By Tanni Haas
For your next family trip, how about doing some good while also having fun. Sound intriguing? It’s called a “family volunteer vacation,” and thousands of people across the country are doing it every year. The trips can last for a few days or several weeks, but they all have one thing in common: your family will spend some time helping out people or animals in need.
Why do so many families choose to go on such vacations? According to Nancy Schretter, the founder of Together For Good, a non-profit organization that organizes family volunteer vacations, “families really want to give back and make the world a better place. They want to find meaningful trips where they can make a difference.”
Experts note that family volunteer vacations are beneficial not only to the communities that are served but also to the families themselves. “Helping others while travelling,” says Charis Atlas Heelan, a writer for Frommer’s Travel Guides, “can instill a greater understanding of the world and teach your children about the importance of community, compassion, and consideration for others.” Indeed, says Heelan, “a volunteer vacation that your whole family can participate in may just be one of the most rewarding experiences that you will share together.”
If family volunteer vacations are so good for all involved, how do you decide where to go? To make the trip as successful as possible, says Laura Eickhoff, an expert on family volunteer vacations and author of The Abroad Guide, a well-known travel blog, it’s important to find a destination that’s aligned with everyone’s interests: “If everybody’s not onboard from the start, you may find yourself with some less-than-eager participants.” Amy Whitley, a travel reporter with a lot of experience in family volunteer vacations agrees, saying it’s particularly important to follow the passions or interests of your kids: “Pursue a volunteer vacation that’s in line with your children’s interests. For instance, if your child loves animals, consider a trip aiding marine mammal rescue, or if your kids have a passion for the outdoors, get your feet wet with a trip maintaining trails or landmarks with your local state park system.”
There are many organizations that can help you organize your family volunteer vacation to suit your particular interests. These include Give A Day Global, the Global Citizens Network, Global Volunteers, Globe Aware, Habitat For Humanity, Love Volunteers, Me to We, the Nature Corps, the Sierra Club, and Wilderness Volunteers.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.