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In 2009, Tricia Vanacore and her kids were able to spend their days teaching South African school children, while still enjoying beautiful hotels, sightseeing and safaris. In the end, the “unbelievably gratifying” experience, coordinated through Hands Up Holidays, a London-based company that combines luxury international tourism with volunteering and philanthropy, inspired Vanacore to take similar trips.
And Vanacore isn’t alone in her desire to perform charitable work while enjoying a bit of relaxation. Luxury ‘voluntourism,’ (volunteering while on vacation) has become a recent trend among people who want to experience life’s comforts while helping others.
Here are a few things to consider when trying to find the perfect voluntourism adventure.
If someone doesn’t have a clear objective in mind, it can be hard to strike the right balance between volunteering and relaxation. Identifying goals for the trip can make it easier to pin down details such as where to travel overseas.
Vanacore says she knew exactly what she wanted to get out of her time abroad. “I wanted to show my kids that people may live in different surroundings but are basically the same everywhere,” she says.
Vanacore kept this goal at the forefront as she began planning two trips — one to Kenya in 2010 that was planned by Hands Up Holidays, and one to Rwanda in 2012 that was partially planned by Hands Up Holidays, with Vanacore arranging her own volunteer opportunities. Although each trip only lasted for two weeks, Vanacore felt confident that it was enough time to expose her kids to other ways of life.
Often times, an international volunteer program may require a bit of hard labor, such as helping construct a school or digging irrigation ditches. But people should remain cognizant of their own unique skills.
“People with a marketing background can help with a charity’s branding needs or someone with a banking background can assist microloan recipients,” says Christopher Hill, chief experience officer of Hands Up Holidays.
While some people may use their professional skills — like an artist who volunteers to design and paint murals — sometimes it’s even more rewarding for people to use talents they rarely get to flex, such as an accountant who has a secret love of teaching.
For some people, it may feel more comfortable to enjoy volunteering and pampering on different legs of their trip.
Vanacore decided to split her trips into two portions — one devoted to charitable work and the other designated for sightseeing and relaxing. She decided not to merge the two aspects because she preferred not to stay in really nice places to get a better idea of the hardships experienced by the people they were helping.
The majority of her volunteering days were spent working with local school children on English and math. And the vacation part of her trips were spent in nice hotels where she and her kids enjoyed safaris and sightseeing activities.
Traveling should be minimized in cases where time is of the essence. In addition, when planning to travel overseas, individuals with demanding careers and little time to spare outside the office can opt for shorter trips to neighboring regions, including Central America.
“We cover the globe, so if you’re leaving the states from Chicago, you can be in Guatemala within four or five hours,” Hill says. “Then it’s just a 45-minute drive to great hotels.”
Morocco, India and Argentina also feature spectacular hotels and opportunities to give back, Hill says. Bottled water and dietary accommodations are readily available at most luxury lodging, but small items like travel adapters may not be. Although the amenities at many of these hotels simplify the hassle of traveling internationally, some preparation can’t be avoided. Individuals planning to travel overseas to certain developing countries may need to be vaccinated before the trip. In addition to vaccines, Vanacore had to take malaria pills for her trips to Africa.
Contrary to popular belief, helping others doesn’t require roughing it, Hill says. Anyone with a willing attitude and a solid understanding of their skills and interests can make a difference while unwinding on an upscale getaway.
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