Why do you go on vacation? To relax? To be active? To adventure and experience new cultures? For some, that’s not enough. There’s a large segment of the population who want to spend part of their time off doing something positive for the world — a volunteer vacation.
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A volunteer vacation is a combination of doing fun activities and service projects in countries around the world. Mitchell Roy co-founded The Vacation Project, after years of working in the travel industry.
“We try to blend service projects, volunteer endeavors, in foreign destinations in various parts of the world,” Roy said. “And we also try to pair that with a fun aspect where we do different social activities like you typically would on vacation. It’s really a form of holistic travel, kind of a new category we’re trying to create. Just do travel a little differently than the typical lay on the beach and lounge around. We want to actually make tangible impacts on the communities we visit.”
A volunteer vacation
He says they attract travelers from all age groups, but the majority of participants are 25-34 years old.
“We know that the second-fastest growing sector of traveling in tourism is service-based tourism, only behind adventure travel,” Roy said. “Once you split that out demographically, it’s disproportionately weighted toward the younger set, even younger than our target demo. The Generation Z’ers are even more inclined to commit part of their time, whether it’s in their domestic life or their vacation, to service.”
As far as how much leisure time you’ll have versus how much volunteering, that varies from trip-to-trip. Roy outlines a recent trip to Morocco that spanned over New Year’s Eve.
“We certainly hung out in different clubs; we were in Marrakesh,” Roy said. “Then we did our service project in the Atlas Mountains, two and half hours from Marrakesh. We stayed in a very rural village called Tizian. We did a home stay, so we stayed with host families. We helped them irrigate their crops, build terraces from apple orchards, just things the community needed from a farming perspective. We got to actually learn about the Berber community there.”
“Like I said, it’s a very rural community so they don’t get many visitors,” he said. “It’s actually next to a very prominent mountain in Africa; it’s the second tallest peak in Africa. It’s called Toubkal. So we did a lot of hiking there. We met with the community and we did town halls and discussed projects they wanted to do. When we came back from there we had a couple days left in Marrakesh and we did a spa day, we did a tour of the Souks, we did a lot of the sightseeing things that you’d be accustomed to doing, but this was a completely different take on the country. I’ve been to Morocco before but this was a much different experience.”
Trips to Nicaragua and Costa Rica include activities like ziplining, surfing, and whale watching and you’re always led by local guides.
“Particularly, economic sustainability is really important to us,” Roy said. “So we make sure we have a guide who’s from the city or destination you’re going to. They’re shepherding you around and they’re the point person, they’re really doing it all.”
Of course, there are many companies that do different variations of vacation volunteering trips, including REI. You just need to figure out which one is right for you.