Updated for 2023
If last year’s snapshots of your trip to the beach look a lot like the ones from the year before, and the year before that, it might be time for a fun change. Vacations are supposed to be a wonderful change of pace, especially when you’re with family and friends, but when you’ve been there and done that, it might be time for something new, like family volunteer vacations.
It’s time for something challenging, something exhilarating, something unforgettable. Welcome to the “experience economy,” a concept that finds people – from a vacationing family of five, to empty nesters spending time abroad, to solo travelers on a quest for enlightenment – interested in experiences that are amazing and meaningful.
Spending your money on an experience is not a fuzzy idea. It’s as genuine as any product you buy. The question is: how do you define the value of that experience?
Imagine the memories you’ll make when you embark on a journey to India, volunteering on a teaching project that supports street kids, or empowering women to build small businesses to support their families. On weekends you’ll visit the Taj Mahal, wander the local street market, or chill with a Bollywood movie in a local theater.
Take amazing photos during your walking tour of Transylvania, deep in the heart of Eastern Europe. Here, you can help with a special-needs care project, or you can teach English in the morning. Spend your afternoons exploring cobblestone villages and medieval castles, or hiking ancient forests.
Organizations like African Impact have vacation itineraries that can place you, or your family, on a project of a lifetime. You’ll expand your global awareness and develop an appreciation for different cultures when you’re volunteering together. Not only that, you’ll learn valuable life skills, such as how to work as a team and travel responsibly.
Maximo Nivel offers tons of volunteering adventures for travelers from all backgrounds, ages, and skill levels – and whether you’re traveling solo, with your family, or with a group, you’re bound to find a meaningful opportunity with this organization. A few highlights include a family mini-adventure through Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru, a Spanish camp for teens, and even cultural immersion in the Andes of South America.
Projects Abroad, founded in 1992, is another high-quality volunteer organization that offers service adventures for families, seniors and singles. The great thing about Projects Abroad is that they offer a gold standard of staff support, handling everything from airport pickup and local transportation to safe accommodation. The organization also has Flexi Trips, which are perfect for volunteer vacations.
So, if you’re traveling with kids and looking for volunteer vacations for families, seeking a thoughtful retirement opportunity, or simply want a week or two abroad to volunteer in a clinic, on a construction site, in a school, or a soup kitchen, you’re in the right place. Take a look at these outstanding volunteer travel opportunities and start planning your trip today!
Maximo Nivel offers volunteer trips, Spanish language learning programs, and teaching opportunities to students, volunteers, families, and other travelers to Latin America. Founded in 2003, its mission is to enable people to experience the world through education, adventure, and cultural travel. To date, 25,000 individuals have visited and volunteered in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru with Maximo Nivel, taking part in high-quality, safe, and affordable programs. Check out their options for solo or family volunteer vacations.
Family Mini Adventure
Take your family on an adventure (or two) through Latin America, and have the time of your lives ziplining through the jungle, hiking a volcano, exploring Machu Picchu, or learning to surf! When you sign up for Maximo Nivel’s Mini Adventure program, you’ll spend six days traveling and exploring some of the best spots in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru. Make this trip the focus of your journey abroad, or add it before or after a volunteer program. The Mini Adventure can be a better alternative to typical tourism itineraries, because it places you at must-see sights with cultural immersion, making it the perfect mix of service and dream beach vacation. All trips include housing and food with a family-stay. Private rooms and apartments are also available. You can even add additional Mini Adventures. Here are some examples:
- The 6-Day Beach & Jungle Adventure in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica: Includes a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park, rainmaker jungle tour, canopy zipline, whitewater rafting, and Nauyaca Waterfall hike
- The 6-Day Mini Adventure in Guatemala: Includes volcano Pacaya hike, 3 days/2 nights on the beach (surf lessons included), 2 days/1 night in Tikal (airfare to Tikal included), and zip-line tour
- The 6-Day Mini Adventure in Peru, including Cusco city tour, Sacred Valley tour, Moray Ruins, 2 days/1 night tour of Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca & Puno tour
Learn more and sign up for a Mini Adventure!
Spanish Camp for Teens
Here’s an interesting, educational suggestion for a family volunteer vacation: travel together, but sign up for different programs in San Jose, Costa Rica. Maximo Nivel offers a teen Summer Spanish Camp that is a unique combination of education, community service, sports, and tourism. Spanish Camp is designed for students ages 13 to 18 and helps youth develop a better sense of the world and grow into global citizens. Teens stay with host families during camp, attending Spanish school from 9:00 a.m. to noon, then have catered lunch at the school. Afternoons are spent on electives and evenings on cultural activities and tours. While your child is attending camp, you can participate in your own volunteer project. Then, when the week is up, you can rejoin and share notes on your Costa Rican adventure. Spanish camp fees begin at $1,095 for one week. Learn more here: Spanish Camp for Teens
Construction Site Volunteering
Work with your hands and see the impact you’re having with Maximo Nivel’s Construction Site program in Costa Rica. This volunteer placement puts you onsite building or repairing homes, or adding classrooms to schools. Volunteer alongside local workers to make a difference for communities in need. This is physical labor and tasks include digging, mixing cement, carrying bricks, preparing adobe, painting, plastering, and other projects based upon the season and project needs. Work Monday through Friday, around four hours per day, and expect to get dirty. Depending on the project, your program fee starts from just $595 for your first week abroad. Click here to learn more: Construction Site Volunteering
Andean Cultural Immersion in Peru
Travel to Cusco for an authentic Peruvian experience, living and working with indigenous communities on the Andean Cultural Immersion program with Maximo Nivel. This amazing opportunity promotes cross-cultural exchange and allows you to expand your horizons. This is the land of the Incas, who considered the “Sacred Valley” the navel of the world.
Your placement brings to the rural Andes, volunteering with agricultural projects, tending to livestock, constructing and renovating buildings, and teaching children in a village classroom. You’ll live in a small, Quechua-speaking community, learning about the longstanding native way of life. Try your hand at weaving the colorful textiles, and learn a few words of the Quechua language.
This placement is a minimum of one week, and you’ll work four to six hours per day, Monday through Friday. You should be healthy and physically fit for this demanding program, and be ready to do any task.
While in Peru, visit the ruins of the ancient Andean people and the colonial architecture of the conquering Spanish. Hike the trail to the breathtaking archaeological site of Machu Picchu.
Spanish language skills are not required, but online lessons can prepare you for your South American journey. Maximo Nivel offers online Spanish classes via Skype with in-country teachers. Beginner through advanced lessons is available. Learn more about online Spanish lessons here, and about the Andean Immersion Experience here!
Lake Atitlan Conservation Volunteering
Your family can help to preserve Lake Atitlan, one of Guatemala’s most treasured natural resources, when you volunteer on a conservation program with Maximo Nivel. This program gives you the amazing opportunity to work with the community, raising awareness of sustainable efforts and sharing conservation practices to protect Lake Atitlan, Central America’s deepest lake.
As a popular tourist destination, the area is increasingly affected by pollution and is a contaminated supply of drinking water. Your job as a volunteer will be to work with an NGO to teach the community about proper waste management, environmental management, and improving the ecological conditions of the lake. You also can help with restoring the hillsides that are succumbing to deforestation and assist with recycling, seasonal clean-up, and much more.
Tasks you and your family can assist with, depending upon current needs, conditions at the lake, and your Spanish language skills, include:
- Education outreach – teach residents about recycling, water conservation, proper garbage removal, and ways to decrease pollution
- Natural resource management – help with reforestation and soil fertilization on the slopes and ridges
- Environmental cleanup – assist with tasks such as water filtration, waste management, and seasonal clean-up
You’ll work in split shifts of four to six hours per day, Monday through Friday, for a minimum of one week. You should be willing to take on various tasks based on season and project needs and be healthy and physically prepared to do manual labor. Click here to learn more and to register!
Projects Abroad began in 1992 and, to date, has hosted more than 132,000 international volunteers. With 209 projects across 20 destinations, Projects Abroad has a variety of projects that would make great volunteer vacations, including programs tailored specifically to groups, families and seniors.
Even better, Projects Abroad has a mission to make a real impact. Each year, they support the education of more than 14,000 children globally, while removing nearly 30 tons of litter from the environment. As a volunteer with Projects Abroad, you can make a difference while on your vacation.
Read about three amazing volunteer vacations below. We’ve highlighted one program for, one for families and groups, one for seniors, and one for solo travelers.
Sea Turtle Conservation in Mexico for Families or Groups
Work with endangered turtles along the beautiful Pacific Coast of Mexico. Whether with a group of friends or your family, this project will enable you to make a difference while enjoying a relaxing time in Cuyutlán, a town known for its black sand beaches. Duties include:
- Doing research and collecting data
- Moving turtle nests to protected corrals
- Releasing hatchlings safely into the ocean
Interested? Click here to sign up.
Fast Fashion Awareness Trip in Cambodia for Older Adults & Seniors
Explore and enjoy the wonderful history and culture in Cambodia while learning about the real effects of fast fashion in developing countries. As a major center of the textile industry, Cambodia has felt the environmental impact of the fashion industry. During your trip, you’ll learn:
- How clothes are made
- How the industry affects people and communities
- How workers in the industry go about their day
- How much the industry pollutes local environments
In addition to learning about fast fashion, this trip includes tours of must-see sites in Cambodia, such as Angkor Wat and local markets.
Interested? Click here to sign up.
Volunteering with Children in Ghana for Solo Travelers
Volunteer in daycare centers or special needs schools, and help improve the future prospects of disadvantaged children in Ghana. You’ll either be placed in Accra or Akuapem Hills, and you’ll get to live with a local family during your stay. During free time, you’ll be free to explore the local area and immerse yourself in the culture during your volunteer vacation.
Interested? Click here to sign up.
African Impact is an award-winning, responsible travel organization that offers volunteer and internship opportunities in 7 countries across Africa. It was founded in 2004 and has since hosted over 35,000 volunteers. African Impact has over 20 different projects, ranging from teaching in Zambia to marine conservation in Zanzibar. The organization is known for its long-term objectives and measurable change. It is also recognized as a trusted specialist on volunteering and interning in Southern Africa. African Impact offers internships, as well as group, family, and high school projects.
Family Volunteer Program
If you’re looking for a wonderful and unique family vacation abroad, check out African Impact’s family volunteer trips! Through this program, African Impact will work with you to develop an itinerary that incorporates community service, education, and adventure for a family vacation that you’ll never forget. With trips to South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, you can choose to focus on either community support or wildlife conservation. During your free time, you’ll be able to go on a river cruise, watch whales as they migrate, go on a picnic on the beach, swim in hot springs, shop at local markets, and much more. Learn more and sign up here!
High School Group Volunteering
Designed for student groups aged 14 to 18, African Impact’s high school volunteer program brings you on a safe and fun service adventure to South Africa, Zimbabwe, or Tanzania to take on wildlife conservation or community support projects. Trips are customized to your group and are a great way to earn community service credit. Depending on where you travel, you’ll also be able to go on a safari, take local cultural trips, go bungee jumping, and much more. Learn more and sign up here!
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
Founded in 2007, International Volunteer HQ provides affordable volunteer programs in 40+ countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. With program fees starting from $180, IVHQ is a low-cost organization with an excellent record. It’s placed more than 100,000 volunteers on a variety of projects, and among other demographics, they offer service vacations for families or single travelers ranging from education and special needs care, wildlife conservation, construction and renovation, medical care, and more. IVHQ preps volunteers for their travel experiences through email and phone correspondence and has developed online training modules. While you’re abroad, IVHQ’s partners onsite provide transfers, orientation, and 24/7 support.
Volunteer in Cambodia
Volunteer with special-needs children in Cambodia for a challenging, heart-warming project. Assist in small classes that cater to children ages five to 18 with physical or mental disabilities, ranging from cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, deafness, and blindness. Volunteers may help to dress, feed, and play with children who are often rejected in Cambodian society. Your experience or skills in therapeutic treatment is welcome on this project. Relax on the weekends or take the opportunity to explore other areas of Cambodia, such as the Temples of Angkor Wat. Click here to read more.
Volunteer in India
IVHQ’s Slum Teaching project is a favorite activity for seniors, who work with the street children of India, offering them opportunities for hope. More than 100 million children live on the streets, selling goods, foraging for food, and performing theatrics for tips. You’ll work in makeshift classrooms and teach basic English, providing one-on-one support, and introducing the children to arts and crafts. You’ll stay with a local family in Faridabad, southeast of New Delhi, and have a chance to learn about the Indian way of life, and engage in customs and traditions. Spend your weekends relaxing, or explore Old Delhi and New Delhi, gaining insight into how this city has evolved from its ancient traditions. Visit the Lotus Baha’i Temple, Humayun’s Tomb and Qutub Minar. Learn more here.
Volunteer in Romania
Maybe cutting the grass, raking, planting seedlings and general garden maintenance doesn’t sound like a vacation when you’re at home, but these conservation efforts are critical in Romania, where local NGOs seek volunteers help to preserve the natural environment. IVHQ’s Agricultural Project in Romania allows you to get involved in various side tasks, including cultivating fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs at a home for disadvantaged youth. If you’ve got a green thumb, consider Harghita, Romania, a popular destination for visitors. Spend your free time exploring Old Europe, trekking, climbing, rafting, and kayaking. Read about this exciting project here.
Love Volunteers offers more than 200 affordable volunteer travel opportunities in 40 destinations throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Founded in 2009, Love Volunteers has family-friendly and single traveler-friendly programs in the areas of childcare and development, environment and conservation, and wildlife and animals. You’ll learn more about the people, the food and the culture when you choose an immersive stay with a host family. If you prefer privacy or traveling with older children and teenagers, volunteer guesthouses are a great option for volunteer family vacations. Love Volunteers assigns a staff member to you throughout your placement, providing support if needed.
Volunteer in Mexico
Join Love Volunteers’ childcare and development project in Oaxaca, Mexico and provide children with the education they deserve. Poverty-stricken youth don’t receive a proper education here, so often volunteers are the best solution. Your support can extend to providing nutritious meals, medical care, and extra-curricular activities. People have been living in the Oaxaca Valley for thousands of years, so there’s an amazing mix of old and new for the history buff to enjoy. From a succession of Native Peoples to Aztecs, to Spanish Conquistadors, they’ve all left their mark here. Read more!
Volunteer and Yoga Adventure
Have you developed a passion for yoga, and want to know more about the spiritual and cultural nirvana that is its homeland? Travel to Palampur, India and split your time between helping the poor in this impoverished country, and traveling to the heartland to learn much about yoga and meditation practice. You’ll perform essential work for disadvantaged youth several hours per day, and in the evening you’ll enjoy meditative yoga classes. This illuminating trip begins in Delhi, then spirits you across the country, in the shadow of Buddhist monasteries and Himalayan mountain vistas. Learn more here.
Volunteer in Vietnam
Combine a trip to Vietnam with weekend excursions to the mighty Mekong Delta, and beautiful coastline of Mui Ne, when you volunteer and travel with Love Volunteers. You’ll spend your weekdays helping others, then explore the country on the weekends. Some of your choice of placements could be working with abandoned children with HIV, to assisting the elderly, or working in a pre-school. Your customized activity plan can place you in cultural workshops every day, allow you to watch a cooking demonstration while spending dinner with a local family, and enable the inter-cultural exchange to benefit you as well as the community. Read more about this exciting opportunity!
Ready to Travel?
If you and your family and want a meaningful trip together, or if you’re retired and want to share your skills with those less fortunate, or if you’re somewhere in the middle and looking for a great solo trip to refresh and explore someplace new, then a volunteer trip abroad could be exactly what you need to add more value to your life. Volunteering and visiting new destinations can help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself and the world. The organizations mentioned above can offer you customized travel opportunities that will bring with it memories to last a lifetime.
Robin Van Auken · Writer
Robin is a researcher, writer, and a registered professional archaeologist, a skillset she uses every day as a cultural communication specialist with Hands-on Heritage. Her projects connect communities with an emphasis on interpretation and education and conserve cultural and environmental legacies.