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Volunteer travel, volunteer vacations or voluntourism is travel which includes volunteering for a charitable cause. In recent years, "bite-sized" volunteer vacations have grown in popularity. The types of volunteer vacations are diverse, from low-skill work cleaning up local wildlife areas to providing high-skill medical aid in a foreign country. Volunteer vacations participants are diverse but typically share a desire to “do something good” while also experiencing new places and challenges in locales they might not otherwise visit.[citation needed]

There are also other types of travelling that engage people with scientific research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. Participants cover a fee that would include expenses on the different sites worldwide, and engage in projects according to their interest or location.



Originally most volunteer vacations were undertaken by people with a direct connection to a particular cause and were considered more as short term, intense volunteer projects rather than vacations.[1] Many of these organizations were long-standing international development assistance organizations which placed short-term volunteers on community development project sites.


During the 1990s the travel industry developed niche products and firms to provide volunteer vacations to people who had no previous experience with a cause, and to cater to the increasing number of young people taking gap years.[citation needed] These providers expanded the market but also drew criticism for the impact of their methods. At the same time, the first edition of "Volunteer Vacations" by Bill McMillon was published, featuring under 200 non-profit organizations which facilitated such service opportunities. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, more than 55 million Americans have participated in a volunteer vacation, and about 100 million more are considering taking one.[2]


While some experts on volunteering welcome the expansion of volunteer vacations as an opportunity to provide more resources to projects and to encourage a volunteer ethic in people,[citation needed] others have pointed out that the business methods used by tour operators, such as exclusivity deals, and catering to the needs of the volunteer rather than the volunteer project, exploit the communities the projects are intended to help.[3] Claims by volunteer tourism organizations that these activities contribute to improving people's lives and contributing to development goals are yet to be evaluated in the vast majority of cases. It is possible that volunteer travel might excacerbate existing problems in the host community.[4] As Dr Anna Mdee discusses contends that while there is still a lack of understanding of the direct impact volunteering overseas has on development activities that there is a much larger value that can be gained from working and living in another culture. As a founder of small international development charity Village-to-Village which works in Tanzania and has been sending volunteers to support the projects since 2006, she recognises that there is a huge differnce in the types of placements on the market and urges would be volunteers to take caution when choosing placements. Dr Mdee is Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching in the School of Social and International Studies at the University of Bradford. She is also a Deputy Director of the Centre for African Studies. [5]

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