Many people are looking for new ways to contribute to their favorite social and environmental causes. That trend has led to voluntourism, the fairly new practice of combining vacations with activism. While this may be a new take on vacationing, it’s growing with social-conscious travelers spending an estimated $2 billion per year.

Vacationers Should Investigate Their Causes

While using your vacation to help another society or culture is a great thing to do, it can lead to unfortunate experiences. Janine Queenin, who runs a travel agency in Westfield Massachusetts, advises travelers to do their own diligent research to avoid getting involved with disreputable organizations. She adds that the suppliers offering to connect families with charities can sometimes pose the greatest risk, especially if those companies aren’t supported by the communities in which they operate.

Ms. Queenin says these organizations may be exploiting children or could be utilizing volunteers in ways that take needed work away from locals residing in those communities. Instead, families looking to explore voluntourism should work with reputable travel agencies. By going through a professional travel agent, families can ensure the opportunities are reputable and supported by the local communities. Legitimate volunteer opportunities are arranged with area governments to ensure the help being received isn’t actually harming the community’s economy.

The Rewards of Voluntourism

Typical opportunities for voluntourism give travelers an opportunity to work in schools and with children in a variety of environments, as well as work in women’s shelters, but there’s also work that more directly involves environmentalism or wildlife welfare. Whatever the traveler’s area of interest, there are legitimate opportunities for volunteering and travel.

Virginia Beach travel agent Jacquie Whitt, who works at Adios Adventure Travel, says families can even customize their experience. While some may like the idea of “roughing it” like a camping trip, others may prefer more traditional accommodations. Whitt says many of her clients have such a positive experience that they often return for more voluntourism vacations.

In many cases, families communicate with community leaders to determine the needs of the village. This helps them arrive better prepared and affords travelers an opportunity to pack supplies that the village may need. The rewards for spending vacations helping new cultures provides rewards that go beyond the cost of the trip. Families work together toward a common good and are able to give back in a very real way.