Voluntourism: Making A Difference Or Making Work?

Nearly every traveler has stumbled across at least one instance of heartbreaking poverty while on vacation; a crumbling school, an emaciated stray dog, a child with a disability begging on the street. It’s only human to want to help alleviate such problems — and the growing voluntourism industry promises travelers a chance to do just that.

Also known as volunteer vacations, voluntourism typically involves a short-term commitment to service as part of a trip that also includes sightseeing or other tourism activities. For the many travellers who don’t have time to devote to longer-term volunteer opportunities, voluntourism offers the chance to make a difference in smaller ways.

Unfortunately, there’s a growing body of evidence that many voluntourism trips don’t actually make much positive impact — and might even cause harm.

The main purpose of a voluntourism trip seems obvious: to help the community you’re visiting. But if you’re only volunteering for a few days, it’s important not to overestimate how much of a difference you can realistically make.