Voluntourism is the New Trend (expert advice)
You’ve had your big day, and it was spectacular. The flowers were stunning, the ceremony elegant, the food divine. You’ve opened dozens of gifts, each one designed to add a special touch to your first home. Now, before you settle into married life, maybe it’s time to give something back. Welcome to the concept of “voluntourism,” which combines volunteering and traveling, in order to help people around the world.
Trying Something New
While lazing on a white-sand beach sipping tropical drinks – with no particular commitments in mind – is often seen as the perfect honeymoon scenario, couples these days are starting a new trend: spending their honeymoon performing humanitarian service. It’s true that the focus may not be on you as a couple, but what could be better than nourishing your new marital relationship while feeding the hungry, bringing relief to the needy, or furthering an environmental cause? Depending on how much time you have for your honeymoon, you can spend a week or two providing service and still have time for sightseeing.
The opportunities are seemingly endless. You could help build houses in South Africa, teach English in Thailand, read to children in Guatemala, build recycling stations in Costa Rica, work with abused women in India, provide help at an orphanage in Russia, or share your professional skills in any one of a number of countries. Of course, if you can speak the language of the people you are assigned to work with, your experience will be that much richer.
Choosing a Destination
Web sites like those sponsored by VolunTourism (www.voluntourism.org) and Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com) provide connections to several organizations that sponsor short-term humanitarian excursions.
Or, you can hook up with a tourism company that arranges its own volunteer projects, such as GlobeAware (www.globeaware.org), which sponsors trips to fourteen different countries around the world, including Mexico, Costa Rica, China, Brazil, and Nepal – and you can even take on a project in Transylvania, Romania!
Global Volunteers (www.globalvolunteers.org) sponsors well-regarded service programs to twenty-one countries, and Cross-Cultural Solutions (www.crossculturalsolutions.org) offers volunteer opportunities at twenty sites in twelve countries.
If you’d rather stay closer to home, New Orleans is still in need of relief workers, so check out the possibilities on the Friends of New Orleans Web site (www.friendsofneworleans.org) or at Hands On New Orleans (www.handsonneworleans.com).
What You Need to Know
While you may think of volunteering as just showing up and helping out, you are advised to book your voluntourism vacation just like you would any other honeymoon. Doing so well in advance will guarantee that you can choose your destination, as well as the time period for which you wish to volunteer. Research your options carefully, and check the history and background of any organization before you commit to one of its programs. (See www.ethicalvolunteering.org for suggestions on how to choose a reputable company.) Some cost less, while others can cost as much as $1,000 a week, and you are likely to be responsible for your own airfare. Room and board, as well as insurance – and sometimes side excursions – are generally covered. In addition, if you volunteer for a nonprofit, you might be able to take your expense as a tax deduction.
Accommodations range from communal to more private (for example, a private room in a lodging where other volunteers are also staying, or a private cabana), but you may wish to plan a getaway on a weekend or days off to have some time alone.
Starting Off Right
No matter where you choose to go, a voluntouring honeymoon provides a meaningful first experience in your married life. Those who provide humanitarian aid report developing deeper respect and love for their partner, as well as a love for the people they serve. Often, the honeymoon is a prelude to a lifetime of giving, and subsequent vacations may also be oriented toward helping others. So, pack away the formal clothes, stow those wedding gifts, and get ready to do your part to make the world a better place! It’s an experience you’ll never forget.