Thursday, 11 August 2016

Those bitten with the wanderlust bug often dream of spending a week—or a month—in places like Paris, Singapore or on the beaches of Sydney, Australia.

The problem? Every one of these trips costs serious cash and it can be difficult to save enough money while simultaneously working or going to school.

One solution is to pair volunteering and travel -- or voluntourism. Hundreds of nonprofits specialize in this type of work and offer programs between one week and three months long. Each program is tax-deductible and there is an option to fundraise for trip costs (just as I did in 2008 when I spent three months volunteering in Nepal). Most of these programs include all food, ground transportation, and lodging.

Some people opt to take a week out of a lengthy trip to volunteer while others choose to spend their entire trip volunteering. To find out more about these opportunities, I sat down with Steven C. Rosenthal, founder and executive director of Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS), a nonprofit that has been offering volunteer programs abroad since 1995.

How did you start?

Back in 1994, I was working as an engineer for AT&T in New York and decided that I wanted to spend a year traveling, so I bought a one-way ticket to Nepal. I had a friend in the Peace Corps in Kenya and spent time helping him. When I came home, people told me that they'd love to help out, too, but didn't have two years to take off to do the Peace Corps. These comments planted a seed in my head and in 1995, I brought my first volunteer to India.

Why is voluntourism so popular?

The world is more interconnected today than it was 21 years ago. People are more aware of things going on and want more authentic experiences. When I started CCS, there were five organizations that operated volunteer trips abroad. Now there are more than 1,000 globally and hundreds just in the U.S.

Where are your programs?

We operate in nine countries and offer programs that last one week to three months. We have college internships, programs for working professionals, for young adults, and for retired people. We even have offerings for high school students.

How much do these trips cost?

If you go on a one-month program with CCS, it will cost you around $2,400. But that is tax-deductible. Let's say you go to India and your plane ticket is $800. The cost of your trip would be $3,200, but then you have to consider that you will get 33 percent of that back on your taxes, so you are really spending around $2,200 for that month away.

What about fundraising?

About 20 percent of the people who travel through CCS fundraise, which is a big chunk. We have a ton of resources for people who want to fundraise their program. They can fundraise directly online and we give advice on how to ask employers, friends and family.

How do travelers find the right trip?

It can be hard to tell groups apart on the Internet. First, realize that in general you will get what you pay for. If an organization is offering something similar for a lot less, you may get a lot less. Second, talk to other people who've done the program. When you call the organization, ask for references. Every group will give you a few people to talk to. If they don't, keep looking.

Ask the organization about their safety procedures. Find out who will be preparing your food, about the vehicles you will be transported in. Ask them how they are ensuring volunteers are doing good work and are needed in the communities they're serving. It really comes down to talking to references and asking probing questions.

Any other recommendations?

I recommend nonprofits over for-profit companies that offer these programs. Travel will be tax-deductible if you go through a nonprofit. Other great organizations include WorldTeachEarthwatch Institute, and Amigos de las Americas.


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