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Remedy for Recession: Volunteer Travel Abroad

There has been a lot of talk of the “R” word — Recession. There’s news of drastic drops in retail sales, job losses and higher unemployment rates everyday, the picture seems very bleak.

We’re curious how this challenging economy has affected volunteer travel abroad. Recently we asked about a dozen volunteer organizations and tour companies (1) how their businesses have been affected; and (2) how they will respond (i.e., price discounts, refocused marketing campaigns, etc). The general consensus — so far business has not been impacted. In fact, some have seen an increase in numbers. They’re seeing people who are laid off or taking time from the job market looking to do something meaningful. None of the companies expect to discount prices but they are flexible in tailoring to the client’s needs and budget.

Why is volunteer travel so resilient when so many core industries and companies are faltering or going into bankruptcy? How is this industry one of the few bright spots in this dark economy?

After some thought, it started to make sense — volunteer travel abroad could be a remedy for the recession — at least a temporary remedy. The challenging economic environment makes volunteering abroad very appealing to those mourning the loss of their jobs with no promising prospects at home due to a bare bone job market. People are turning to volunteer travel for these reasons:

1. Time — Now they have a chunk of time to do something they had always wanted to do but never had enough time to do it or too tied down to a job to do it.

2. Self-discovery — Embark on a journey to find themselves — what is important, who they are and what they really want to do. Soul-searching laid off bankers are willing to spend some of their severance money to get adventure and charitable experience. Also, these trips give perspective. It’s hard to complain about tanking finances when they’ve just seen abject poverty. It’s also a chance to re-evaluate career goals/changes.

3. Resume-building — Potential employers are often impressed to see a resume packed with travel and volunteer experience. Volunteer experience is often brought up in interviews. It tells the recruiters and HR professionals that they’re willing to share, to care, to make good use of their time and they’re community-oriented, which is very important these days.

4. Sense of control — People still want some control of their environment/future. They want to be proactive — looking to make something happen for themselves. They’d rather put their time to good use than spend hopeless months trying to tap into a bone-dry job market. Also, the thinking — if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It tells what kind of person they are, that they’re able to bounce back.

5. Financially feasible — While seeing the world and helping others, volunteers can live on a limited budget overseas.

Right now, when options are few, volunteer travel abroad may be your bright spot. But industry folks do caution that if the recession goes longer, eventually the organizations will be impacted. When the paychecks/savings/severances have been spent, people will have less money to spend on travel.

Do you think volunteer travel abroad could be your temporary remedy for the recession?

Photo by aturkus

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  • Karina Rochelle said:

    Travel and volunteering are (almost) always good for the mind and soul.

    One thought: volunteering used to be associated more closely with altruism. These days there’s more personal gain associated with it. That’s not to say people don’t mean well and that volunteers of the past haven’t personally benefited from the feel-goods of their volunteer efforts.

    But I think it’s good to be conscience of this shifting perspective. I also think it’s good to think about how you can contribute in your own neighborhoods. And I think it’s good to recognize that maybe you are traveling and volunteering to address personal needs, so just be conscientious that you’re really giving something back.

    Just a thought (or two).

  • travelanthropist said:

    Appreciate your comments, Karina. Yes, it’s important to do some self examination before these trips because knowing WHY we do what we do is helpful for both our own well being and those who we want to help. To prepare for this mindset, we should consider volunteering closer to home — that said — we should not exclude volunteering from our travels.

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