For most of us, the ideal vacation involves not having to lift a finger. The whole point of going away is to get away from everything including the chores, the schedules and thinking about what to do next.
But if there’s someone in your family who can’t sit still, someone who wants to do more than just relax, you might want to consider a volunteer vacation. Volunteer vacations help everyone avoid beach or hotel boredom and encourage families to engage with the community around them (and each other!) in meaningful and eye-opening ways.
And besides, many experts – including those specializing in the studies of sleep and happiness – believe that one of the keys to restoration is actually doing stuff. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive but consider how you feel after a day spent lounging in your pajamas vs. a day spent accomplishing odd jobs and checking things off your to-do list. Most of us feel better if we do something moderately productive and/or enriching with our down time and if that’s the case for you, a volunteer vacation can deliver adventure, relaxation and the feeling of accomplishing something great and making a difference – all in the same trip.
Family volunteer vacations typically involve a minimum of one week spent in an under-resourced area that is gravely affected by the devastating impacts of poverty, lack of clean water, political strife or weather-related disasters. On most trips, your days will be spent exploring the region, immersing yourself in the culture, meeting local residents and participating in build or sustainability projects that will leave a positive and lasting impact on your host community.
ME to WE is one of the best options in Canada for family group travel if you’re interested in travelling to Kenya, India or Ecuador.
A ME to WE family trip, regardless of location, is built on four pillars including Building a Lasting Legacy (working alongside community members on a sustainable development project), Making Meaningful Connections (meeting local residents), Community Immersion (developing a deeper respect and understanding for native customs and traditions), and Adventure and Discovery (one-of-a-kind excursions like a Kenyan safari or Amazon jungle trek).
WE Charities boasts a 20-year history of sustainable development work and is known for providing “life-changing” experiences that can only come from cultural immersion. In Kenya, for example, WE travellers will meet local “mamas” and join them on their daily water-walk. Participants can also visit a local market, tour a WE-supported girls high school and spend their days in the company of real Masai Warriors who accompany the group everywhere providing local knowledge and colour commentary.
Looking for something a little different? Other family volunteer trip organizers include:
Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program allows travellers to make a difference in the lives of families around the world by volunteering to build decent, affordable housing in Africa, the Middle East, Canada, Asia/Pacific, the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. All build projects aim to improve the lives of local vulnerable groups, such as orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa or families affected by poverty and/or weather-related disasters in places like Fiji, Latin America and the Caribbean. Trips include build days, cultural days and R&R days. Participants must be at least 15 or 16 years old, depending on the desired location. Check out the Global Trip Schedule for more information on dates, destinations, and pricing.
G Adventures. While not volunteer-based, G Adventures offers both Family and Local Living Tours that provide the setting, the lodgings and options for families to fully immerse themselves in the local scene. Local Living accommodations include jungle homestays (Amazon region), Masai campsites (Africa) and converted farmhouses (Europe). Family Tours allow families to take part in many kid-centric activities like cooking in Thailand or searching for marine iguanas in Ecuador. Family Tours currently available for booking include destinations in Asia and the Americas. Trips range from 8-14 days in length and $1,400-$3,200 per person, plus flights.
Global Vision International offers trips in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and Latin America. GVI trips focus on one of five pillars: teaching, wildlife conservation, volunteering with children, marine conservation and construction. Available experiences include helping to reintegrate elephants from tourist camps back into their natural environment in Thailand; Veterinary care and animal welfare assistance in Mexico, and volunteering with children or on community construction projects in Nepal. GVI trips can last anywhere from two weeks or less to 24 weeks or more, and range in price from approximately $1,000-$4,000. Flights, insurance, gratuities, some local excursions and required travel documents are extra.
Volunteer vacations aren’t inexpensive and for most of us they fall into the “once in a lifetime” category. Therefore, it’s critical to do your research and really understand what the experience does and does not offer, before committing. Most companies list prices that don’t include significant additional costs like flights, insurance and vaccinations. Understand who you’ll be travelling with, who your local contact is and how much interaction and support you can expect from him / her on the ground. Read reviews and try to speak to others who’ve done your same trip to give you peace of mind that what you think you’re paying for and what you think will happen is accurate.
Deviating from the normal all-inclusive, hotel-style or family road-trip vacation requires taking risks, extra patience, significant costs and, most important, a sense of adventure. But the rewards are deep and long-lasting.