Over the last decade, the dramatic rise in ecotourism has astonished those in the tourism industry and has lately given way to another form of sustainable travel roughly associated with ecotourism, called voluntourism. Quite simply put, voluntourism is a lot like other forms of recreational travel as there is a desire to see a remote or distant part of the world and experience the local culture and beauty, however, instead of simply visiting for the sake of being a tourist, voluntourism is all about giving back as you become a volunteer abroad with a distinct focus to your tourist experience.
When one decides to volunteer abroad and takes part in voluntourism, he or she volunteers time and effort towards a project or vision that will help the world in some way, either large or small, local or global. The benefits of voluntourism or becoming a volunteer abroad are thus two-fold; those taking part in voluntourism get to experience a different culture in a very hands-on and immersive way and also have the opportunity of walking away from their tourism experience with the feeling that something great has been accomplished.
What makes voluntourism different than any other kind of tourism is the intent behind the travel. While many of us choose to go on vacations, there is often a great deal of consumption involved; we want to rent cars, drive around, visit local restaurants, hotels, beaches, and shopping spots. In short, when we take part in common tourism we are taking part in a consumptive activity and are only leaving traces and are not giving anything back outside of the economic boost our tourism offers. This is of course a much different goal of travel when you decide to volunteer abroad.
While there are several locations around the world that depend on the economic benefits brought about the tourism industry, what has not been considered until just recently are the economic and even social impacts that normal tourism has on the places that derive so much income from such an influx of visitors. The planes, vehicles, taxis that must be used to ship people around the tourist destination, the number of parking lots, land cleared for hotels, restaurants, and shops; all of these elements that go into what many consider to be the idea tourism experience benefit the region and world only in economic terms.
To emphasize another point of difference between voluntourism and another more popular form of tourism called ecotourism, it should be emphasized that the two are interconnected only in the sense that they both seek to engage in forms of sustainable travel and are more concerned with the footprint they leave behind (waste, for instance) than regular tourism alternatives. However, unlike ecotourism, which is geared more towards exploring regions that are not hospitable and lack the conveniences and luxuries of normal tourism and making it a point to have a sustainable travel experience as much as possible, voluntourism takes the concept behind sustainable travel one step further. Deciding the volunteer abroad means that of course, you will have to use some resources to arrive at your destination, but you are giving back what you take away when you volunteer abroad, at least to the local community you are supporting.
Like ecotourism, voluntourism also is concerned with leaving a minimal footprint but the intent is quite different. Instead of being a pleasure or exploratory trip alone, voluntourism tourism experiences encourage the same principles as ecotourism but also seek to actively help the communities or locations where they visit. Thus, in some ways, when you decide to volunteer abroad, it is more of an intensive mission than with general ecotourism as the pleasure aspect is considered only a byproduct of the actual tourism experience through volunteer activity and immersion in the local culture.
Ecotourism packages range in scope and mission and due to the rise in popularity, are now offered through most travel agencies as well as through online websites such as Travelocity. There are also a number of excellent websites that offer ecotourism and voluntourism packages, the best and most established of which include Cross-Cultural Solutions and GlobeAware. There are a number of different activities for volunteers to choose from and also many different destinations that range in terms of the length of the stay and the amount and type of work that will be done. There are research, community, construction, and other possibilities that can be explored through voluntourism and hey, when you volunteer abroad, not only will you feel great about your travel experience when you arrive home, you will probably have spent far less cash.