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Savvy Senior

Alternative travel option for seniors

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Jim Miller is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or
Jim Miller
The Savvy Senior
July 11, 2012 | 1,614 views | Post a comment

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you write a column on volunteer vacations? My husband and I are both in our 60s and are interested in taking a service-oriented “altruistic” vacation this summer but could use some help.

Retired Travelers

Dear Retired,

If you’re looking to do more on your vacation than relax in the sun or go sightseeing, volunteer service vacations -- also known as voluntourism -- are a great alternative and a growing trend among retirees. Here’s what you should know.


Nowadays, you don’t need to join the Peace Corps to travel to exotic destinations and serve others. Many organizations today offer short-term volunteer projects overseas and in the United States, lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months.

Common program themes include teaching English, working with children and teens, building and repairing homes and schools, and assisting with community or environmental projects. In addition, volunteer vacations also give travelers the opportunity to experience the culture more fully and connect with the local people -- much different from your run-of-the-mill sightseeing vacation.

Most volunteer vacation groups accept singles, couples, and families and you don’t need to speak a foreign language. Costs typically range from around $700 to $1,500 a week, not including transportation to the country your site is in. Fees typically cover pre-trip orientation information, room and board, on-site training, ground transportation once you get there, the services of a project leader, and a contribution to the local community that covers material and services related to the project. And, if the organization running your trip is a nonprofit, the cost of your trip, including airfare, is probably tax- deductible.

Where to Look

While there are dozens of organizations that offer volunteer vacations, here are some good ones that attract a lot of retirees.

•Earthwatch Institute (, 1-800-776-0188): A global nonprofit that offers one- and two-week expeditions that focus on environmental conservation and field research projects all over the world.

•Globe Aware (, 877-588-4562): Offers one-week volunteer vacations in 15 different countries.

•Global Volunteers (, 1-800-487-1074): Offers a wide variety of two- and three-week service programs in 18 countries, including the United States.

•Road Scholar (, 1-800-454-5768): Formally known as Elderhostel, they offer a wide variety of volunteer service programs both in the United States and abroad, usually to the 50-plus traveler.

•Habitat for Humanity (, 1-800-422-4828): Offers a variety of house-building trips through its Global Village Program and RV Care-A-Vanners program.

How to Choose

With so many different volunteer vacations to choose from, selecting one can be difficult. To help you decide, you need to think specifically about what you want. Ask yourself where you want to go and for how long? What types of work are you interested in doing? What kind of living situation and accommodations do you want? Do you want to volunteer alone or with a group? Do you want a rural or urban placement? Also consider your age and health. Are you up to the task, or do you have any special needs that will need to be met?

Once you figure out what you want and spot a few volunteer vacations that interest you, ask the organization to send you information that describes the accommodations, the fees, and what they cover, including their refund policy, the work schedule and work details, and anything else you have questions about. Also, get a list of previous volunteers and call them. Don’t sign up with a group that won’t supply this information.

Other Tips

If you’re volunteering outside the United States, find out if any vaccinations and/or preventive medications are recommended or required at Also, check to see if your health insurer provides coverage outside the United States.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC “Today” show and author of The Savvy Senior book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit
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