5 Volunteer Vacations for Families

Give your kids the chance to lend a hand and leave a meaningful impact on the communities they visit.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Volunteer Vacations for Families

Smiling volunteer planting tree in woods.

Whether you want to support literacy in an underserved community or aid sustainable development practices, there are plenty of ways you and the gang can make a difference on your next getaway.(Getty Images)

Parents want to raise caring, compassionate children who give back to their community. And there's no better way to foster a lifelong passion to make a difference in the world than planning a family trip that aims to support and leave a long-lasting impact on different communities. A number of kid-friendly travel destinations are creating ways for families to lend a hand by volunteering a few hours (or longer) on projects that may be the highlight of the trip. "Just as parenting is about more than showing and telling, so too is family travel increasingly about seeing and doing, especially doing things that build character and compassion," says Ethan Gelber, editorial director for the Family Travel Association.

The five volunteer vacation ideas below combine travel and service into a transformational learning experience for the entire family.

Plan a Trip to Give Kids The World Village

Orlando, Florida, has long been one of the world's top family travel destinations. Give Kids The World Village, a 79-acre nonprofit resort in Kissimmee, Florida, run by volunteers, provides children with life-threatening illnesses and their families a free weeklong vacation and access to Walt Disney World. Vacationing families in Central Florida can take a three- or four-hour volunteer shift any day of the week or spring for a longer voluntourism (volunteer tourism) trip. Parents and children can scoop ice cream, deliver pizza, staff the carousel or assist on village rides together. Volunteers can also participate in evening entertainment programs, help bring beloved characters to life and plan nightly parties.

Plan a Responsible Beach Getaway

Catering to families of all age groups and styles, Beaches Resorts properties are consistently ranked among the top kid-friendly hotels in the Caribbean. In addition to enjoying the surf, sun and sand, families can also give back to the community during their trip. Beaches has partnered with Reading Road Trip to allow visitors to spend time with children at local schools in support of literacy programs. In addition to reading in the local primary schools, families can also bring books and materials for donation via Pack for a Purpose, which lists needed supplies online and arranges for donations to be picked up. Island Impact, another teen-centric voluntourism program organized by Beaches Resorts, gives students the opportunity to earn up to 10 community service hours during their vacation.

Map Out an Impactful Family Vacation With ME to WE

A social enterprise dedicated to shifting "me" thinking to a "we" mindset, ME to WE offers voluntourism trips in multiple countries that allow families to participate in health, education and economic development projects abroad. Family volunteer opportunities include helping to build a school or renovate classrooms in Kenya, India and Ecuador. If your family is not able to dedicate an entire trip to volunteering, the adventure travel company Contiki Travel has partnered with ME to WE and offers a voluntourism experience (for participants ages 18 to 35) as an extension to their Galápagos Islands tour. Families stay at Minga Lodge, Me to We's rainforest eco-lodge, and help with sustainable development and cacao production.

Lend a Hand With Friendly Planet Travel

The global tour operator Friendly Planet Travel has offered group trips since 1981, and recently the company launched the Friendly Planet Foundation to promote voluntourism opportunities within the countries they're visiting. For example, on Nepal tours families visit with children at the Bamboo School, which provides education to 1,200 underprivileged youths. Families can also support the Know One, Teach One project in Vietnam that provides homeless teens with a place to live and skills in the hospitality industry. During Vietnam trips, families visit the Know One, Teach One-affiliated restaurants in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where they support the project by enjoying a meal and interacting with teens.

Give Back at Sea

In April 2016, Carnival Cruise Lines launched Fathom Impact Travel, offering weeklong voluntourism cruises to the Dominican Republic. With the ship docked in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, guests could participate in one of two cultural immersion projects, either preparing chocolate from cacao beans at a women's chocolate cooperative or producing recycled paper products and crafts at RePapel co-op. While the weeklong voluntourism cruises wrap up in May 2017, Carnival added these unique voluntourism excursions to their ships that make calls at Amber Cove.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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