If you’re a modern nomad (or… like many of us, a wannabe modern nomad) then you’re probably familiar with the term “voluntourism.” The concept of voluntourism is that you put a utilitarian purpose on your traveling that benefits society. Often, this can offer a little bit of help for different pressing issues around the globe. Meanwhile, travelers go beyond the simple call of traveling just to go somewhere, and actually make themselves useful for their fellow man.
However, while this might seem all fine and dandy, there is definitely a level of tact that must be considered to responsibly engage in voluntourism. Some complaints about the trend for voluntourism has arisen, and the savvy traveler may worry that he or she is actually doing more harm than good. Other sources deride volunteer efforts, stating that it’s a white-privilege trend that exposes how little we know of others countries and cultures.
That being said, I still think that bundling volunteer work and travel is a great idea. Of course, it should be handled with humility and wisdom. Here are some tips on how to properly volunteer when traveling:
Utilize your actual skills
One of the most common pitfalls that is associated with voluntourism is that it can lead to a misappropriation of labor; a flaw that can actually cause more harm than help. An example of this is when young travelers take a trip to the developing world to construct a library, or a school, or a church, or any other sort of community building. While this can certainly be the most well-intentioned act in the world, it is worth noting that young millennial travelers aren’t inherently contractors, carpenters, masons, or architects. In many cases, these volunteers actually suck at the actual task at hand, and the construction that they put in has to be redone by other volunteers, or the locals.
Having to retroactively correct the work of a bunch of volunteers can become more expensive than just doing it correctly in the first place. That’s why, before volunteering abroad, it’s wise to consider your own skills and experience. Not only will this prevent embarrassing situations like the one above from happening, but it will also make you more useful to the people you are trying to help, which should be one of the primary priorities in the act of “voluntourism.” One industry that we are seeing this be successfully done in is the medical industry.
Don’t fall victim to high-priced voluntourism scams
One of the greatest plagues on the image of voluntourism is the countless high-priced scams that can be found all over the internet. These cons will invite large swaths of tourists to come and volunteer for an issue during an extended period of time, but will charge large amounts of money for the privilege to do so. The truth about these scams is that they actually do very little to help the communities they are charging you for the benefit to volunteer. Instead, the only service that they provide is a little bit of good-feelings for the wealthy individuals that they suck in. Don’t be fooled into giving your money to these corrupt organizations. If you do pay an organization for such a trip, do hearty research about how your money is going to be spent.
Be conscious of sociological issues
Another important thing to consider when you are looking to travel the world in search for noble and humanitarian pursuits is that your own safety must be considered. This means being aware of the different issues, both sociological and biological, that are prevalent in areas that you are looking to volunteer in. Actually take a detailed look at the countries that you plan to go to, and take the proper precautions to make yourself safe in your journeys. After all, it does nobody any good to get yourself into danger. This might mean avoiding certain parts of a country that are suffering from violent affairs. An example of this might be Mexico. While nearly all of the country is safe and a wonderful place to travel in, there are certain zones that are deemed unsafe for travelers, due to the influence of various cartels (if you would like to know more about that specific issue, check out this blog post here).
All this being said, I know many people who have done amazing things in other countries, getting involved in foreign communities in unique and useful ways. Have you ever participated in volunteering abroad? Share your experiences!