What to Know Before Planning a Volunteer Vacation

Read these tips before planning a service trip. Something about being old enough to buy my own plane tickets, plan my own road trips, or take an actual vacation from a full-time job makes me itch to travel more and more.

About 5 years ago, I went on a service trip to Tijuana, Mexico, with my university, and since then, I haven’t been able to avoid traveling. I continually find myself drawn back into similar experiences, learning about and aiding other cultures, expanding my world beyond myself.

As an adult, a service vacation would mean someone could not only tap into a desire to travel, but also help contribute to the need for more humanity and more human connections in our world.

Opportunities for service and travel outside of school

Within the parameters of a higher education setting, finding opportunities to both do service and travel were right at my disposal. My university worked hard to create opportunities to expand my understanding of the world and offer volunteering and service to destinations both domestic and international.

Yet as I graduated, I often wondered if service and traveling could be combined in such a cohesive way outside of an educational setting. After some research, the answer is definitely a resounding ‘yes.’

However, if you’re thinking about a service vacation, here are some tips to plan your trip.

Ask yourself, “What do I want to do?”

The obvious yet most personal questions come first — what are you looking to get out of a volunteer vacation? What are you hoping to do or accomplish? Where is it that you want to go?

A Google search pulls up a ton of different programs, organizations, and destinations for these kinds of trips. Ultimately, it comes down to what kind of research you want to do in planning a trip like this, what kind of money you and your travel companions want to spend, and how much you want included in the trip.

These are certainly questions that could be decided on a whim, but it could be much more impactful if done thoughtfully.

“Do I want to go near or far?”

This question is going to deeply impact your planning for any volunteer and service trip.

When many people think of service, or places in need, they think of leaving their own country and going abroad. We think of teaching children in developing countries, building wells, helping to build schools or fund large development projects. Yet good can be done anywhere.

It’s not just far away places that we can engage with, that we can choose as a new destination in which to make a difference. There are merits in both domestic and international trips, and choosing which of those directions you want to go in will completely shape the way your trip will be formed.

My biggest piece of advice if you’re thinking about a trip like this is that you ask those critical questions, that you figure out what your own ‘why’ is, and that you spend time planning your trip to answer those questions and fulfill that why.

So, when you answer these questions for planning your volunteer vacation — whether it’s in your backyard or halfway across the world — be critical of your reasons, and be creative with how you choose to answer those questions!

Tips for putting your answers into action

If a service trip is a new idea for you, improvise in what this might look like! Instead of starting with a trip, pick a cause that you want to put time or money toward and think creatively.

Organize running a trail race in another city in the United States and fundraise with your team for a cause. Pick a vacation destination domestically and volunteer at a local animal shelter for one of your afternoons there. Figure out a way to connect what ignites your passion for this volunteer vacation with what is feasible for your budget or your comfort zone.

If you’re planning a trip in another city or state, talk to people you know that live or work there about things you might be able to do. Use your network; whether it’s through work, people at the college or university you might’ve attended, or contacts you have at different nonprofits.

If you’re looking to travel further outside your comfort zone, get in contact with organizations that you are considering and see how they are connected in their communities, what kind of service you would be doing, and think about how you can be creative with the money you spend on travel versus the money you put toward a cause.

A vacation is supposed to be a break from the monotony of life and time to relax, but it is certainly possible to find an opportunity to make a difference within that framework. So the first question I’d ask you is: how will you choose to make an impact?

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