Volunteering on Vacation: Don’t Just Travel the World, Change It

When Evanston resident and yoga instructor Courtney Riley, 33, wants to make a difference, she takes a hike.

Not to a local forest preserve, but the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. The only thing that could top it? The high she gets from helping others. She’s able to do both when traveling with the Chicago-based charity Global Alliance for Africa.

Riley is part of a growing number of people choosing to volunteer on vacation. Voluntourism allows you to have the adventure of a lifetime, while helping others. Whether getting a first-hand look at charitable projects, or delivering school supplies on a Caribbean vacation, there are many ways to help.

Global Alliance for Africa, for example, provides assistance to more than 10,000 orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS, primarily through their Mt. Kilimanjaro trips. Each participant agrees to raise at least $5,000 in donations.

Riley was introduced to Global Alliance by Wilmette resident Karen Conter. Together, they coordinated a Mt. Kilimanjaro trip that raised $150,000. Riley found the trip so transformative, she helped organize two more.

“Our 2-week trip starts in Kenya, visiting the homes of people who’ve benefitted from Global Alliance’s micro-loans,” she says. “After hiking Kilimanjaro, we go on safari in Tanzania and end the trip relaxing on the island of Zanzibar. It’s a wonderful way to experience the diversity of Africa in an authentic way.”

A great way to get to know an island and its people is through volunteer shore excursions. Wouldn’t you rather spend the day at a school or community arts center, instead of buying souvenirs?

Crystal Cruises, a luxury liner that’s a great option for multi-generational family travel, has one of the best volunteer programs. “You Care-We Care” complimentary shore excursions range from beach conservation in Hawaii to gardening at a Cambodian orphanage.

Want to help out on an Alaska cruise? Holland America’s “Cruise with Purpose” allows passengers to help count and document whales in Auke Bay.

Ritz-Carlton’s “Give Back Getaways” allow guests to work with Ritz employees on volunteer projects. Stay at Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall in Jamaica and you can help beautify the local orphanage, while Ritz-Carlton South Beach guests can work on Everglades environmental projects. Ritz Grand Cayman guests can volunteer at the wildlife sanctuary for the endangered Blue Iguana.

Considering Costa Rica for a vacation? Find out why it’s called one of the happiest places on earth by volunteering alongside local residents. As with many of its resorts, the Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo will custom design a volunteer opportunity based on your interests. “Growing Together” projects have included beautifying local schools, delivering donations and helping with environmental conservation efforts.

As you pack for your next trip, consider not just what you’re bringing with you, but what you’re leaving behind. Combining travel with the chance to contribute is a great way to see the world. Giving back feels good—even on vacation.

For more information:

Pictured in Photo: Global Alliance for Africa “voluntourists” visiting micro-loan recipients

Meet the Author: A freelance journalist, Andrea Guthmann has produced programs for WTTW-TV and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Parent. When she’s not behind her computer, she’s enjoying her 3 children or planning the next volunteer service day for her boys’ school, Hawthorne Scholastic Academy.