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Volunteer travel, volunteer trips

Volunteer Travel: See Something New, Do Something Good

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I’ve had the good fortune to do two things I love. Travel and volunteer work. It’s an unusual combination, I admit. As a pastor, I have led about a dozen trips overseas to partner with local organizations to do assistance work. My older child traveled to Thailand 10 times by the age of 15. I’m not sure how much she is able to appreciate this opportunity, but I count my blessings as a parent.

Benefits of Volunteer Travel

Volunteering during travel has allowed our family not only to see something new, but to do something good. While it feels good to contribute and help others, we have made many friends over the years during our volunteer trips, which rarely happens in our other travels.

Recently, my daughter went to Thailand for an internship that she proposed through her high school. My wife took her and my son there for about two weeks. They volunteered at a local government-endorsed orphanage and student center. She experienced what I hear other parents sometimes share from their travels with children — a connection. She made a connection with the people with whom we share the world. Like the organization Doctors Without Borders, we shouldn’t let borders, political policies and even language barriers stop us from sharing a meal or friendship with others.

Making Connections

With the recent events of global terrorism, there is a tremendous need for dialogue and bridge building. We planned a trip to the Middle East, and I arranged for my two children to meet other kids their age in Turkey and Israel. How did I do it? The Internet. I emailed tour companies and asked if they have children who would be interested in having a meal with my kids. I also arranged a two-day trip to Petra, Jordan with an Israeli family with kids who happen to be the same age. Our generation may not bring world peace, but maybe this next generation of kids will do better.

Finding Opportunities to Volunteer During Travel

There are opportunities locally and globally to travel and volunteer. A number of my friends traveled to the South for one to two weeks after Hurricane Katrina to do relief work. A few dentist friends and their families have gone to use their professional skills in remote areas of the world. Some of the high school students at my church have been going to Ensenada, Mexico to help build houses during the summer. Others went to Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami as both specialists and non-skilled volunteers.

The degree of difficulty in volunteer trips is similar to other types of travel. Some are easy like beach vacations. Others are more challenging like planning a trip to Macchu Pichu. With some planning, these kinds of trips can be meaningful and fun in a different way.

If you are considering volunteering abroad, here are two organizations I’ve come across that you can reference for opportunities and ideas. I have no affiliation with either:

So the next time you plan a trip, consider volunteering during your travel and see what gifts it brings your family. And if you have any experience with volunteer trips — or voluntourism — please share with us in the comments below.

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Eugene lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife have taken their two children to about 15 countries for work and vacation. Eugene is…

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