Voluntourism is not just a catchy play on words, it’s a philosophy that when practiced properly, can truly make a difference in the lives of others and create a real positive impact. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s essentially a holiday in which you, the traveler, spends most (if not all) of your time doing volunteer work for local communities, the environment or other social causes. Some examples of volunteer projects you can participate in include: conservation and environmental restoration projects; building schools; and teaching to the disadvantaged or underprivileged. Voluntourism is also a growing sector of the tourism industry, especially in the wake of the 2011 Japan tsunami. That said, despite how noble the cause, voluntourism isn’t without its scrutiny.

Critics of voluntouring suggest that some companies don’t vet volunteers to prove that they are capable of doing the work that’s required of them. Some have come out and said that many of the projects do little to help local communities. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that volunteers do more harm than good.

Dr. Kate Simpson has been working in and researching international volunteering since 1998. With her extensive experience in the subject matter of volunteering abroad, she started the website EthicalVolunteering.org. Unfortunately, the website is no longer active. Before the website shut down, she offered great advice on how to volunteer ethically. If you're interested in voluntouring, she suggests asking the following seven questions to any prospective organizations that arrange volunteering holidays:

  1. Exactly what will I be doing? Can the organization provide a brief job description?

  2. Does the organization work with a local partner organization?

  3. Does the organization make any financial contributions to its volunteer programmes and if so, how much?

  4. Does the organization have policies on eco and ethical tourism?

  5. What time frame is the volunteer programme run on?

  6. Can the organization provide precise contact details for my chosen programme?

  7. What support and training will I receive?

Volunteering abroad can truly make a difference and have a positive impact as you travel. As the traveler, you’d probably leave feeling an immense sense of gratification and accomplishment in the knowledge that you’ve done something special for those who really needed it. It really speaks to the principles of sustainable travel where you’re preserving the land and culture of your destination for future generations. But much research should be taken before joining a voluntour program.