GuideStar Blog

Balancing Philanthropic Travel and Voluntourism with Family Time

The tourism industry represents one of the largest service industries in the world, employing 102 million people around the globe in 2013, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, and generating $2.1 trillion in economic output in the U.S., claims the U.S. Travel Association.

Within this thriving economic sector, the Center for Responsible Travel reports, a growing percentage of travelers are combining tourism with volunteer work, a practice known as "voluntourism," as well as with philanthropic travel. Although the exact number of voluntourists can only be estimated, TripAdvisor reports that 3 percent of travelers have taken a voluntourism trip and 24 percent have considered it. If you're considering combining your travels with volunteering or philanthropy, you might be wondering how you can balance your work with staying in contact with loved ones.

Taking Your Family With You

One of the most rewarding solutions is turning your charitable trip into a family activity. Parenting reports that voluntourism is becoming a popular family activity. For instance, according to GoVoluntouring founder and CEO Aaron Smith, 78 percent of his travel agency's clients are women, mostly over 35, and many of them want to bring along their families on their travels, typically including more than one child. Voluntourism gives parents a sense of being good role models, Smith says, combining this with the rewards of a family travel experience. He recommends that 7- or 8-years-old is the best minimum age for this type of trip, and the amount of volunteer hours committed per day should be taken into account. The average cost per person is $1,000 per week, including meals, accommodations and donations to the host project, but does not include transportation to the site.

Virtual Volunteering Vistas

Combining virtual technology with volunteering is another way to balance philanthropy with family commitments. Getinvolved, a site devoted to matching volunteers with opportunities, says that an increasing number of volunteers are using technology to choose a flexible location and schedule for their philanthropic ventures.

Another virtual volunteering strategy is using communications technology such as smartphones and Skype to stay connected with your family while traveling. When pursuing this option, it's essential to use reliable equipment and services, such as satellite phones. This is a great option if you are traveling to a remote area so that you are not dependent on cell towers. Also, check ahead to make sure your wireless service will be available at your travel destination.

Charity Begins at Home

You and your family don't necessarily have to travel to faraway, foreign locations to find volunteer opportunities. VolunteerMatch provides a search tool to help you identify nonprofit activities going on in your own backyard. For instance, Habitat for Humanity lets you enter any zip code in the United States to identify the nearest available volunteer opportunity with their organization. Similar location-specific networking tools are provided by religious charity organizations, such as ChristianVolunteering, the Catholic Volunteer Network, Lutheran Services in America and the Jewish Federations of North America. You can find a volunteer opportunity close enough for you to come home at night, or if you want a little time away, you might pick a spot distant enough to feel like a vacation but close enough for you to come home for the weekend.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice
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