What to Expect on a Voluntourism Trip

By: Debra Ronca | How Stuff Works

Volunteer at work with the Tibetan VIllage Project_photo Voluntourism.org_Tamdin15343

Volunteer at work with the Tibetan Village Project. Photo: http://www.voluntourism.org

If you’re looking into a volunteer vacation, you may be wondering how you should prepare for such an excursion. It is after all, a big trip, not merely in its mission but for the fact that you will most likely venture into an area with limited modern conveniences. So let’s get the practical things out of the way first. When you’re going on a trip that’s longer than a few days, here are a few things you should take care of beforehand:

  • Hold your mail
  • Pre-pay bills
  • Obtain and make copies of your identification
  • Procure travel insurance
  • Make a list of any medical conditions or allergies
  • Get any necessary vaccinations

What’s listed above are just general travel tips. Now let’s get to tips specifically for volunteer vacations. First, learn as much as you can about the culture you’ll be visiting. You don’t want to unknowingly violate any cultural taboos. Something that seems perfectly natural in your culture could be completely offensive to someone in another.

In Thailand, for example, people consider the head to be the most spiritual part of the body. Tousling someone’s hair or patting a child on the head is a big no-no [source: Thailand.com].

In India, standing with your hands on your hips is a sign of aggression [source: EnglishClub.com]. Travelers should show respect to their hosts and make every effort not to be insulting. The experts at Voluntourism.org also suggest reading up on group dynamics. Most voluntourists end up working in a group setting and also sleep in close quarters. You’ll need to know how to interact as part of a team, as well as understand the dynamics of a group setting.

Taboo Isn’t Just a Board Game:
Every culture has taboos. It’s up to you to find out what they are. Something that seems innocuous to you may be insulting to someone else. American actor Cameron Diaz found this out the hard way in Peru when she appeared in public wearing a bag emblazoned with a Maoist political slogan. She didn’t realize that the Maoist Shining Path had murdered 70,000 Peruvians in the 1980s and 1990s.

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