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How to find great volunteer vacations

Dear Savvy Senior: My husband and I are approaching retirement and are interested in learning more about volunteer vacations. Can you give us some information on this travel option? — Love to Travel

Dear Love: If you’re looking to do more on your next vacation than relax in the sun or go sightseeing, volunteer vacations — also known as voluntourism — which combine travel and volunteer work, are a great alternative and a growing trend among retirees.

Volunteer vacations

There are many organizations today that offer short-term volunteer vacation projects in the U.S. and abroad, lasting anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Common program themes include teaching English, working with children and teens, building and repairing homes and schools, and assisting with community or environmental projects.

Volunteer vacations give travelers the opportunity to experience the culture more fully and connect with the local people.

Most volunteer vacation groups accept singles, couples and families and you don’t need to speak a foreign language. Costs usually range from around $1,000 to $3,000 per 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, 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

Here are some good organizations that attract a lot of retirees:

>> Global Volunteers ( A pioneer in global travel, this group tackles hunger, poverty and educational needs. It offers one-, two- and three-week programs in 17 countries, including the U.S.

>> Earthwatch Institute ( With an emphasis in environmental conservation and research, they offer dozens of one and two-week expeditions in countries all over the world.

>> Cross-Cultural Solutions ( They focus on health, education, and economic volunteer opportunities in Central and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

>> Biosphere Expeditions ( It offers wildlife conservation expeditions in 13 countries.

>> Habitat for Humanity ( It offers international house-building trips through its Global Village Program in more than 40 countries.

>> Sierra Club ( This venerable environmental group sponsors dozens of service trips in the U.S. each year, with more projects offered through local chapters.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBCTV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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