Everything You Need to Know About Voluntourism

VoluntourismWant to see the world, make a difference, and save money? Voluntourism has become a means for many young adults to travel, gain life experience, and challenge themselves. Also, because voluntourism is geared toward serving others where they live, rather than visiting tourist locations, it can be an affordable way to travel on a budget.

To get you started, here are some answers to common questions about voluntourism.

What Is Voluntourism?

Voluntourism is the intersection of volunteering and tourism. Essentially, you agree to travel to work on as a volunteer in a foreign country. Because of the costs related to creating, organizing, and sustaining these opportunities, there is usually a fee charged for you to participate in these programs.

How Does It Work?

Because of the complexities involved in volunteering abroad, most volunteers work with agencies that put together programs for volunteers. Programs run from a week to months.

What Can I Do as a Voluntourist?

Volunteering abroad can provide a wealth of opportunities. Some of the most common ones include:


Many programs offer options for volunteers to work as teachers or childcare assistants in communities across the world. One of the benefits for students is that they can learn English from volunteers, while you can share in their language and culture in return.

While a teaching degree or certification isn’t required, some programs recommend that you complete a certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) before you leave.

Other programs in this area can also include mentoring children in areas such as sports and athletics, music and the performing arts, and even entrepreneurship and small business development.

Elder Care/ Special Needs

Children aren’t the only ones who are in need of help. Around the world, elders and adults with special needs are victims of abuse and neglect. Voluntourism programs can give you the opportunity to work in these communities.


Some projects are about bringing in volunteers to help build and repair schools, hospitals, and other public projects. There are no special skills required for these types of projects, just an ability and willingness to work hard.


For those with training in healthcare, there are always opportunities to contribute to serving communities around the world. These can range from teaching basic hygiene and public health to helping support communities affected by HIV/AIDS or other conditions.


Another favorite opportunity for voluntourists is the chance to learn about and protect animals across the world. This can include everything from turtles in the Maldives, to rescuing stray cats and dogs in Mexico, to elephant conservation in Sri Lanka.

What Are the Practical Considerations?

Keep in mind that volunteering abroad won’t put you in major cities or glamorous locations. Volunteers are usually hosted in local homes and are guaranteed three meals a day and sanitary living conditions, but you’re not likely to be staying at comfortable hotels with cable TV. Also, while you can make arrangements to visit tourist locations on your own time, the focus of your time will be in your volunteer work.

Can voluntourism make a difference?

One concern that has emerged in recent years is whether voluntourism does more harm than good. While volunteers and agencies approach this work with the best of intentions, orphanages in many poorer countries have been established to exploit rather than help local children.

One person who has illuminated this issue in recent years is Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. Through her Lumos charity, she has raised millions to raise awareness, stop exploitative institutions, and return children to their families.

Other concerns have arisen related to the sustainability of volunteer-driven projects. For instance, critics point out that it’s easy to build a school, but without teachers, financial support, and community involvement, a school building is useless.

Unfortunately, the voluntourism industry is unregulated, so there isn’t a definitive list of ethical organizations. It doesn’t mean that volunteering abroad can’t have a positive impact; it does mean that it’s important to talk to the agency you work with to make sure that they are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

How Much Does It Cost?

VoluntourismVoluntourism packages can cover a wide range of prices depending on the agency, the location, and the work that you’re participating in. Before committing to any kind of volunteer opportunity, it’s important that you fully understand all the costs involved, including those covered by your package and those that aren’t. For example, most voluntourism packages do not include the cost of airfare, which is usually one of the most expensive parts of any trip.

If you’re creating a travel budget, make sure to include all of these extras into your final cost.

Looking for ways to finance your travels? Come talk with us today! We can help you with savings accounts, investments, and other ideas on how to save for your future travels. Learn more here!