The Pros and Cons of Voluntourism January 17, 2018 By Josh Martinez Leave a Comment Voluntourism, otherwise known as Volunteer Tourism, continues to be a popular alternative to the normal vacation. A traveler can visit some exotic region with the purpose of volunteering. It can be an excellent way for individuals to learn about a different culture and explore a country while helping those in need. Many voluntours are in areas of the world where there’s a need and the volunteers supply the means. This can come in the form of time, money or any other need for an impoverished area. Voluntourism has boomed in popularity since 2005, but there are some clear advantages and disadvantages that come along with the practice. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about it as others. With many weighing the benefits of voluntourism, here are the pros and cons for this popular kind of travel: Con: Some Voluntourists Help for the Wrong Reason A recent video summed up some modern issues with this kind of activism. Pictures and posts to social media may garner likes, but they also can treat the projects and locals like a prop. Voluntourism is also a popular plan for recent graduates during a gap year. This kind of travel is a great way to better understand the world. But, many young adults can use the trip to just put volunteer experience on their resume. If the volunteers aren’t actually there to help, then they often produce shoddy work. Pro: Gain a New Perspective on the World One of the most popular reasons for travel is to experience a new culture. From different norms to new people in all walks of life, foreign travel can broaden your scope of the world. Voluntourism focuses even more on this appealing aspect. The volunteers replace rest and relaxation with a chance to spend time with the locals. Instead of the usual tourist stops, you get to spend more time with locals off the beaten path. Voluntourism can provide a much more authentic look at a country than the normal vacation. Con: Volunteer Companies Can Be Dishonest Many people work through a company in their voluntourism efforts. While this may seem like a reliable method, the organization may not be selling you the truth. This will often come from companies that just show off the fun aspects of this tourism. There may be vague mentions of the good they do, but pictures will only show a vacation-like atmosphere. Many websites recommend you vet the company before booking the trip. Make sure that you know what this company is trying to accomplish with their volunteers and ensure they have a positive history in the area. Depending on the company, some voluntourists aren’t vetted and are ill-prepared to help with the project. This can lead to inferior work from the volunteers. Pro: You Can Do Some Good in the Community This is the reason why voluntourism continues to prove popular. Josh Powell, the Director of Innovation at Development Gateway, spoke to Smarter Travel about the good in these trips. He mentioned that not every region can address needs without some help. They may have a shortage of teachers, doctors or engineers to help with complex jobs. As long as a person is working a field that matches their skills, they can provide some much needed help. Con: The Work From Voluntourism Can Be Inferior Many voluntourists with bad experiences on their trip will offer the same disheartening story. They put in a day or week of hard work, only to find that it needed to be redone. And not after they left the country. Local workers may have to come in and redo what the volunteers ineffectively built. While unfortunate, this is understandable if you have workers who only have a few days worth of experience. It’s hard to do a good job when you’ve only been doing the work for a week. Pro: Voluntourism Can Bring Money to the Community Money from these trips can come from multiple sources. Volunteers usually have to pay their own way for the trip. Whether it’s for lodging, food or some other activity, that money gets to the local community. Encouraged volunteers might also donate or fundraise for the region after their trip is over. The money from a volunteer’s trip may even do more good than the actual work. This puts needed funds into the local economy and pays for more work to be done by locals. Con: Voluntourism Can Prevent Communities From Self-Establishment As we’ve said, with foreign travelers comes money for the community. But, this also creates a dependency on the tourists to feed the local businesses. A report from Newsweek focused on the problem this creates within the community. With volunteers on the way, locals might forego health insurance and wait for free help from foreign doctors. Local parents might also rely on orphanages to provide help, knowing that volunteers provide frequent help. Volunteers might also take paying jobs from locals in need of money. This was one effect after volunteering spiked in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. With only volunteers and no tourism and a lack of work, many were homeless with no income to improve the situation. If you are interested in voluntourism, you can find more information at GoOverseas and GoAbroad. Smarter Travel recommends questions like these to help decide on your voluntourism trip: What are your fees for voluntouring with your organization? How many people are on your payroll? May I see a copy of your account statements, so I know where my money is going? What projects are in process or are on the agenda in the near future? What kind of company are you? Charity or non-profit? Voluntourism can be a bit tricky to navigate, and is not something that a person should do on a whim. It takes a bit of investigation on your part, but the experience can be unforgettable. If you’re certain the trip will help the community, voluntourism can benefit all parties. Do you have any other questions about voluntourism? Let us know in the comments or via Facebook and Twitter. Written for Passport Health by Sabrina Cortes. Sabrina is a freelance writer with a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgian Court University. She currently lives in the Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina.