11th March 2021

The pandemic prevented many seniors from enjoying two of the most popular and rewarding retirement activities: travelling and volunteering. Now that vaccines are rolling out and the world is starting to reopen, why not catch up on both at once?

“Voluntourism” gives travellers an opportunity to enjoy a new place while also helping those in need. To make sure that your time and money will be well spent, do some homework and answer these five questions.

  1. For whom will I actually be volunteering?

Some voluntourism trips are coordinated by several organisations with varying responsibilities. It’s important that you understand who is ultimately responsible for volunteers, especially if you’re planning to travel internationally. That well known company whose logo is at the top of advertisements might just be a sponsor with no role in on the ground operations. The friendly voice on the phone who’s helping you book travel might be a coordinator working for an intermediary. Are you working directly for a reputable charity organisation, or is the larger charity connecting you to a smaller host organisation that will be responsible for your transportation, bed and board, and safety? Drilling down into these specifics will help you connect to causes and organisations you will be more comfortable helping and donating to.

  1. Where is my money going?

Unlike volunteering at your local soup kitchen, voluntourism can often cost as much as taking a regular vacation. Don’t let the fact that you’re dealing with a charitable organisation keep you from asking some frank questions about how your money is spent. If several organisations are coordinating your trip, who ultimately receives payment? Does your money only cover your travel and living expenses, or does a percentage of it go directly to local community needs?

  1. What, specifically, will I be doing?

Many retirees find that volunteer work is more physically and emotionally demanding than their 9 to 5 jobs were. And while voluntourism can be a great way to experience life in places like India or Africa, many disadvantaged communities won’t have the amenities or climate that you’re used to at home. Moreover, if you’re expecting to help children learn to read English and the host organisation asks you to spend hours stocking a food pantry, you’re not going to feel like you’re putting your skills to their highest uses. Look for voluntourism that offers a good balance between clearly defined and scheduled responsibilities that you can handle and some down time for exploring your destination.

  1. Could my volunteer work have any negative consequences on the local community?

If you’ve been researching voluntourism, you’ve probably come across articles urging tourists not to volunteer at orphanages in developing countries. Sadly, many orphanages have turned goodwill into a commercial prospect, diverting resources away from the children they’re supposed to help so that they can operate like a for profit business. In many countries, donating to or volunteering at private orphanages frustrates larger efforts by international organisations like UNICEF to help governments connect children with loving families.

Voluntourism can also have unintended consequences on local economies. Ask your trip organizer if your volunteer work could be depriving someone of a paying job or an opportunity to learn a new skill. Does the host organisation have a good relationship with the community? Are the benefits of this program sustainable?

  1. How am I going to pay for this trip?

Once you’ve found a voluntourism trip that provides positive answers to these and other questions, it might be a good idea to review your short-term travel budget. Are you rolling over some unspent holiday money from 2020? Do you have other delayed travel plans that you’re hoping to catch up on this year? Or are you thinking about making volunteer work and charity a larger part of your retirement plan?

Whether you want to go abroad, give back, or both, let’s discuss how your financial plan can help you make the most of 2021.