Is Voluntourism The Right Choice For You?

In some situations, staying home can do more good

Before taking a voluntourism trip, be sure to ask these three critical questions.
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"Voluntourism" is one of the most recent trends to develop in international travel. A portmanteau of "travel" and "volunteering," voluntourism is a popular choice for those who want to help others while seeing the world. Although the premise sounds good, not all voluntourism tours are the same. While some trips can help underserved communities in developing nations, other programs can do more harm than good for their host nations.How can travelers be sure that their voluntourism is leaving actual goodwill behind?

Sometimes, the best decisions that well-meaning travelers can make is to stay home, or send support through other means. In other situations, voluntourism tours can make a world of difference to a destination. Before planning a voluntourism tour, be sure to ask these critical questions.

How are you planning your voluntourism trip?

Every year, many well-meaning volunteers begin making plans to visit impoverished parts of the world, with the intention of providing relief and helping others live a better life. Many of these tours are arranged through relief organizations, churches, or other licensed tour operators. In most of these situations, guides with years of experience will help travelers navigate the difficult processes that come with a voluntourism trip, including arranging for visas, dealing with language barriers, and working around cultural norms.

However, some for-profit organizations are not as immersed in the altruistic nature of voluntourism.

Instead of truly offering a program that assist communities around the world, some travel experts warn they may instead put a service project in the middle of a vacation package. Without the proper planning, these type of tours can either get in the way of actual relief workers, or create a high level of risk for the volunteers.

Finally, some travelers attempt to plan their own voluntourism trips to places that have been affected by major events. Although well-meaning, planning a voluntourism trip alone can be dangerous, especially to dangerous parts of the world. Before putting a deposit down or making travel plans, smart travelers look up the potential risks of their destinations in order to make an educated decision. 

Can your Voluntourism do more harm than help?

Just like planning a voluntourism trip can come with hazards, the destination travelers choose can be equally as dangerous. Some parts of the world target tourists as potential victims, putting those who plan on helping at a significant risk of harm. As a result, what is supposed to be a life-affirming experience could quickly turn into a life-threatening experience at the blink of an eye.

In addition, there are some destinations that are not entirely suitable for a voluntourism trip. For example, immediately after the earthquakes in Nepal, many travelers offered assistance in helping the nation rebuild. However, the biggest manpower need after the earthquake was for skilled search and rescue professionals. Those without the proper training could potentially do more harm than good.

In these situations, it may be better to send a donation to a qualified relief organization instead.

When should I cancel my Voluntourism trip?

Travelers often plan their voluntourism trips months in advance, with a set itinerary and project to complete. Considering that many of these projects take place in developing nations, tragedy can often strike when we least expect it. Whether it is a natural disaster or outbreak of terrorism, a voluntourism trip can turn for the worse before travelers first leave home.

In these situations, it is up to the traveler to determine when they feel it is necessary to cancel their voluntourism trip. In events of natural disaster, disease outbreak, or violence, canceling a trip is recommended. Those who purchased travel insurance ahead of their trip may be able to recover some of their cancellation costs from their policy, depending on the coverage level.

For those concerned about canceling their trip for a reason not normally covered, it may be advisable to purchase a "cancel for any reason" travel insurance policy.

While voluntourism can be an excellent way to help others around the world, it also comes with it's own set of risks. In some situations, it may be better to offer money towards relief efforts instead of taking a voluntourism trip. By evaluating a potential voluntourism trip, travelers can make sure they are doing true good as they travel.