Voluntourism: A New Kind of Teen Vacation

Written on September 12, 2013 at 4:27 pm , by


By Vanessa Van Petten, author and creator of RadicalParenting.com. Radical Parenting is a website for parents written by teens.

Have you heard? According to teens, backpacking through Europe is officially out. Voluntouring through South America is in.

Before the recession most teenagers dreamed about hostel-hopping through Italy or living on a boat in Thailand. And they worked part-time jobs during high school to save up for the airfare. But these days teens can’t find jobs, and if they can, they need the money to pay for college, gas and groceries.

Yet the travel bug still remains in the heart of the young. So how are teens scratching the travel itch on a tight budget? Enter voluntourism.

Voluntourism: Volunteer travel or volunteer vacations are traveling trips that include volunteering for a charitable cause.

I first began hearing about voluntourism from our teen interns at Radical Parenting, where teens answer questions and write advice for parent readers.

Voluntourism seems to be a perfect fit for this generation of youth. It’s a convenient fusion of giving back, adventure and resume experience. Here is why teens say they love it:

  • A fun way to better the world around them.
  • An easy way to see the world.
  • An affordable way to travel.
  • A great way to get résumé and college essay experiences.

Here’s how voluntourism works and how parents and teens can take advantage of this interesting vacation option.

1. Destinations and Projects

Voluntourists typically start by either picking a desired destination or a type of project they would like to work on. The companies and projects vary widely, from cleaning up local wildlife areas to building schools to helping with medical aid. I have a full list of programs below. Parents and teens should think carefully about skills involved and safety concerns for each destination.

2. Budget

Most voluntourists pay a small fee for their flight and lodging. Trip fees can range from $300 to $3,000, depending on the length of the trip and the location. The fee also prevents freeloaders from hopping from trip to trip for the free travel. Parents and teens should think about their finances and budget for extra cash for spending money at airports and on free evenings or weekends.

3. Length

Some teens take an entire summer to voluntour, others go for a week over spring or winter break. Parents and teens should think carefully about the length of their trip, especially if it’s a teen’s first time away from home or out of the country.

4. Programs

There are a number of programs that offer voluntour trips for teens and young adults. Once you have an idea of your budget, timeline and what kind of trip you want to take, you sign up with a voluntour group. Here are some programs and resources for families who are looking for voluntourism trips:

5. More Programs Specifically for Teens

6. Know the Benefits

Voluntourism can provide teens with an amazing sense of perspective and a wonderful learning experience. You can also choose programs in countries where teens can practice their high school language skills. And for many, it is one of the best ways to travel affordably and see the world while giving back.

7. Notes of Caution

Not all programs are created equal. Choose your trip carefully. Sadly, there are always those who take advantage of people trying to do good. Be sure to do your due diligence on any program to make sure it is not making false claims. Also be sure to check the U.S. State Department’s Travel Warnings to make sure the country you’ve chosen is safe. Lastly, get all immunizations and medical checkups before leaving the U.S.

Voluntourism provides an amazing opportunity for young people to do good with their vacation time and give back while exploring the world. You might want to consider it as an option for your teen’s next vacation.

For more interesting youth trends and parent and teen tips, sign up for Radical Parenting’s free newsletter!

Vanessa Van Petten is the nation’s only youthologist—following youth trends to help teens, parents and families. Vanessa’s unique approach has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, CNN and Teen Vogue, and she is a two-time winner of the Mom’s Choice Award. Her books can be found at her popular parenting website RadicalParenting.com.


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4 Responses to “Voluntourism: A New Kind of Teen Vacation”

  1. Good for any age

  2. i volunteered for Red cross food program for homeless, during last winter heavy snow falls, i did enjoyed it a lot !!

  3. My daughter went to Honduras this past summer on a public health voluntour trip. They built basic tools for health (shower, toilet, indoor stove and water holding system as well as putting cement floor in a home).

    She said it was the best experience she has ever had and plans to make it an annual thing. Total cost of the trip was around $2000, but worth a lifetime and lifechanging experience.

  4. This is a good article that brings up some helpful points about service learning, voluntourism, etc. It just scratches the surface of some of the considerations for parents and students that are researching these types of programs. First of all, there are literally hundreds of service learning programs that works specifically with teens. I’m not sure why only two were mentioned. And while I appreciate the fact that the author links to an article about some of the controversy and potential harm that volunteering can cause, I think this subject should have been explored in more detail. Here’s an article from our blog that parents considering a service learning program may want to check out before sending their son or daughter abroad to volunteer: http://sustainablesummer.org/service-learning-programs-for-high-school-students/