Ask Trip Coach: Volunteer Vacations
Lying on a beach is nice and all, but sometimes, using your downtime to make a difference is just what the doctor ordered.
Can I bring my kids along?
You could—many voluntourism groups welcome children—but the real question is, will they have fun? "Kids get bored if they have to sit in the forest for three hours and wait for some bird to show up to note it in a log," says Projects Abroad's Slowe. "So it's best to plan a trip with a lot of variety in the itinerary that keeps the kids occupied with exciting little jobs, like helping to collect eggs laid by turtles." That way, you'll get some space, too—and your family will have twice as many stories to share at dinner each night.
CAN YOU REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
You be the judge.
350,000+ Homes built and rehabbed around the world by Habitat for Humanity since its inception in 1976
500,000 Turtles protected by Projects Abroad in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru since its founding in 1992
39,000+ Students taught basic English by Projects Abroad in 2009 alone
Three insider tips from recent volunteers.
"Pack plenty of rehydration salts. They're crucial to keeping your body in balance if you're going to be out working under a hot sun." —Paul Clammer, 37, a Wiltshire, U.K.–based writer for Lonely Planet who volunteered in Haiti after the earthquake last spring with Hands On Disaster Response (hodr.org)
"Come bearing gifts. If you're going abroad, pencils and notebooks, even soccer balls, go a long way with local kids." —Joann Brancato, 54, an interior designer from New York, N.Y., who built a washroom in a Ghana village in 2009 with her husband and two kids, through Globe Aware (globeaware.org)
"Stay with a local host family. Mine lived in South Africa and endured apartheid. We had some incredible talks that made my experience so much better." —Emily Dennis, 24, of Nashville, Tenn., who volunteered at a human rights firm in South Africa in 2009 with Projects Abroad (projects-abroad.org)