Savvy Senior: Voluntourism is a growing alternative travel option among retirees

Jim Miller: If you're looking to do more on your vacation than relax in the sun or go sightseeing, volunteer service vacations — also known as “voluntourism” — are a great alternative and a growing trend among retirees.
BY JIM MILLER Modified: July 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm •  Published: July 10, 2012
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DEAR SAVVY SENIOR:

Can you write a column on volunteer vacations? My husband and I are both in our 60s and are interested in taking a service-oriented “altruistic” vacation this summer but could use some help.

Retired Travelers

DEAR RETIRED: If you're looking to do more on your vacation than relax in the sun or go sightseeing, volunteer service vacations — also known as “voluntourism” — are a great alternative and a growing trend among retirees. Here's what you should know.

Voluntourism

Nowadays, you don't need to join the Peace Corps to travel to exotic destinations and serve others. Many organizations today offer short-term volunteer projects overseas and in the U.S., lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months.

Common program themes include teaching English, working with children and teens, building and repairing homes and schools, and assisting with community or environmental projects. In addition, volunteer vacations also give travelers the opportunity to experience the culture more fully and connect with the local people — much different from your run-of-the-mill sightseeing vacation.

Most volunteer vacation groups accept singles, couples and families and you don't need to speak a foreign language. Costs typically range from $700 to $1,500 a week, not including transportation to the country your site is in. Fees typically cover pre-trip orientation information, room and board, on-site training, ground transportation once you get there, the services of a project leader, and a contribution to the local community that covers material and services related to the project. And, if the organization running your trip is a nonprofit, the cost of your trip, including airfare, is probably tax deductible.

Where to look

While there are dozens of organizations that offer volunteer vacations, here are some good ones that attract a lot of retirees.

Earthwatch Institute (earthwatch.org, (800) 776-0188): A global nonprofit that offers one- and two-week expeditions that focus on environmental conservation and field research projects all over the world.

• Globe Aware (globeaware.org, (877) 588-4562): Offers one-week volunteer vacations in 15 different countries.



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