Voluntourism: What to expect in 2021

Mountains and a valley are seen in the distance.

Voluntourism has changed. Here's how to get involved today — and what to expect in the future.

Voluntourism, or a vacation spent volunteering, gives you the opportunity to invest your time and wealth on a deeper level while enjoying a region’s culinary, cultural, or ecological experiences. But with travel limits in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, what options are out there in 2021?

Here are ways to still offer help, plus voluntourism opportunities to expect in the future.

What you can do today

Consider virtual voluntourism opportunities. With virtual volunteering, you can meet new people and make a difference from the safety of your home. Some voluntourism organizations that offer opportunities, such as United Planet, even offer a discount on future in-person trips if you become a virtual volunteer.

Though right now we can’t enjoy the “tourism” part of voluntourism, you can still use your skills and background to guide you to your next volunteer opportunity. For example, if you have a business background, you could mentor a small-business owner anywhere in the world to help them develop their skills and capacities to come out of the pandemic more competitively.

VolunteerMatch lists remote volunteer opportunities, including at zoos, to help with social media promotion efforts. There’s also MapSwipe, where volunteers use their mobile phones to help pinpoint areas where people have been affected by disasters, disease, and conflict so they can get the help they need.

No matter your background or interests, there is a way for you to make a direct impact on important causes.

Make financial donations to help sustain voluntourism efforts. The tourism industry has taken a big hit since the start of the pandemic, with many countries prohibiting international and domestic travelers, including many U.S. states implementing their own travel restrictions. Michele Gran, cofounder and senior vice president of Global Volunteers, a nonprofit based in St. Paul, Minnesota, says donations have been an essential part of keeping their programs going until volunteers can return. Along with providing income for staff, donations to Global Volunteers help fund community-based programs that provide essential services to families and children.

“We’ve existed this entire year on the generosity of our alumni,” says Gran, who founded Global Volunteers in 1984 with her husband, Burnham Philbrook. “They have by and large kept us afloat. It’s been quite gratifying.”

How you could be helping after the pandemic

With coronavirus vaccines potentially becoming available to greater numbers of people in the months ahead, voluntourism opportunities are likely to start to reemerge throughout 2021. Gran, for example, hopes Global Volunteers will resume its programs in spring or summer 2021.

“We’re hoping that by maybe June or July, a good portion of our volunteers will be in a position to travel again,” Gran says. “The vast majority of our volunteers that we’ve surveyed have said that once they can be vaccinated, they feel confident about travel. That’s why we’re optimistic.”

Voluntourism opportunities may look different in the wake of the pandemic, but they will return — and for those interested in travel as well as philanthropy, there may be no more rewarding way to see the world.