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Taking a family vacation can be a great way for families to relax and reconnect. But what if your family wants a more meaningful experience than the annual trip to the beach or a theme park? Enter volunteer vacations, a popular alternative to the traditional vacation that allows families to give back while also getting away.

Volunteer vacations have been on the rise for the past decade, and volunteer tourism or “voluntourism” is now an almost 200-billion dollar industry. It’s a trend that continues to grow as more families search for ways to make a concrete impact on the world around them.

“I think more people are seeking this kind of vacation because they have a personal desire to connect with a cause they support,” says Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Executive Director of Globe Aware, a nonprofit organization that pairs families with volunteer vacation experiences. “We are living in such a digital world that it can be hard for kids to gain perspective on the world around them, and parents want to give their children the experience of making a difference in a direct way.”

Many organizations, like Globe Aware, Discover Corps, and Together for Good, are helping plan vacations that directly impact a community in need. Globe Aware’s popular Cambodia trips have families build wheelchairs for land mine victims, while its Guatemala trips focus on a local mountain community where families help improve housing and plant vegetable gardens for single mothers.

Though many volunteer vacations focus on global experiences, travelers can also make a difference closer to home, like the trips offered by the American Hiking Society during which participants repair trails at national parks.IMG 2363

Volunteer vacations also take the hassle out of planning, as trips are completely planned by the organization and almost always include housing, food and real-time training. “A volunteer vacation takes the legwork out of planning and it’s a great way to vacation while doing good and working toward a common goal,” says Libby Wile, Senior Director of Programs at the American Hiking Society.

While volunteer vacations are aimed at making a difference for others, the experience is just as impactful for those doing the work. “When a family experiences this type of vacation, the effects can be felt long after the trip is over,” says Haley-Coleman. “It can give kids a sense of appreciation for what really matters, and it can be empowering for them to know that they’ve truly made a difference.“

Read on for five volunteer vacations that offer a variety of experiences from exotic travel to far-off locales, to one-day Caribbean opportunities, to nature-based trips closer to home.

Globe Aware
For almost twenty years, Globe Aware has been connecting families with volunteer opportunities around the world. With 20 international locations, Globe Aware offers a variety of experiences for families who want to make a difference. Travel to Thailand and work with endangered elephants or help rebuild in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico. Globe Aware’s planned trips last one week and include food, accommodations, medical insurance and bilingual translators. Additionally, Globe Aware also offers customized experiences that can be added on to existing vacations.

American Hiking Society
The American Hiking Society sponsors more than service 40 trips per year, perfect for families that want a nature-based vacation. Trips are designed for people who have never done trail work, and safety and training information is provided on-site. Families will spend their days clearing vegetation and cutting back trail surfaces. Trips may also include building structures. Destinations include the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Adirondacks and Florida. Trips start at $200 per person for a week that includes meals, lodging and a day off to explore local attractions.

Reading Road Trip
Through the Sandals Foundation, families that vacation at a Sandals or Beaches
resort in the Caribbean can spend a day giving back at local schools reading to children and helping them with their comprehension skills. The Sandals Foundation also has volunteer opportunities geared toward older kids vacationing with their families. The Sandals Foundation’s “Volunteenism” program encourages traveling teens to take part in local volunteer activities like beach cleanups and peer tutoring, providing a supervised experience for teens to get to know the community they are visiting.

Discover Corps
If your family is looking for a complete cultural immersion on vacation, Discover Corps’ ‘Vacation with Purpose’ offers service-oriented trips all over the world for families. These all-inclusive vacations focus on giving back to local communities through cultural and natural preservation, allowing you to work alongside scientists in Belize to protect manatees or help Quechua children in a small village in the Andes learn English. Each Discover Corps trip is all-inclusive and designed to give back and also provide a fully immersive experience in the local culture and customs.

Pack for a Purpose
Pack for a Purpose is an organization that encourages travelers to pack needed supplies for locals. With dozens of destinations and service projects, Pack for a Purpose is a low-effort way to make a difference on vacation. Travelers simply visit the website, select their destination, and choose their tour company or hotel and the project it supports. A list of needed supplies is provided and families can choose what they want to bring and pack it in their suitcase. After dropping it off at the designated place, the supplies are delivered directly to those in need.

— Katie Riley