Volunteer vacations are becoming more popular all the time. While some organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and Earthwatch Institute, have been around for a long time, others are gearing up to fill the need for tourists who want to volunteer.
But before you rush out and sign up to “do good” for from one to three weeks, there are some things to think about.
Do you really want to spend your holiday time working? It’s a noble idea, and many people really do enjoy it and feel rewarded and rejuvenated by the experience. But keep in mind that you WILL be working. Some groups will have you working all day with very little time for seeing the country. Other organizations provide more time for recreation. Be honest with yourself about what you want.
While some of the volunteer programs don’t require you to have any special skills, it is best to check.
If you have any doubts, go with a program that has small amounts of volunteering at first. Travelocity has a Travel for Good program, which consists of an afternoon of your holiday volunteering as well as other, more intensive programs.
You can volunteer for just about anything, from building houses to helping study animals to going on archaeological digs. Think about what your interests are and how much sun and dirt you want to put up with.
Some programs have nice accommodations; others must house their volunteers in very basic rooms or tents. Know before you sign up so you’ll be happy with your experience.
Some of the more exotic and exciting programs tend to fill up quickly. Friends who have tried to sign up with Earthwatch to dive with dolphins, for instance, have found that the program was completely full.
While some of the volunteer programs don’t require you to have any special skills, it is best to check this out in advance. There is no way you could scuba dive with those dolphins if you haven’t been certified in scuba!
Don’t believe that volunteer vacations are cheaper than other forms of vacations: you will, at the least, have to pay for your own airfare to get there. You may also possibly have to pay for your lodging, and there may be small fees on top of that. Many of the groups sponsoring these volunteer vacations are non-profits, so they have to get the money from somewhere.
But if you think that you can make it pay for itself by writing it off on your taxes, you may be right. But check with your tax man just to be sure. And carefully check the tax status of the group you are considering volunteering with. Depending on the group you go with and where you go and what country you are from, it may not be tax deductible at all, or only part of it may be.
Volunteer vacations can be rewarding and much more satisfying than just sitting on a beach. So if you have done some soul searching and you think it might be for you, start looking around. You may soon find yourself helping people a world away.
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