ETHICAL VOLUNTOURISM: Finding the Right Combination of Leisure Travel and Meaningful Volunteer Work by Hampton Rhodes

Finding the Right Combination of Leisure Travel and Meaningful Volunteer Work

Similar to volunteer travel or a volunteer vacation, many people now find doing meaningful volunteer work while also participating in tourism can be a great way to get the best of both worlds. But Voluntourism is also something to be wary of in the ethical balance of egotistical self-satisfaction vs. real meaningful and sustainable contribution.

A lot has been discussed about the global $700B/year combo-industries of Tourism and Volunteerism. At issue in the media are the pros and cons of the impacts on not only the communities involved, but the positives and negatives of the psychological sense of “doing good” by the individual. Under the most media and academia scrutiny is the ethics of using both profit and not-for-profit voluntourism posturing as a marketing ploy to appease liberal and philanthropic sensibilities while making a buck. In fact, some are saying that “cause cruises” in particular are actually doing more harm than good to the communities in need.

So if you are interested in finding a charitable activity that can benefit your sense of giving back AND about doing the most good for people and places in need, follow some of these guidelines and make the most of your vacation time, by choosing wisely the type of volunteer work you most want to do, and selecting a good, solid sustainable and on-going charity that benefits a community in need.

There are many opportunities — some extremely effective and rewarding — in combining travel and volunteerism. Some of the most effective opportunities are achieved by keeping the sustainability continuum of the community in need in the forefront of their focus.

A few of the more familiar of these are Habitat for Humanity International, American Red Cross, and United Nations Volunteers. All of these charities offer international volunteer opportunities and boots-on-the-ground experiences, but many of the greatest need opportunities require specific skill sets — not just a strong back and a willing heart.

There are some student-specific global opportunities that have been around for a long time, and some that are just emerging as needs develop around the world for emergency response, educational programs and community service. Some of the most familiar of these are People to People International, Cross Cultural Solutions, and The Road Less Traveled.

Some of the resources for finding a voluntourism cruise are Cruise Critic — offering reviews and itineraries for global cause cruises around the world, Travelanthropist — offers a self-guiding questionnaire to find the right opportunity, land or sea, with language and skill considerations, and Quirky Travel Guy — an ex-pat based in Mexico City who offers reviews and recommendations for offbeat attractions and awesome destinations in North America and beyond. And of course, the World Cruise Industry Review offers oversight and guidance for picking the perfect cause cruise for any needed skills, affordable budget, required locations and similar or same-language. 

My personal go-to resource for any charitable giving, whether time or money, is the internationally recognized leader in charity efficiency — Charity Navigator ( For the lat 15 years, Charity Navigator has equipped donors with unbiased charity evaluations and tools to help you make informed giving decisions. And this resource can help find the right charity for any person or persons, of any age, of any religious affiliation, of any social proclivity, find the most giving and loving contributions of their time, energy and dollars. 

Charity Navigator’s team of professional analysts has examined tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents. They’ve used this knowledge to develop an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess over 8,000 of America’s best-known and some lesser known, but worthy, charities. In 2016, Charity Navigator had over 7 million visits by donors who used the site to find the right beneficiaries of their charity and philanthropy.

So here’s something to think about while considering Voluntourism: Do you want a vacation or do you want to volunteer, and what are your motives for combining the two?

If your motives are clear to you and your family, voluntourism can be a wonderfully enriching experience, and, if considered with care and attention, can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

NY Times – The Voluntourist’s Dilemma
Affinity Magazine – Voluntourism and the Problem with Commercializing Charity
Huffington Post – Would You Volunteer Abroad If You Had No Camera’s With You? 

All books are available at Click on title to order.
Tie Up The Lion: An Insight into Voluntourism
by Ross Young

Habitat for Humanity International
American Red Cross
United Nations Volunteers
People to People International
Cross Cultural Solutions
The Road Less Traveled
Cruise Critic
Quirky Travel Guy
World Cruise Industry Review
Charity Navigator

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