From alternative spring breaks to voluntourism, the terminology has been around for some time but perhaps it’s just surfacing for you. What is travel that gives back and how should you approach it?
First, we recommend deciding if you want to take a vacation first or give back first. Neither is ‘right’ or ‘better’, but by initially deciding if giving back is the lead priority or the add-on of a trip, it will help you decide which is the best fit trip for you.
Customized philanthropic travel allows you to plan a trip that has a charitable purpose but may or may not take over the entire trip. Alternative Spring Breaks (ASB) are targeted at high school or college students looking for something more meaningful than a traditional party filled spring break. They often consist of an organized volunteer trip for a week or two. Voluntourism is another term that is generally an expanded version of an ASB, which is open to individuals of any age. Lastly, sustainable tourism is the idea that our travel should leave a positive impact on the local community, economy, and sustainability practices.
Regardless of which type of giving back travel you’re considering, keep in mind that you should only work with groups that are well established, well reviewed, and come through reliable referrals. Eager and well wishing westerners can be easily misled into inadvertently funding scams that do little to help the local community, and instead perpetuate cycles of abuse. One good resource can be your alma mater. Many schools offer specialized group trips that can sometimes include a philanthropic component.
Similarly, you should expect to pay. While you’ll be working with populations that will benefit from your presence (or even sweat, effort, etc.), bear in mind that you’ll be benefiting a great deal as well. In order for an organization to welcome visitors, particularly foreign ones who may have higher expectations around accommodations standards, it can be costly, time consuming, and take away from other activities. You’ll be learning more than anything and you should look at the trip, and any additional costs, in that light.
Lastly, we strongly advise against engaging in this type of travel in an area that has recently been impacted by significant disasters, either man made or natural. It is not the ideal location or time for a learning trip if this is the reality of the location. For more information on how to effectively help after disasters, take a look at our blog post on this topic here.
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