Volunteering abroad is considered one of the fastest-growing trends in travel, with around 1.6 million people volunteering overseas each year. While most of these volunteers are young adults, more parents are bringing their kids along to these volunteer trips. It’s easy to see why volunteering abroad is growing in popularity among families. Apart from being a great way to spend quality time together, volunteer trips are a wonderful opportunity to instill strong values in children while broadening their horizons. But because volunteering abroad is so different from regular vacations, you’ll need extra preparation to keep your family safe and happy.
Choosing Kid-Friendly Volunteer Trips
As with any kind of family vacation, you need to factor in what your child is ready for. Because younger children may have a difficult time dealing with discomfort, most volunteer trips are suitable for older kids and teens. But there are volunteer opportunities for every age and comfort level. In general, kids enjoy activities that involve animals and playing with other children. You don’t even have to dedicate your whole vacation to volunteering — you could stop by at an animal clinic or school one afternoon, or join a beach clean-up for just a few hours.
Though there’s no way to fully protect yourself when traveling, it’s important to choose a destination that’s safe for everyone in the family — especially if you have kids with allergies. Be aware of the nearest hospital or doctor, and ask your family doctor if you could contact them in case of an actual emergency. You could also start with a place that’s not too difficult to adapt to. Destinations like Costa Rica, for example, are ideal as they’re in the same time zone as the United States (one plus – no jet lag), and it’s not that difficult to find locals that speak English.
Getting Your Children Emotionally Ready
Volunteering is a great way to expose children to new experiences, especially different social and economic conditions. However, it’s likely that you and your family may experience some culture shock, especially when traveling to developing countries. Though nothing can really fully prepare someone who’s not used to seeing poverty from some shock, you can take some steps to lessen the distress.
First, it’s important that you do your research and read up on cultural norms in your destination country. Talk to your family and discuss what you expect to see. Tell your kids that they can’t expect the same facilities as you might enjoy from a five-star resort, and ask them to go with an open mind. Explain that parts of the trip could even be difficult and/or sad, but give them the assurance that you will be experiencing everything together.
Volunteer trips can empower kids with a sense of responsibility, teaching them tolerance and generosity. And this learning process doesn’t have to end when you come home. Get involved in a local soup kitchen. Offer to help at an animal shelter. Sign up for a tree-planting activity. Plan your next volunteering trip! With some intentionality, the soul-enriching benefits of your volunteer family trips will last long after your vacation ends.
Luckily, GivingWay has a filter in our search that allows you to search for volunteer opportunities that are suitable for families with children. Check it out and find your family’s next incredible volunteer trip!