Service Trips & Volunteerism for Families | Ciao Bambino!

Families who love to travel often say that the chance to see the world is the reason why. But many also wonder if they can do more than that, and in fact leave the world a better place than what they originally found. And the answer, of course, is yes. World travelers, especially families, can contribute to the vitality of our planet and its people via service-oriented trips and volunteer opportunities. Our Family Travel Advisors can help ensure that this type of vacation is planned efficiently, responsibly and in a way that leaves a lasting impact, both for the communities served and for our clients.

We can design an itinerary based on your family’s desire to serve. We work with vendors who specialize in this type of vacation in destinations like India, Kenya and Ecuador, and who have the necessary local contacts to ensure the trip runs smoothly. Our providers focus on safety, kid-friendly lodging and activities that get children involved in a hands-on way.

If volunteering is new to your family and you don’t know where to begin, consider setting aside a half or full day of your next vacation to help in a meaningful way as a starting point. We’ve helped connect families with local NGOs or concierges who arranged memorable short-term experiences, like weaving roofs for a local family’s house (something children can easily do). In regions that rely on tourism as the primary economic driver, many of our top suppliers have played a major role in the recovery after natural disasters, providing emergency food and shelter and then leading cleanup efforts to help bring visitors back. Many are incorporating service experiences for guests to get involved personally.

Seek out experiences where the emotional impact of volunteerism on local populations has been assessed and addressed, especially those that serve children. Waves of well-meaning visitors who only stay a few days but then leave abruptly can often do more harm than good to the mental well-being of the very people they intended to help. Consider delivering supplies or working on much-needed capital projects that require manpower instead of volunteering in a more personal way, like caring for infants in an orphanage or teaching children in local schools. To truly be beneficial, those activities require a long-term commitment and professional training, which is more than most visitors can offer. That doesn’t mean interaction with local populations isn’t possible; it just means it should be structured appropriately, like a spontaneous pickup game of soccer with local kids or cooking and serving a meal.

We’ve also helped families who have already arranged a service trip through professional, religious or school affiliations, planning additional days at the beginning or end of their trip to experience the destination more fully. We’ve done this for clients on a medical mission to Vietnam, for example.

Here are just some of the many ways families can volunteer while traveling with children:

  • Families who stay at a luxury hotel in South Africa that partners with local schools can arrange an opportunity to serve a meal to the children and staff.
  • In Belize, some resorts are providing snorkelers with tools to catch an invasive species of fish that is destroying reefs and other sea life native to the region.
  • A resort in Mexico leads families in tree-planting activities in order to do something small but impactful to help fight global warming.
  • Visitors to Jamaica have worked with naturalists to line up and form a human shield as sea turtles made their way to the ocean.
  • Reforestation projects in Costa Rica get families involved in restoring mangrove trees.
  • Families can serve food to Sikh pilgrims who are breaking bread together at temples in the Himalayas.
  • A horse rehabilitation program located onsite at one of our favorite kid-friendly resorts in New Mexico gets families involved by cleaning the stables or caring for previously abandoned horses.
  • Kids love getting their hands dirty, which they can do at an organic farm in Cuba while learning about sustainable farming practices.

Remember that travelers can also affect a destination with their spending choices. Local governments are pushing sustainable growth in part because visitors who travel to these beautiful but fragile ecosystems demand it. Seek out those vendors who emphasize reducing their environmental impact; we’re happy to steer you in the right direction. For example, we can identify safari providers that use hybrid 4x4s instead of high-pollutant vehicles and riverboat cruise operators that rely on solar panels as their energy source.

Go beyond green and support providers who are not just addressing their carbon footprint but who are investing in meaningful ways to preserve local cultures and traditions. For example, some properties we work with in Thailand charge guests a sponsorship fee, which provides financial support for food and shelter for rescued elephants and their caretakers.

It’s important for children (and adults) to see that travel is not all about luxury vacations and that there are real people living in each of the places we visit. Serving in some capacity, or volunteering on specific projects, is one way of better understanding just how intimately connected we all are with our neighbors around the world.

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