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VolunTourism FAQ's

So, you want to know a little something about VolunTourism and VolunTourism.org... Well, you have come to the right place.

VolunTourism is one of the fastest growing forms of travel in the world. The question on everyone's mind is: "Why is this the case?"

The first point to make in answering this question is simple: There is no "one thing" that can be labeled as the catalyst for this unprecedented growth. You will find the following questions and their answers helpful in expanding your understanding of this genre of travel.

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Some Frequently Asked Questions

(Please note that a number of these questions were posed by writer/editor, Debra Cummings, who is currently traveling the world with her family. To discover more about the unique journey they are taking, click here.)

  • What is VolunTourism? (Answer)
  • What is the genesis behind this growing movement? (Answer)
  • Why is this type of travel gaining such popularity? (Answer)
  • Is VolunTourism a "volunteer vacation?" (Answer)
  • In pre-trip or pre-volunteer planning what should a consumer be searching for, i.e., due diligence? (Answer)
  • Are there certain traps or things to be wary of when signing up? (Answer)
  • What are the average fees a voluntourist should expect to pay? (Answer)
  • Is it naive to think you can just turn up at an organization in a specific country and be put to work? (Answer)
  • Is there a certain amount of time you should expect to stay in order to make a real impact? (Answer)
  • What do volunteer tourists get out of their time spent helping others? (Answer)
  • What is the demographic behind most volunteer tourists? (Answer)
  • Is VolunTourism just a passing fad or is it sustainable? (Answer)
  • How Can I/We get involved in VolunTourism & VolunTourism.orgl? (Answer)
  • What is "The VolunTourist"? (Answer)
  • How does VolunTourism impact the commercial & social sectors? (Answer)

What is VolunTourism?

In the broadest sense, Voluntourism represents voluntary service experiences that include travel to a destination in order to realize one's service intentions.

In a more refined and balanced approach, VolunTourism is the conscious, seemlessly-integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination with the traditional elements of travel and tourism - arts, culture, geography, history, and recreation - while in the destination.

If the experience, key word, includes voluntary

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What is the genesis behind this growing movement?

The world is certainly in a state of flux, seemingly out of our individual control. Globalization has proven this to us. Wars & strife are proving this. There is focus on the Millennium Development Goals and how 90% of the world lives in poverty – comparatively speaking. How do we gain control? Start doing something that you know will change something for the better – serve!

In terms of an overall growth rate, there is no way of measuring this. You can speak with VolunTourism Operators and they will tell you how many more people they have over last year, but no one currently collects data for the entire industry. This is something upon which we are working.

To give some perspective, when I started working on voluntourism, back in 2000, Google search engine had a message at the top of the screen that said: "Did you mean volunteerism?" If you do a similar search today, you will see that the number of hits is approaching 1,000,000. Big change! And when we started The VolunTourist Newsletter in March 2005, we had around 30 subscribers in 4 countries. Today that number exceeds 5,000 from more than 100 countries.

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Why is this type of travel gaining such popularity?

On the proactive side, social consciousness is being bred at every life stage. There has been measurable growth of service learning in the K-12 school years in developed countries. Gap-Year programs for recent high school grads as well as collegiate and university-based domestic & international service learning are also on the rise. There has been an expansion of employee-based voluntary service programs as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement. And, certainly, research is telling seniors that a purpose-driven end-life where voluntary service can be a key component can lead to longevity and better health during the final life stage.

On the reactive side, we have to thank the internet for its contribution to communication and distribution of information. No destination is too small or too remote that we cannot receive some information about any disaster or devastation there. We also have a mechanism by which we can readily share our experiences with easy-to-send photos and blogs and chat-groups to write up our responses to our experiences. This generates interest.

The media has certainly played its role making VolunTourism a "darling" about which to write stories and share the tales of VolunTourists. And, with utmost humility, I offer that VolunTourism.org has made a unique contribution to the growth in this type of travel.

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Is VolunTourism a "volunteer vacation?"

The short answer is No.

VolunTourism actually encompasses the term "volunteer vacation" but is not limited to it. Volunteer vacations are simply an example of one type of VolunTourism. VolunTourism comes in multiple forms for both the leisure and the business travel markets.

For example, a corporation may hold an annual meeting in a destination and determine that they would like to engage in a voluntary service project for a half-day or full-day prior to the start of the meeting. This would also fall under the category of VolunTourism in its broadest sense.

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In pre-trip or pre-volunteer planning what should a consumer be searching for, i.e., due diligence?

1. What preferences and aversions do you have? Heat vs. cold; altitude vs. sea level; being able to speak a language vs. not; sleeping in a tent vs. five-star accommodations; food with which you are accustomed vs. food that is unique and different; "I want to keep some room between me and the destination" vs. "I want to immerse myself in the culture, etc."

This is typical of any travel experience.

But with VolunTourism, if one really wants to make the most of it, you need something else…

2. What processing tools do you have? Do you meditate, practice yoga, write in a journal, meet as a group with peers, draw or sketch, paint, write letters, take photographs? In other words, how do you deal with things that prove to be challenging to your emotions, your psyche, your mental construct?

Once you know your status, it is much easier to create a profile of that which you are seeking in a VolunTourism Operator and itinerary. You can conduct a corresponding mapping exercise of your personal profile and that of an itinerary. This will help you reduce the options to a handful.

Then you can conduct phone or email interviews with the remaining options to determine what works best for you, personally.

3. Start slowly. The world is a large place. Don’t think you have to take the most exotic VolunTourism journey immediately. Look for some shorter, less expensive jaunts to locations nearer to your hometown. Get a feel for this kind of travel so that when you do make a larger financial investment, you have a very good understanding of what you are seeking and why.

4. Finally, you may have a particular social cause or issue that you would like to address through your efforts. Make sure that you have conducted some initial research on this cause or issue so that you are informed to a degree that allows you to make decisions as to whether the manner in which an organization addresses the issue is in alignment with your personal and philosophic views on the subject.

If, for example, you want to address poverty and you think that economic sustainability through micro-finance, rather than building someone a house, is an excellent approach to eliminating poverty, then make certain that the organization you select utilizes micro-finance and not a charitable giving model.

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Are there certain traps or things to be wary of when signing up?

Simply utilize the risk-mitigating options at your disposal. Purchase travelers insurance with a medical evacuation option included. If you can get trip cancellation insurance as well, do so.

Contact an organization that may be able to tell you something about the VolunTourism Operator you plan to select. If the VolunTourism Operator lists itself as a member of a group, contact that group and get feedback.

Again, look at your own personal preferences. If you want to avoid risk, travel with a “name” brand. If you want to add a little risk, select a VolunTourism Operator that is relatively new and play the role of “pioneer,” with the idea being that if it is a good trip you will share that knowledge with your friends and peers. If not, you will have an experience of what “not” to select in the future.

I do recommend going with an outfit your first time out. Others may disagree with this, but I hold strongly to this point. In the end, if you are not pleased, you have recourse.

Whatever you do, realize that you will have moments of disappointment. This is absolutely natural. What you do with these moments of disappointment will determine how potentially amazing and transformational your experience can truly be. Even the worst placements can be 'righted' with a proper attitude.

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What are the average fees a voluntourist should expect to pay?

A voluntourist should anticipate a minimum of $2,000 USD, including airfare, taxes, insurance, etc. for anything that is non-domestic. For domestic trips, you may be able to keep this number under $1,000 USD, including airfare.

But I would not recommend always going for the cheapest option. Cheap does not equal better. If you are not in a position to utilize discretionary funds to engage in this form of travel, then wait, conduct some more due diligence, and take the trip when you are not making a decision based upon the capacity of your financial commitment.

You may also look for grants - Travelocity offers 8 per year - or you may wish to look into fundraising for your experience. But be clear with your friends and family, if you are going to fundraise, let them know what portion of your trip you want them to assist you with, i.e. the volunteering portion, because most of you will also want to travel and tour within the destination also.

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Is it naive to think you can just turn up at an organization in a specific country and be put to work?

Yes and No. A precedent has been set in 'developed' countries, particularly, that makes it seem as though you can simply show up at any nonprofit organization and be able to feed the homeless, care for children, plant trees, clear trails, etc.

But this is not the case in the 'developing' world. There is much more at stake – relationships that have been built over very long periods of time - this effectively eliminates any “I’m here to serve” scenarios.

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Is there a certain amount of time you should expect to stay in order to mmake a real impact?

If your purpose is to make a real impact, I would suggest that you join an entity like the Peace Corps or work for a development organization. VolunTourism does not guarantee that you will make a real impact in, or on, someone else’s life (nor does the Peace Corps, for that matter). Depending on the spirit in which you take on this task, however, it will likely impact your own.

VolunTourism is really a segue to a potential next step in your own socially-responsible, development process and evolution. You may return from a VolunTourism journey and determine that you want to open a school for African immigrants in your hometown. You may determine to seek a Masters Degree in International Development or some other related field. You may switch the manner in which you cast your vote in future elections or what products you will purchase based upon the humanitarian impact of a production plant in the area in which you conducted your VolunTourism trip. How you respond to your experience is what will determine whether real impact has, in fact, occurred.

La Confluencia

Here are some additional thoughts since this question was first answered:

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What do voluntourists get out of their time spent helping others?

What a voluntourist gets from an experience is all a product of what she/he puts into it. If, prior to your departure, you study the language of your destination, educate yourself on the particular social challenges of the area to which you will be traveling, and develop the capacity to process experiences through writing in a journal, meditating, or practicing Hatha Yoga, then you may very well come away from the experience far richer than when you entered it.

You control your own destiny in terms of the outcome. Even if other members of your group do not make a similar effort, you can be assured that your due diligence will pay hefty dividends in the long run.

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What is the demographic behind most voluntourists?

Voluntourists fall into three basic categories – under 25, 25 – 50, and over 50. Each segment has unique reasons for participating in VolunTourism. Group one is in the discovery process. Group two is searching for life-meaning amidst the daily routine of work and family. Group three is striving to develop and maintain life purpose following retirement or in preparation thereof in hopes of leaving a legacy.

Each segment has the financial wherewithal to travel in such a manner. Educational achievement is also very high amongst each segment, and personal education is a goal of any VolunTourism trip.

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Is VolunTourism just a passing fad or is it sustainable?

This is more appropriately answered on an individual basis. For some, this will be a one-time, “fad” experience. An individual may need service hours to graduate, pad a resume, etc. For others, this will become the quintessential method of travel for the rest of their lives. They may begin by conducting charitable aid projects; but in time, they will seek out only those opportunities that afford them a chance to render service based upon sustainable practices.

How many fall into each category remains to be seen.

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How can I/We get involved in VolunTourism & VolunTourism.org?

Supply Chain: For those that have developed the capacity to connect travelers to volunteer opportunities in a given destination, you can submit a request to have an article written about your operations in "The VolunTourist" newsletter.

The VolunTourist Newsletter: For those who have a gift for the written word, please submit an article subject for our review. We will contact you if your topic is of interest. Send requests to: voluntourist[at]voluntourism.org

The VolunTourist Webcast: For those with the gift for gab, feel free to submit your request for a topic to be covered on the weekly webcast. Send requests to: talkcast[at]voluntourism.org

The VolunTourism.org Blog: You can respond via comment to posts appearing on the Blog; you may suggest topics to be covered on the Blog; you may offer to be an "author" on the Blog. All of these options are available to those who may be interested.

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What is "The VolunTourist"?

The VolunTourist is an e-newsletter designed specifically to serve the travel trade and those interested in understanding VolunTourism as a business opportunity with social implications. The content changes on a monthly basis and is designed to support those in both the in-bound as well as the out-bound tourism markets.

Articles focus on news, insights, interviews, innovations and best practices, perspectives, classifieds, and relevant information for travel industry representatives and those from the nonprofit sector.

The VolunTourist is also a weekly webcast that airs each Tuesday morning from 10am - 11am ET and from 7am - 8am PT (GMT 15:00). Each webcast is conducted "live" and listeners have the option of participating or listening via streaming video. Each webcast is recorded and can be dowloaded as an MP3 file following the broadcast.

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How does VolunTourism impact the commercial and social sectors?

At first glance, VolunTourism might be considered to be an ideal - something for which the tourism industry and the nonprofit community can strive to achieve. But it is rooted in very practical terms, we are talking about a shift in business practice by the tourism industry - to incorporate socially responsible practices into its operation. For the nonprofit industry, we are introducing a revenue-generating, fee-for-service capacity to augment its underlying fundraising activities.

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