Looking for a way to have fun while helping others? Take a volunteer vacation. Volunteer vacations -- also known as "voluntourism" -- are a great way to visit another part of the country -- or the world -- while making a difference in a community.
If you're planning a volunteer vacation, but don't know where to start, follow these tips from experts and families who volunteer their time on trips.
There are many travel agencies and organizations that specialize in volunteer vacations. Travelocity has a Travel for Good program that not only offers "voluntourism" trips but also gives you a chance to win a travel grant each quarter.
How do you pick the right volunteer vacation for your family? Jane Stanfield, Speaker, Author and Consultant on volunteer travel with Where Is She Heading, shares her six questions to ask when deciding on the right volunteer vacation for your family:
Why are you volunteering?
"Do you want to do things you already do at home or try something totally different? Most volunteer agencies know that you are not trained and they are willing to train you. If special skills are needed (a scuba certificate, special degree, language, or a certification such a TEFL - teaching English as a foreign language - that is usually clearly indicated," explains Stanfield.
What would you like to do and how do you want to serve?
"If you are bringing a diverse group of ages, ask each to list up to five things they would like to do and see how many of them are the same."
Where do you want to go and where will you be comfortable?
Stanfield says, " Discuss housing, eating, bathing and bathoom options. There is no sense in picking a project that you love, but where the living conditions, food options, or off-hour entertainment options do not mesh with the wishes of most of the group".
Who else will be there?
"Obviously you will be working with local people, but you may also find that the volunteer mix may include other nations. Also if you are traveling with younger children, find an agency that focuses on families or when going with teens - programs that draw teens."
When can you go?
"Realize that if you are traveling during traditional school holidays, you may pay premium prices for airfare and you may find a lot of people from home in the foreign country. If your desire is for a new cultural experience, see if you can travel during the shoulder seasons when it may be just your family and the locals," she advises.
How much will it cost?
"The agency you select and the location, type, and length of the program will determine the price. For first time volunteer vacations, you may find that you are more comfortable using an agency that has been offering programs for many years. These tend to have all the logistics well in place and have a good ideas of what you can expect."
Holly Ezell, a mother of three kids ages 12, 13 and 15, and her family like to travel in an RV, and recently volunteered cleaning up campsites and the beach at Ft. Desoto County Park in Tierre Verde, Florida.
"For 40+ hours a week we cleaned up campsites and general litter along the beach. The kids picked up more cigarette butts with their 'trash pinchers' than they ever want to see again," Ezell explains. "Their appreciation for nature grew along with their sense of responsibility to the environment. How a small group of people can make such a mess each day, played heavily on their minds"
A volunteer vacation, whether at home or abroad, will be a great way for your family to give back while also finding time for relaxation, too.