Login | Register | Subscribe to the GG RSS Feed

Planning a Volunteer Vacation

Volunteerism with author, Doug Cutchins

Please welcome Doug Cutchins, co-author of Volunteer Vacations: Short Term Adventures that Will Benefit You and Others.

We're a community-based travel blog and we welcome submissions from everyone. Whether you're a budget-baller or a first class only kinda traveler, we'd love to hear from you. Visit our Writer's Guidelines and learn how you can share your travel advice, stories and adventures!

Your volunteer vacation defined

how can I help with volunteer travel?how can I help with volunteer travel?Your volunteer vacation has been on your calendar for weeks or maybe even months. You found the organization somehow - maybe a friend suggested it or you got an email advertisement or you read an article - and you signed up quickly, almost impulsively. You were excited at first, of course, but then life took over, and the departure date snuck up on you, almost before you knew it. Suddenly your bags were packed, the plane was taking off, and you were on your way.

And maybe that's when the problems started.

  • You want me to sleep where?
  • Wait, this is the work we're doing?
  • I've worked all day and now you want me to do dishes?
  • And now that the dishes are done, the other volunteers want me to party?
  • Or maybe instead: And now that the dishes are done, the other volunteers are all going to bed and nobody wants to party with me?

Volunteer Vacations ~ how can I help?Volunteer Vacations ~ how can I help?Not knowing what you're getting into when you sign up for a volunteer vacation can lead to a miserable experience, one that unfortunately might make you never want to sign up for one again.

A reporter once interviewed me about volunteer vacations, bound and determined to write an expose into the "mistreatment" of volunteers. She'd had an unfortunate experience on her own volunteer vacation. The program she volunteered with overseas only provided a few hours of work each day, with lots of free time. As a busy mid-career professional who had given up vacation time and spent a lot of money to undertake this project, she felt ripped off.

I asked her about the other volunteers on the trip. "Oh, they loved it," she told me. "They were all in their early 20s, and were mostly there on their parents' dime, and didn't want to work very hard."

And there's the problem. It's not that the organization was bad; the younger volunteers would have raved about it. It's that she hadn't done her homework and hadn't found a volunteer organization that matched her needs and desires.

What makes a successful volunteer vacation?

Volunteer Vacations by Doug CutchinsVolunteer Vacations by Doug CutchinsIn researching and writing Volunteer Vacations, I've been overwhelmed at times by the diversity of trips and experiences that these programs offer. You can go just about anywhere, at any time of year, with a range of prices, doing all different kinds of work with various amenities and people involved. It's like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, but in real life.

With all these choices, you have to put in the time to find the right adventure. The key is to be smart about your decisions and careful in your planning, giving lots of forethought to what you want your volunteer experience to be. Don't just jump into an experience without thinking through what success means and looks like to you.

  • What do you want out of this trip?
  • What are the most important elements to you?
  • How much comfort do you need?
  • What kind of work do you want to do?
  • What skills do you already have that can make the biggest difference?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • Who do you want to surround yourself with?

Then, do your homework. Read books like Volunteer Vacations and use the indexes to help you pinpoint the organizations and trips that best meet your needs, hopes, and expectations.

I've often said that everyone can be a great volunteer in the right situation and every organization appeals to someone. It's all about finding the match between the volunteer and the organization.

So put in the time, and find your match.

Doug Cutchins authored Volunteer VacationsDoug Cutchins authored Volunteer VacationsIn the end, nobody wins or is happy if you sign up with the wrong organization. Not you, not the organization and certainly not the people you were there to serve. Create a victory for everyone by engaging in some self-reflection before you start searching for an organization, and put in the time on the front end to find the right one.

About Doug Cutchins

Doug Cutchins is the co-author of the last four editions of Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others, published by Chicago Review Press.  He is also the Director of Social Commitment at Grinnell College, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Suriname.

Where have your Volunteer travels taken you? Tell us about your experiences ... Chat with us on Facebook or connect with us on Twitter. We'd love to hear your stories!

Related Stories

Rate This post

Post new comment

GoGirlfriend Recommendations

Travel Planning

Lonely Planet


Membership is free and with it you can set up a profile, vote on stories and post your opinions.

Already a member?

Not a member? Join!

Most Recent Comments

  • On 6 Tips to Survive (and Thrive) in Self-Isolation, admin said "Thanks Bat-El for the great tip. We've included your link in our Bonus Ideas from our Community section so others can enjoy. I really enjoyed the Stonehenge tour ... it's on my bucket list!"
  • On 6 Tips to Survive (and Thrive) in Self-Isolation, Bat-El Galor said "My name is Bat-El, and I'm working in collaboration with Travel Trend website. We've recently published a post -"Top 100 virtual tours around the world". After looking at these wonderful tips to survive in self-isolation; It occurred to me that our post could also contribute to your readers with further virtual tours resources. The post includes 100 links to virtual tours and unique experiences around the world. Feel free to check out the link and enjoy your travels ... https://www.trvltrend.com/technology/virtual-tours/ Cheers,"
  • On Cuba Travel ~ 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go, admin said "Thanks Gordon for the update ... and given most routes to the resorts on the coast are an hour+ and it's Cuban warm, that money for a beverage is a great tip!"
  • On Cuba Travel ~ 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go, Gordon Mitchell said "Over the last few years The $25 departure tax has been included in your airfare. Make sure you convert your cash at the airport so you can buy a cold beer on the bus on your way to the resort. They will take canadian money but not loonies and toonies. "
  • On Lesbian Adventure Travel, Debbie Clarke said "If you're considering New Zealand, then New Zealand Awaits is lesbian owned and operated (yes I'm the founder, owner, and guide). We run active and not so active tours for lesbians, as well as some LGBTQ mixed trips. We create itineraries for travellers wanting to self drive, and we have private guides. Come see us! "

Blogs We Love

beautiful Vancouver, British ColumbiaCheck out our GoGirlfriend Facebook page to follow us as we seek new adventures and create memories in our own part of the world.