Best of both worlds: Vacationing and Volunteering

Love the satisfaction and helpfulness you feel when you have completed a volunteer project? Craving some vacation time away from the office?  Voluntourism, or volunteer travel, combines your need for a break away from the mundane to an exciting place while simultaneously filling that humanitarian instinct.

ENP group
This is our amazing group at my last volunteer experience, a week at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand

Champion a Cause

Do you have something that’s important to you?  Show you care and find a group, a travel company or non profit that offers a program for you to be able to help build a house, help a sick or endangered animal or rebuild a community after a natural disaster.  If nothing comes to mind right away, no problem!  This may be your chance to find something new you are passionate about.  Be realistic with your goals, however, for instance I wouldn’t recommend signing up to rebuild a community after a hurricane when you haven’t held a hammer.  Remember you are ultimately trying to make a difference!

Lek Chailert, Founder of Elephant Nature Park
Lek Chailert, Founder of Elephant Nature Park, animal lover and activist

Help others AND help yourself

It’s no secret that volunteering benefits the organization that you came to help but don’t forget all the benefits it has for yourself.  New friends and new experiences are the initial gems from most travel opportunities.  Having a shared goal and interest is a great way to form lasting friendships and the experience will bond you in a way that just hanging out on the beach or touring a town cannot.

Meeting new people and seeing interesting places isn’t enough?  Here are some other benefits philanthropists have…

Live Longer: A positive effect on mental and physical health, volunteering helps you live a longer, happier life.  A UK study showed that volunteering regularly can increase your lifespan by up to 20%.

Stress Less: Studies show that volunteers reported less stress levels.  Volunteers have the sense of being more efficient, allowing you to feel like you have more time.  Giving back also causes your body to release a hormone called oxytocin, which reduces stress and in turn also helps heart health.

Be Happier: Volunteering can help combat depression and improve your overall well-being.  Volunteers have an instant social network and bond with others creating a support system.  Being a do-gooder does just that, it makes you feel good.

Compared to people who have never volunteered, monthly volunteers level of happiness rose 7%, 12% for those who volunteer every 2 to 4 weeks.  Weekly volunteers experience a 16% jump in happiness compared to having a $100,000 income as opposed to a $20,000 one.

Where to look for opportunities?

Just like everything else in life do some research before committing to a company offering a volunteer travel opportunity.  People are looking to travel to make a difference and some companies are using this to their advantage to make money.  Make sure that you are working with a cause that is actually going to do good rather than harm, so ask yourself some important questions before booking your trip.  Will this effect the location positively in the long run?  Is this helping to solve the underlying problem?  Is this really helping the cause or is it just a program that makes me, the traveller, feel better about myself?  Also don’t forget there are most likely programs in your own home country as well as abroad so you don’t have to break the bank to lend a hand.

100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich your Life is a book written by Pam Grout that will give you a jumping off point to pick a location or find a cause that speaks to you.

Habitat for Humanity is a great organization that is trying to solve the global poverty and homelessness problem and has been a longstanding, trusted non profit, with a presence in the US as well as other countries.

Met to We is an amazing non profit that focuses on changing younger generations actions from “me” to “we”, looking at things from a global perspective.  They facilitate life changing trips that hopefully spark positive social change.  Two brothers started this organization on a serious mission to help change the world and their projects are inspiring. is a non profit that raising awareness of cultures with community service and food.  They give you an opportunity to see a new place, work with the local community and the best part, eat! is a good start to the online world of volunteer travel.  They offer tips, trips, research and resources that will send you on your way to a new adventure.

Really feeling like giving back?  Live and work abroad for the Peace Corps, offering a 27 month time commitment participating in a variety of projects (US residents only can apply).

Want to know what I’ve done as a volunteer on the road?  I’ll be sharing my incredible experience at Elephant Nature Park next!


No Comments

  1. Reply

    So that’s why you are always so happy! Very interesting article.

  2. Reply
    Mary Walto

    love the picture of you and the elephant!

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