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Voluntourism, a growing summer vacation trend

July 10, 2008 7:17:05 PM PDT
Summer is upon us and you are no doubt eyeing your options for a break from the daily grind. How about putting that down time to work helping others across the globe? Travelers everywhere are reaping the rewards of "voluntourism."

This may not be your idea of a dream vacation, but for Dick Morten of San Francisco it was all that and more.

Morten recently took a trip to Nepal where he helped rebuild a crumbling Buddhist monastery. Morten is just one of a growing number of tourists who are spanning the globe in search of adventure as volunteers. It's called "voluntourism" -- part community service and part vacation.

"Another term for it is a working vacation," says Dick Morten.

Nepal was Morten's second volunteer vacation. The first was to Mongolia with his wife Madeline and his daughter where they pitched in to restore an ancient Tibetan monastery.

"When you go on this particular vacation you have to have the mindset to do some work for the benefit of the country and for yourself," says Madeline Morten.

It's hands on work, living and eating with the locals with excursions during the down time.

Mark Hintzke runs the program the Mortens took. The non-profit Cultural Restoration Tourism Project is committed to repairing cultural icons around the globe that normally may not get attention.

"There seemed to be a lack of money for these projects, so we came up with this idea of using tourist dollars to go into restoration projects," says Hintzke.

A $2,500 to $2,700 donation goes to fund the restoration. It also covers lodging, food, and local staff to manage the project.

"The volunteer tourists are our only source of funding for our organization. We don't bring in any outside funding and a lot of these smaller projects around the world, there's just no funding for," says Hintzke.

"Voluntourism" is growing by a leaps and bounds. A recent poll by Conde Naste magazine shows that 14 percent of Americans have taken a volunteer holiday, but 50 percent said they would like to. Ninety-five percent of those who've made a volunteer trip say they'd do it again.

Tourists young and old, even entire families, are using their vacation time to do something for humanity. In rural Cambodia, Dominic Giuliani helped build a school. He donated a couple hundred dollars to a local group called PEPY and was on his way.

"It is pretty darn cheap. It's about $800 or something to get yourself out there. I think for the 10 days it was maybe another $300," says Giuliani.

That was three years ago and he still thinks about the kids who will benefit from the school he helped build.

"You just know that they are getting an opportuniy perhaps to go school when otherwise they may not," says Giuliani.

However, not every trip ends up as well.

"It's very difficult for consumer to decide what resonates most with them," says David Clemmons who founded a clearing house at VolunTourism.org to help people find a trip that best suits them. "Those who do their due diligence and identify projects and trip types that really work for them personally, you find that they come back and the word that they use is 'transformed.'"

That transformation is what drives organizers to keep going.

"For the most part, almost everybody expresses they made a connection much deeper than they have ever before in any other travels," says Hintzke.

And pushes so many to want to do it again.

"Absolutely, hands down... I push it on anyone who's willing to talk about it," says Giuliani.

There could be another advantage to "voluntourism," the cost of your vacation may prove to be largely tax deductable.

One other advantage to "voluntourism" may come at tax time. The cost of that vacation may actually be completely tax deductable.

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Written and produced by Ken Miguel.


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