When you imagine taking your family on a volunteer vacation, what do you envision? Do you imagine yourselves feeding hungry orphans, seeing a look of undying gratitude in their eyes, instilling in your kids a deep sense of appreciation for what they have and a lifelong dedication to helping those in need? Do you see yourselves, machetes in hand, hacking back vegetation to clear hiking trails through the jungle? Do you envision early mornings of milking cows, great communal lunches in the fields, and aching muscles at the end of a day of work on an organic farm?
These are all possible scenarios, but it is very important to do the research before you head away from the comforts of home so that you can match your expectations with reality. The website VolunTourism has some very helpful, if a little academic, articles on how to choose a volunteer vacation experience.
Earn your keep
One way to cut out some of your travel costs is to work somewhere in exchange for room and board, and there are several websites that act as clearinghouses for these opportunities.
- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms links people who want to volunteer on organic farms or smallholdings with people who are looking for volunteer help.
- Workaway broadens the concept to include many kinds of volunteer work, including cooking for an Italian art center, helping injured kangaroos in Australia’s Northern Territory, or working on a permaculture education center in Fiji. Volunteers pay a membership fee.
- Help Exchange is very similar to Workaway, but there is no membership fee to join and post a volunteer profile. If you want to contact a host directly, you will need to pay for the Premier membership.
- Se7en encourages social and environmental volunteering around the world. There is a membership fee of €15 for two years, but they may consider waiving the fee in some situations.
All of these sites simply offer ways for you to find volunteer and homestay opportunities that might work for you; it’s up to you to contact the hosts and to make the match work. It is possible to find opportunities for families, but you will have to contact the hosts to make specific arrangements. It is always a good idea to exchange multiple emails before committing, and certainly before departing on your voyage. You want to be sure both hosts and volunteers know what to expect.
If you know of others, please post them in the comments section and I will update the list.
Next time – Volunteer Vacation Resources pt. 2 – Pay Your Way – Organized Volunteer Tours