Voluntourism: How Can Responsible Volunteer Travelers Make a Difference?

Insights into Issues and Challenges Surrounding Volunteer Travel

The free e-book "Adventures Less Ordinary: How to Travel and Do Good" offers in-depth insights into the issues and challenges surrounding volunteer travel and philanthropic adventures. Learn from voluntourism examples, stories and expert observations, ask questions, and be part of the conversations.

Expert Team at TrainingAid

Voluntourism Machu Picchu Inspired Escapes
Volunteer Linda Pritchard helps builds a greenhouse for the Andean community in Machu Picchu, Peru (Photo courtesy of Inspired Escapes)

Voluntourism: Examples, Stories and Lessons Learned

Voluntourism eBook Adventures Less OrdinaryThink, reflect, ask questions, learn and share.

These are some of the key lessons you will learn about (and learn how to do) from the examples, stories and expert observations in the free e-book "Adventures Less Ordinary: How to Travel and Do Good" (Horizon Travel Press, January 2015), which offers in-depth insights into the issues and challenges surrounding volunteer travel and philanthropic adventures.

As the growth of the voluntourism sector in recent years has brought to light some critical questions about the ethics, benefits and impacts of travelers seeking to do good and give back, travelers, as well as providers of volunteer travel experiences, today are faced with the important responsibility of addressing often-difficult issues around our motivations and the long-term consequences of our well-intentioned actions.

Packed with well-researched facts supported by trusted voices on responsible volunteer and philanthropic travel, "Adventures Less Ordinary" is a valuable resource helping us navigate through the evolving state of voluntourism and travel-inspired service experiences around the world, and helping us find ideas and inspirations for how we can continue to advocate for travelers making a difference while becoming better at finding effective and sustainable solutions (in other words, #MendNotEnd voluntourism).

Critical View: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

In addition to raising important questions about why and how we do things as travelers wishing to make a difference - why do we want to volunteer? how are we really making a difference? - the eBook offers some guidance to help us find answers to key questions about voluntourism:

  • Why is it important to consider certain conditions and requirements when evaluating volunteer projects?
  • Why are skilled volunteers and well-matched opportunities critical to some types of programs and activities?
  • How can we distinguish responsible volunteer organizations from those who are just in it for the money?
  • How can we ask the right questions about responsible volunteer travel experiences and find the right kind of answers that really address critical concerns?

The "Adventures Less Ordinary" expert contributors share examples - some based on their own experiences and some focused on industry case studies - that help travelers gain valuable insights into how to approach specific types of activities and projects and how best to choose and work with volunteer programs. These examples and stories also encourage volunteer travelers to think about their impact beyond the claims about "doing good", “changing lives" and "giving back".

Community Leadership Is Key to Lasting Impact

Volunteer and service travel experiences are a natural part of today’s adventurers and explorers who are increasingly seeking opportunities to interact with and be part of the local communities they visit. For volunteer travel programs and travel-inspired service experiences to continue to be viable options for responsible travelers, they need knowledge based on best practices and resources to help develop and manage them in a more responsible and sustainable manner.

Voluntourism Water Project in Uganda Inspired Escapes
The Inspired Escapes water safari engages in a local clean water project, shadowing local residents as they build clean water wells in their community (Photo courtesy of Inspired Escapes)

The key to achieving the desired outcome of truly meaningful volunteer travel experiences - both for the traveler and for the local community - is, as illustrated in the e-book, community leadership, which goes beyond "involving" local communities in discussions about the purpose and impact of a volunteer program, and focuses on commitment to local empowerment and creating positive benefits based on the needs and desires of the community members.

Our goal, as we explore the world seeking responsible and meaningful experiences and hoping to make a difference through travel, therefore, is to support those volunteer and service programs that take community leadership seriously and are dedicated to ensuring tangible and lasting benefits for local communities and destinations.

"...anyone engaging with sustainable infrastructure development through charitable and service-learning organizations should place [a value] on community leadership. Any form of support shared with a community – whether it be money or muscle – should have been invited by that community." - Ethan Gelber

Moving Conversations Forward

"Adventures Less Ordinary" constitutes an important piece of ongoing discussions around voluntourism and philanthropic travel, their impacts and their future directions, and of the efforts to continue moving these conversations forward.

While asking critical questions about the consequences of irresponsible and unsustainable voluntourism practices is an essential part of these conversations, so is sharing positive examples and celebrating excellence.

Along with cautionary tales and advice on how to avoid unintended negative consequences of our good intentions, the e-book presents inspiring examples of those who are doing great work making a difference for local communities and destinations, which is a great way of engaging more people in constructive conversations about how to be responsible, respectful and well-informed volunteer travelers.

The good news is we can all play a role in this important work of moving the conversations about voluntourism forward - by staying connected with the global community of conscious and ethical volunteer travel advocates and travelers interested in responsible volunteering, and by actively sharing your own ideas, lessons, inspirations and recommendations.

One great way to do this is joining the Outbounding.org discussion forum and group on good practice, constructive discussion and coverage of voluntourism done well. Another is following and sharing the hashtag #MendNotEnd on social media.

A Challenge for Voluntourism Leaders?

One of the "Adventures Less Ordinary" contributors, Jorge Sandoval (Volunteers Coordinator, Fundación Bolivar Education), writes:

"… if we had the chance to speak to leaders in the field of voluntourism, we would request one thing: help creating a platform through which we can be reached by communities and local organizations that need help and would benefit from the placement of volunteers with them, but can’t find us." - Jorge Sandoval


Could voluntourism organizations come together to create a platform for local communities and organizations that would benefit from volunteer contributions? Could this be a viable solution to help address some of the current issues and challenges facing the volunteer and philanthropic travel sector?

What do YOU think? Get inspired by volunteer travel stories and examples from around the world, and share your own ideas, questions and suggestions for voluntourism leaders with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or send us a mail!