Short-term voluntourism: One more way to enrich your travel experience.

January 29, 2009

By Judy McEuen
Travel Writer
Troy Media

Judy McEuen
Judy McEuen

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Jan. 29, 2010/ Troy Media/ — Volunteer vacations are becoming so popular that the travel industry has coined a word for this kind of tourism. Now you can search the web for voluntourism and find hundreds of sites that provide travel with a heavy focus on volunteering.

Many of those programs have you signing up for a week or two or even a month working in your own country or abroad. But many travelers don’t have that kind of time to commit to volunteering, or they would like to volunteer to help but they want to keep some relaxing time for themselves.

The travel industry is always looking for ways to keep you happy, so there are more and more opportunities cropping up for short-term voluntourism. Some people would argue that one week is short-term volunteering, but I’m talking about really short-term voluntourism here, as in a day or even half a day.

There are conservation organizations around the U.S. that provide opportunities to help clean up beaches or work on park trails for a day or half day at a time. Check with local tourist bureaus in the city or the country you are visiting to see if any short term opportunities exist. You can also check with your hotel or tour operator. Some online travel booking sites also offer volunteer trip opportunities.

Even high-end hotels and resorts are getting into the act, offering half day programs where guests assist at local food banks or pull invasive weeds in parks and still get to spend the rest of their stay in cushy comfort.

Some people feel that this type of short term volunteering is this just salve for a guilt trip by “wealthy” travelers. You have to evaluate that for yourself. We don’t think anyone should be discouraged from volunteering to help others. In the long run, the trend is a good one.

If you are traveling to Southeast Asia, one interesting program you can explore for short-term voluntourism is called Stay Another Day. It is run by an arm of the World Bank. Rather than sending tourists to volunteer to pick up trash or try to build schools, it provides information to steer you to participate in activities that are more like tourism, but benefit the local community.

You might, for instance, visit a community center where locals can practice their English, or you might visit a women’s center where you can purchase crafts the women make to support themselves and their families. You still are really just a tourist, but the very act of being a tourist and spending money and time with locals helps. Sounds good to me!

Wherever you travel, you can have a more meaningful trip by connecting with locals. Support local businesses and local community projects if you can. Short-term voluntourism is just one more way to enrich your travel experience.

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