Travel can offer rewarding, life-changing and humbling experiences. Exploring an unfamiliar environment can open your eyes to a world you never thought existed, teach you important lessons and introduce you to people who will heighten your perspective and understanding of a place and its culture. This kind of experience is unlikely to be found on the beaches of five-star resorts or in big group tours, however. For a more meaningful adventure, consider lending a hand on your next vacation.
Lucky for you, the concept of volunteerism (volunteer tourism) has rapidly grown over the years, with more travelers looking for more hands-on and enriching travel experiences. Whether you're a seasoned volunteer or brand new to the concept, here are seven big reasons to give back on your next trip.
Because You'll Experience Life Like a Local
Unlike a tour group or a prepackaged vacation, volunteering will give you the chance to understand the local perspective. You'll skip the typical tourist activities to pursue more rewarding interactions with real locals every day. You'll also get a taste of the local flavor, with home-cooked meals from your host to thank you for your help.
Because You'll Be a Positive Role Model
Volunteering abroad gives you the chance to leave a lasting impact on the people you help along the way. Many popular volunteer tourism groups work with children, and the few days you spend with them matters more than you realize. By showing up and helping them daily, they see a different life (and future) for themselves that they might not have realized possible. Plus, you have the chance to forge valuable bonds with the people you meet, and you can continue to mentor and guide them as they grow.
Because You'll Learn a New Skill
One of the biggest benefits of volunteering is the chance to understand something in a deeper way, and challenge yourself to master a new skill set. For example, if you plan a trip with Habitat for Humanity, you'll come home with a newfound appreciation and knack of carpentry. Meanwhile, On The Giving lens trips enable you to return with a heightened knowledge of landscape and portrait photography and On GoEco allows you to learn more about conservation and ecotourism.
Because You'll See Remote, Hard-to-Reach Parts of the World
As a volunteer with a desire to contribute and help others, you'll be exposed to parts of the community you're visiting that you wouldn't see otherwise. You'll spend time in real villages outside of the gleaming metropolises that lend a unique perspective on how real locals live. And an added bonus is that many of these places offer stunning landscapes and one-of-a-kind views few other visitors have the chance to experience.
Because You'll Aid and Educate Underserved Communities
A variety of volunteering companies focus on serving impoverished and underserved communities since they're often the places that desperately need help with community restoration, education and empowerment. Many of the children and adults in these communities often forgo formal education to work to provide for their families, leaving them at higher risks for unplanned pregnancies, diseases and even violence. Volunteering abroad gives you the chance to educate communities on the importance of education and teach important skills. The Giving Lens, for example, donates point and shoot cameras to many village schools in Asia, Africa and South America to encourage the kids to stay in school. Plus, meeting young adults, who are successful and passionate, is sometimes enough to keep the kids in school and inspire their parents to go back.
Because You'll Get a Tax Break
This certainly isn't the most rewarding part of a volunteer vacation, but it's one that carries a lot of weight for many travelers. Many volunteer vacations and companies are 100 percent tax deductible so you can write off or deduct the expenses you incur during tax season. For families or groups taking an international trip, the savings can total thousands of dollars. To see if the company you're interested in is a registered charitable organization, check the IRS website.
Because You'll Leave Inspired
No matter how you decide to make a difference on your next vacation, whether it's eco-research in the villages of Fiji or photography education in Tanzania, you'll leave feeling enriched and inspired. Most travelers leave with a desire to go on another volunteer vacation and come home eager to get involved with charitable organizations in their hometowns. Even if the trip was just a few days, you'll return more engaged and fulfilled.
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