If teaching English in Peru, planting trees in Costa Rica or helping at a women’s shelter in South Africa sounds appealing, a volunteer vacation may be right for you. But for travelers who want to combine exploring a new place with giving back to the community, it’s not as easy as picking a country and just showing up. With countless volunteer vacation programs across the globe, how’s a traveler supposed to find the right one — and make sure it’s legit?
Writes IndependentTraveler.com contributor Colleen Costello, “Once you have found a company with a project that interests you, consider the caveats and other pertinent considerations. You should have access to program alumni, and you should not have to pay for program information. Do not send money until you have chosen a project and are securing your reservation. If you are browsing an organization’s Web site or program guide, you should see a detailed breakdown of how program fees are used; a reputable organization will use 90 to 100 percent of funds received towards the various costs of the program.”
One good place to start your search is VolunteerInternational.org, which lists only member organizations that meet a strict set of criteria. Among other requirements, qualifying programs must provide safe and clean volunteer housing, offer a clear breakdown of fees and expenses, and encourage local field trips beyond the volunteer’s main work responsibilities.