Voluntourism takes many forms. Some involve spending weeks or months immersed in an area helping with humanitarian, environmental or other activities. Others involve something as simple as donating school supplies, building materials or medical products to disadvantaged communities in need. Both do a world of good.
As Founder and Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network for the last 15 years, Ive seen a growing interest in voluntourism among families and teens. People genuinely want to help. For families, two of the toughest questions have been, How can I do this together with my children? and How can I give back on my trip if I cant afford a separate volunteer vacation?
Ive made giving back part of our family vacations for years, both within the U.S. and abroad. The hardest part is often finding information on where to volunteer or give back, whats needed by the community, and how to assist in a meaningful way. Logistical issues, such as transportation, can also be a factor. I started Together for Good, a non-profit organization to promote giving back as part of the travel experience, to help bridge this gap in information and opportunities both for families and individuals.
Sometimes cruises can be a good venue for giving back because ships call at many ports where people urgently need help. Its possible to visit several communities and provide much needed items over a weeks vacation. Its important to remember, however, that this type of experience often does not allow for the same type of meaningful interaction and connections as a volunteer vacation spent in one place. In any type of voluntourism experience, its important to keep expectations in line.
A number of cruise itineraries are particularly well suited for voluntourism activities, particularly those in the Western Caribbean and along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. There are a number of schools, orphanages and other community organizations that could use assistance in popular cruise ports such as:
- Acapulco, Mexico
- Belize City, Belize
- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
- Cozumel, Mexico
- Ixtapa, Mexico
- Montego Bay, Jamaica
- Nassau, Bahamas
- Ocho Rios, Jamaica
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- Roatan, Honduras, and many more.
As part of Together for Good, Ive done informal land based trips and voluncruises with family and friends before, but never one that involved a high profile or a larger group. Since Together for Goods purpose was to raise awareness of possibilities for giving back on vacation, I thought it might be good to use social media to show people how easy it is to participate in humanitarian activities even on a cruise. I approached Norwegian Cruise Line about helping us out in the summer, and the January Norwegian Spirit cruise was confirmed in late October.
The Norwegian Spirit does a 7-night cruise from the port of New Orleans, calling at Costa Maya, Mexico; Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. We gave back in every port of call and opened some of our activities to the entire ship. Our January cruise was a memorable one, and our activities and experiences are chronicled on the Together for Good site.
Interest in voluntourism has been growing substantially and resorts, cruise lines, and community organizations have recognized this. Holland America launched a program last year and several other cruise lines have plans to do more in this area in the near future. In addition, I have been talking with a number of cruise agents who are putting together their own trips as well. I think travelers will see many more opportunities to cruise with a purpose in the months and years to come.
More on this Guest Blogger
Nancy Schretter (@kidtravel) is the founder of Family Travel Network. Family Travel Network is a travel website devoted exclusively to family travel and planning great vacations with kids. Launched in 1995, their award-winning site has helped millions of families research and plan vacations across the country and around the world. And now she started with Together for Good, a non-profit organization to promote giving back as part of the travel experience.
Read the other guest post by Nancy: Planning your own Voluncruise.