With everyone tightening their money belts these days, the idea of a vacation, especially a vacation aboard can seem indulgent. But what if you could vacation with a purpose? Could we begin to see money spent on vacations with a purpose as an investment rather than a luxury?
I volunteered for two weeks in France right before I started business school. I worked with La Sabranenque, a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding ancient architecture in Provence in an effort preserve history and increase tourism. It was an incredible experience - I can say with confidence that it was the most satisfying vacation I ever took. And I'm looking to repeat it.
I began doing some research on-line to see what was out there in the volunteer vacation world. After some searching I found my way to Cross-Cultural Solutions, an organization with well-established volunteer programs in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. I am really impressed by the detail on their website, their on-line community of volunteers vacationers, and their personal one-on-one service.
With some experience in this type of vacation, here are some tips that I have found helpful:
1.) Look for well-established programs that have strong relationships in the communities they serve.
2.) Programs that are flexible are usually best: flexible lengths and dates of stay, a flexible number of locations, and flexible kinds of work. I got very lucky with La Sabranenque though in general I've found that the more flexibility you have, the more organized the programs are.
3.) Find programs that have past participant testimonials. These are the equivalent of customer reviews. You want to be able to connect with members, past, present, and future to help prepare you for your experience and to connect with once you return. It's all about building bridges with others in this collective experience.
4.) Different programs have different costs and a variety of different services included with their fees. I have found that the best ones include meals and housing. You also want to be careful of how much time you'll spend volunteering and how much time you'll have to explore the country, get to know people in the community, and partake in cultural activities. In France, we volunteered for 4 hours a day and then had the rest of the time to ourselves. For me, this was the perfect combination of meaningful work and downtime.
At this point it sounds like I'll be heading to Salvador, Brazil some time in the Fall with Cross-Cultural Solutions working with kids. "Salvador has a reputation for enthusiasm and optimism widely known throughout Brazil and the world." Sounds like the perfect vacation for my year of hopefulness.