web site says that fees per person can average $2,000 for voluntour programs including airfare, taxes and insurance. Globe Aware trip costs range from $1,090 to $1,390 per person, per week and covers meals, accommodation, medical evacuation and insurance, travel in-country other program services.
But if you network, plan and research well, you can find even better deals. Cummings’ family-stay at the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand cost a mere $1,200 for one week—for the entire family.
Sharing Time With Family
At the end of the day, voluntourism offers families a unique adventure, time for bonding and an opportunity to learn about the world.
“There is something very, very special about working with your kids,” Cummings says, recalling getting to know her children better while planting elephant grass or building fence. “You’ve got nothing else to do but talk.”