You want to soak up new cultures and explore the world, but you also genuinely want to improve people’s lives. If knight-errants still roamed the earth doing good deeds, that would be the perfect job for you, but unfortunately, they went extinct a long time ago and you have frankly too much dignity to go hacking at any windmills just yet.
Does any of this sound familiar? Then perhaps you should consider voluntourism, which blends travel with charitable deeds that can range to anything from construction to environmental cleanups to providing medical aid.
The father of modern voluntourism is arguably Herb Feith, an Australian academic and activist for peace. Feith championed volunteering abroad through his work in Indonesia in the early 1950s, where he was a scholar of Indonesian politics widely known for his compassion and dedication. Feith went on the inspire the “Volunteer Graduate Scheme,” which is still active today as the organization “Australian Volunteers International,” which organizes government funded opportunities for Australian citizens to volunteer abroad in developing countries.
Voluntourism has become especially popular amongst young Canadians recently as many more of them have elected to take gap years between high school and university. The combination of wanderlust, an opportunity that would look great on a university application, and finding fulfillment in helping others makes it a very attractive prospect for recent graduates. Voluntourism is also popular amongst retirees who wish to do something meaningful with their free days.
Of course, just because combining volunteering and travel is popular amongst certain demographics, it doesn’t mean that it is limited to one. Voluntourism is available and encouraged to be pursued by anybody, depending on your skill level and your willingness to get your hands dirty.
There are lots of benefits to voluntourism. It looks good on a resume, and it’s a way to build skills, if the organization you are travelling with is willing to properly train its volunteers. You can help make a difference, even if that difference is something as seemingly small as cleaning up a national park. Some organizations help cover the cost of airfare or accommodations, appealing to the budget-conscious traveller. It’s a way to give back to the countries you visit, and it’s a way to explore the world with a new perspective.
While the motives behind voluntourism are ultimately pure, there have been cases where organizations actually do more to hinder the community they descend upon than actually help them. For example, if you want to go to South America to build a school, check and see if the town you are looking at already has a functional school or not. It’s also important to look into whether your voluntourism might be taking jobs away from the local community. The bottom line is that if you go into your travels open minded and well informed, you will walk away feeling happier, healthier, and handier.
So put down the lance, Don Quixote, and step away from the windmill. There’s still a whole world to explore—and lots of good work to do.