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Voluntourism: A Controversial Way to do Volunteer Work

Updated on February 8, 2013

What is Voluntourism?

Voluntourism is a form of travel where people go on a holiday with the aim of doing volunteer work. This usually involves significant payments to a company that will organise the volunteer placement.

Voluntourists can choose to volunteer for a short, or long, period of time in a variety of places, in a variety of different roles. For example, volunteer projects may range from two weeks to six months or more in duration, may be found in the person's home country or overseas, and may involve working with children, animals, the environment, or something else.

How Does it Work?

When wanting to become a Voluntourist, a person firstly needs to find a company that organises these trips. One can visit the websites of these companies, and choose a project, or projects, that appeal to him or her.

Once the project/s has/have been chosen, payment to the company needs to be made. This payment covers different things, depending on the project and the company. Often none of this money goes to the organisation the person will be volunteering for. It is a common misconception that payment for the project actually goes to the volunteer organisation or charity. Instead, the payment is usually used to cover the costs of hiring staff, both in the home country of the paying voluntourist, and in his or her destination. These staff have jobs ranging from offering customer support to people trying to choose a project, to in-country co-ordinators who offer support to the voluntourists during their visit. Sometimes the company will also organise food and accommodation for the voluntourists, and some of the fee paid goes towards this.

The voluntourist then needs to organise everything not organised by the company they are voluntouring with. This normally includes air fares, any necessary visas, travel insurance, transfers, spending money, immunisations, etc.

Once everything has been organised, the trip can begin!

What are the Positives?

There are some obvious benefits of Voluntourism. The main reason, of course, is that people, animals, and the environment are receiving help and support from motivated and eager voluntourists who are genuinely trying to make a difference to the world (why else would they be PAYING to volunteer?). Some of these organisations rely on the steady stream of voluntourists that come to help them on a regular basis. Without these voluntourists, the people, animals, or natural environments these organisations support could be left with little, or no, help. This is particularly the case in the poorest regions of the world. People living in these communities have to struggle on a daily basis just to get food and shelter, hence do not have the ability to do volunteer work for local organisations. If people from other countries can afford to travel to these regions to help out, then this is very beneficial, and should be encouraged.

When people travel to remote areas of the world to volunteer, they bring back with them the knowledge of the region, and can share this with other people who may also be able to help in some way. Most of these regions and communities are not known globally, hence do not get as much support, from donations and volunteers, as other, more well-known organisations. The stories of the people living in these places can now be heard by other people, sometimes living on the other side of the world.

There are many benefits for the individual voluntourist as well. Doing any volunteer work can be incredibly rewarding to a person, and can instill a great sense of pride. I can say, from personal experience, that the knowledge you, as an individual, is making a difference, albeit small, to those in need is an amazing feeling. Having experiences such as putting a smile on the face of a child in an orphanage, or building a house for a family in need, cannot be replicated. These rewarding feelings, as well as having the opportunity to see the world, are what is making more and more people participate in these projects.

What are the Negatives?

Whilst it is clear there are many benefits to Voluntourism, there are also some less-obvious negatives. One of these, is that some companies who organise projects for voluntourists, make profits that do not go back into the volunteer projects. These profits may be spent on luxury items, etc, depending on the company. It is important for potential voluntourists to research the company they are planning to organise their trip with, to find out exactly where their money is being spent. If it is being spent on large salaries for the company's CEO, it may be worth voluntouring with another company.

Another negative to Voluntourism is so-called "Silver Spoon Voluntourism." In this case, very rich people spend a lot of money staying in the best luxury hotels and resorts, and may spend one afternoon of their trip volunteering. Whilst it can be said that any volunteering is good volunteering, the question is raised as to the motives behind these acts of apparent generosity. Unfortunately, some of these Silver Spoon voluntourists are accused of doing this small amount of volunteer work in order to increase their status and reputation back home. There are other people who also volunteer for not-so-noble reasons, including wanting their resumes to look good, being able to brag to other people about their generosity, and merely for the recognition.

How Can I Get Involved?

If you have read the positives and the negatives of Voluntourism, and have decided to give it a go, then you need to start off by finding a company that organises placements for voluntourists. Once you have found a company, you need to research, research, research! Find out about the company's reputation, where your money goes, etc. Hopefully, from reading this hub, you already have some idea of the things you need to look into.

The following links are to companies that organise Voluntourism projects. I HAVE NOT researched these companies, I just found them through Google. Please do your own research before paying for a project!

What Are the Alternatives?

If you want to volunteer, but are not interested in Voluntourism, there are other ways you can get involved.

You can look for volunteer opportunities in your local area. Research these online, or visit local organisations you feel you can help. These may include nursing homes, schools, pet shelters, soup kitchens, etc. The list of worthwhile organisations that need your help is nearly endless!

In Australia, there are opportunities to apply for special volunteer placements where the Government pays for your airfares and some living expenses. These opportunities may also apply in other countries. Again, the best way to find out about these is through researching them online!

Whatever you decide to do, feel good knowing you are making a difference in the world.


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    • profile image

      JuliaKulinski 2 years ago

      Hi Sophie,

      I just came across your hub which was interesting reading. Unfortunately there are many orphanages now which are being criticized for corruption. This is where I think the agencies such as ourselves add value. This page explains it in greater detail.

      We do not work with orphanages now really, because of the risk of corruption. We vet our programs to make sure they are not contributing and making local issues worse. This is very important I believe and not easily done by people going it alone. Whatever decision people make I agree its very important to research.

    • PSG profile image

      PSG 7 years ago from San Gerardo, Costa Rica

      Hey,good article.I agree that the money side of things should be completely transparent.There are some organisations that make a lot of money organising volunteer placements. I think thanks to the interent this is becoming less common. Have a look at

      We are a volunteer organisation based in a mountain village in Costa Rica. If anyone is interested in coming to Costa Rica to teach English for a bit please feel free to get in touch.You can contact us through our website.

    • sasanqua profile image

      Sophie 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Paul, I can see both sides of the argument, but that does sound pretty unethical!

    • paul_gibsons profile image

      paul_gibsons 8 years ago from Gibsons, BC, Canada

      nice hub! Actually particularly in "environmental causes" you wil find companies which are basically dressing up tourism and exclusive destinations as "help saving xxx" and charge comparatively exorbitant fees for those trips which they couldn't charge if they marketed it as holiday destinations with often rather rudimentary facilities. Basically you are paying through the nose for the feel-good factor. Fine, as long as you are happy with that; the upside is that it does get you to destinations, especially diving related ones, you otherwise would find difficult to get to or in.

    • sasanqua profile image

      Sophie 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Zoe, I think the main problem is that people don't realise where the money they pay for their program goes. I believe it needs to be made clear that the organisation is not a charity itself, but a business set up to organise volunteering holidays for people.

    • profile image

      zoe katsulos 8 years ago

      It seems a little unfortunate that it is perceived as a negative that organizations and companies must direct part of the revenue from providing these opportunities to their operating costs. Whether a for-profit or non-profit, these are business entities providing a service and need to pay salaries, overhead and all sorts of other expenses in order to be able to operate these experiences for people. They are providing a service that people are requesting and should not be reflected upon badly for taking in money to be able to continue to provide these experiences for others. The bottom line is, people can find volunteer projects on their own and plan all of their logistics, meals, guides, interpreters, travel, safety, etc., but there is value in having someone provide that. That is what providers are being paid for and should be paid for. People don't seem as critical about where their money goes when they are buying something from a store or corporation that isn't even necessarily contributing to the good of the world. I hope people can start to see this as a positive thing, so that organizations and companies can continue to offer these services.

      Zoe Katsulos


      inside/out: Humanitourism™ - Combining Meaningful Volunteer Humanitarian Work with Active Adventure

    • profile image

      Joyce Major 8 years ago

      Well done. It's always good to have more information available about voluntourism. After volunteering in 20 different countries & writing a book about it, I decided to help others find projects. I've been teaching a class for the last 4 years on inexpensive global volunteering to encourage people to work with grassroots organizations that need help. I just put together a website & CD that hopefully will prove a great resource for more people. I think the expensive brokerage groups have their place but most of my students of all ages don't want to spend that kind of money to volunteer. Voluntourism is the best way I've found to learn about a culture, a project and myself while doing a bit of good along the way.

    • sasanqua profile image

      Sophie 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Hi Jeanne, There are two main programs I know about where you don't need to pay to volunteer. However, you do need to have certain qualifications, and be willing to submit an essay explaining why you would be the best person for the position. Check out these two websites for all the information: and . Another program I know about is offered by the NSW Premier for teachers willing to go overseas to study the education systems of other nations. I am not sure if similar programs are available for people in different jobs however.

    • Jeanne Crouse profile image

      Jeanne Crouse 8 years ago from New England

      Interesting article - you mentioned a program in Australia through which the government pays airfare and some living expenses. Do you have more information on this?

      The only programs I've been able to find in Australia are those administered by Conservation Volunteers, and there's a fee to participate.

    • sasanqua profile image

      Sophie 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you crazybean! I hope one day you'll have the opportunity to become a voluntourist! If money is a problem, you could possibly look into some fundraising activities you could do.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 8 years ago from Washington MI

      I always wanted to do this. But money has always been a problem. But there as you mentioned other ways to volunteer. Informative and encouraging hub. I enjoyed reading it.

    • sasanqua profile image

      Sophie 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you =)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Well done. You have covered the negatives extremely well, but balanced that with some strong positives. Welcome to Hub Pages. You're off to a great start!

    • sasanqua profile image

      Sophie 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for your comment!

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 8 years ago from Guwahati, India

      Apart from the loss and profit in voluntary works, their requires dedication and urge for doing best for others only then a change in the order is possible to see. Thanks for sharing.