Three Top Tips for Ethical Travel

September 1, 2017
Beyond the Orphanage

Travel has never been as bigger part of life as it is today. Where it was once as simple as grabbing your passport as you head for the golden sands and clear blue water of a tropical island escape, the plethora of possible destinations and activities available has made decision-making a little more difficult.

The fact is that people just demand more from their travel now. We want experiences that will be unique to us. We want our travel like we want our coffee: organically, ethically, and sustainably farmed, with an extra shot of social responsibility. All poured into a big cup of life changing experiences.

Cue the rise of volunteering holidays, or ‘voluntourism’ for short.

Every year, schools, universities, NGOs, and travel agents organise for droves of people to volunteer overseas, often with children and young people.

On the surface, this is a hugely positive shift in tides. We care about the world, and we want to make a difference!

However, it’s important to peel back the layers on what kind of difference in the world we really want to make. Why? Because certain volunteer opportunities, when not thought through, can cause more harm than good.

With rising demand for volunteer travel experiences, what was once the sole domain of a handful of aid organisations is now seeing the rise of a multi-billion-dollar industry. Now, more and more volunteering is managed through an interlocking network of volunteer ‘brokers’. Unfortunately, some ‘brokers’ operate with little to no regard for the social ramifications of their endeavours.

Now don’t get us wrong! Skilled volunteering can have an enormous, positive impact in international development. It can be incredibly beneficial to entire communities (and not least yourself).

So, with this in mind, how can you ensure that your time and dollars are focussed in the right direction? Well, look no further! Here are our top 3 tips for volunteering internationally.

1. Do your research before you decide where to volunteer.

With ‘voluntourism’ getting some negative press lately, it pays to understand exactly what you’re supporting.

Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous operators out there. Once you can appreciate that these operators exist, you can start by asking the right questions.

For example, if the charity works with children, ask: what’s the model of care that’s adhered to? How does the charity support young people after they’ve left the program? Are there social workers, or psychologists working with the children? Even the best intentioned charities can get it wrong sometimes. So get Googling, or setting up meetings to ask these big questions.

3 Tips for travelling and volunteering ethically

By doing this, you can find a project that makes lasting and meaningful impact. If you don’t get well-thought out and researched answers, move on.

2. Develop a checklist of what you want to get out of the experience.

Be honest with yourself. While it’s absolutely important to get what you need out of your volunteering experience, it’s equally as important to consider the kind of impact you’re making.

When you have skills to share that may not be available in the communities where you volunteer, you know you’re on the right track.

By giving yourself the opportunity to appreciate what you have to offer, you allow yourself to find a much better fit – something which can only benefit everyone involved.

3. Remember that success happens after you leave

Try this: when considering a volunteering opportunity, ask yourself and the organisation to define a goal that will occur one year after your volunteering ends.

This type of thinking promotes and allows you to engage in projects that have a bigger impact than the time you spend in that particular location. Hone in on projects that involve the transferring of skills, locally led initiatives, and the building of community relationships. You want to be part of creating an environment which doesn’t perpetuate a culture of dependency. At some point, local residents should be able to take on the roles previously filled by the volunteers.

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Did you know that there are ways to maximise your happiness from giving?Check out our blog on how giving back not only feels good, but can also increase your long-term happiness!  

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