Love the idea of raising your children to care about the world and give back to others? There’s no reason you can’t bring your values with you when you go on vacation. More and more families are taking trips that are both fun and meaningful by tapping into the voluntourism trend. These enriched itineraries include opportunities to make a genuine difference in your destination and are a great way to show kids that it’s possible to see the world while also making a difference through volunteer programs.
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Since I launched Global Family Travels in 2010, my mission has been to create kid-friendly trips that are truly meaningful, encouraging travelers of all ages to become both stewards of the environment and citizens of the world. Families can think of our trips as a two-fer: You get to take a transformative bucket-list vacation to an exotic land and, along the way, you’ll help teach your kids life lessons about responsibility, compassion, sustainable development and cultural awareness.
Like any buzzword, the term “voluntourism” has become overused. I prefer the phrase “meaningful community-based travel” and strive to build thoughtfully-planned itineraries that include voluntourism opportunities that do good work while also making strong cross-cultural connections.
Here are six steps to planning a bucket-list volunteer tourism experience that makes a real impact in the world:
Choose a Fabulous Destination
If your dual goals are to discover the world as a family and also make a positive impact along the way, you’re in luck. Every continent and corner of the world offers wonderful opportunities for travelers to make a positive impact when they visit through volunteer programs run at the local community level.
We travel to far-flung places around the world, from China to South Africa and from India to the Galapagos. Many developing countries face economic development challenges that impactful voluntourism experiences can help alleviate.
Pick Your Passion
The secret to choosing the perfect volunteer travel experience is aligning your values with a cause that is meaningful to you and your kids. Opportunities to do volunteer work might include helping vulnerable children get an education, lending a hand with a community project, or helping to conserve an endangered animal species. Wherever your interests and priorities lead, there is a fantastic trip during which your family can be of service.
Our far-flung trips take families around the world and offer a variety of meaningful experiences to support several non-profit partners, from educating children in beautiful Ladakh, India and supporting a basketball program for at-risk youths in Kenya to enhancing the quality of life for special-needs children in Peru and much, much more. Want to stick closer to home? We even have a new Alaska itinerary that gives families an opportunity to help make a difference in the low literacy rate in interior Alaska.
Consider Your Children’s Ages
While there’s no “right age” for kids to start caring about the planet and people, American families generally get the most out of our trips when kids are in elementary school or older. For example, we generally advise that African safari experiences are best for children 6 and up. Kids of all ages tend to be passionate about wildlife, but we find that young people who have entered elementary school or above are best able to handle the demands of travel and the heat, and able to fully appreciate going on a game drive or walk. Kids this age also tend to be wonderfully empathetic and enjoy helping others, so a voluntourism program geared to all ages can turn out to be a highlight of the entire trip.
The same principle applies to trips to other destinations around the world. Ideally, children will be old enough to fully enjoy the experience, shaping them as better global citizens.
Look for volunteer tourism opportunities that emphasize authentic cultural immersion experiences, since they will give your family a true, local taste of a destination. Our trips are designed so that you still visit the destination’s most iconic sights – plus you get to meet local people, have the privilege to engage in real conversations and discover a local community’s challenges and triumphs.
Many of our immersive trips include some home stay accommodations, which let your family spend a night or two in a local family’s home and share time and meals together. Some of my fondest memories are of my kids playing with the children of a host family, effortlessly proving how breaking down language and cultural barriers can be as easy as a game of tag or soccer.
At Global Family Travels, we believe that responsible and respectful travel means authentic engagement and collaboration with a local community so that we support their needs while still preserving their culture. Because of this, we choose our local non-government organization (NGO) partners very carefully – and so should you.
Before your trip, find out as much as you can about the NGOs your voluntourism operator is working with. Make sure the projects are relevant and meaningful. Don’t be afraid to pose questions and ask for more information about how your volunteer work will make a difference to each local community.
Even after you return home, there’s still a lot you can do to engage meaningfully with the NGOs you work with on your trip. You might decide to help fund raise for the organization back home or sponsor a future initiative. You might even plan a follow-up trip to volunteer again and engage with the local community on another level.
Share Your Experience
Your family will always treasure your meaningful experience, but please don’t keep it to yourselves. Make a family pledge to be good global citizens and share your story with friends, classmates and other family members, both in person and on social media, to boost cultural understanding in others. If there are no language barriers, encourage your kids to keep in touch with host family children as pen pals. The more you share your experiences, the more people who might be inspired to plan their own vacations around meaningful impact and make the world a better place.
When you find an international volunteering experience that matches your family’s travel bucket list and your personal values, the result is a vacation that can be truly life-changing for everyone.
About the Author and Global Family Travels
Jennifer Spatz is Founder and CEO of Global Family Travels, whose mission is to “Learn, Serve and Immerse,” using travel as a means to build cultural bridges and to foster global citizens. In partnership with community partners, schools and non-profit organizations, the company offers family-friendly, sustainable travel experiences in support of education, access to clean water, conservation, gender equality, and the preservation of local cultures. Their small group trip itineraries feature educational sightseeing, cultural immersion, home stays or visits with local families, service projects, and fun adventures designed to keep all ages happy and engaged.