Okay, you get onto a plane and find yourself seated next to a family who is beginning a “volunteer vacation.” Where are they going? Why are they going there, and what do they hope to get out of the trip? What can they expect to be the best parts, and the worst parts, of the trip?
In 2009, GeckoGo published a study based on the responses of 2,481 survey participants at their Facebook page.
The responses were enlightening: the most common “voluntour” might come from Europe, and be headed to Peru, Brazil, Australia or somewhere else in the Southern Hemisphere. She is likely female (66%) and could be of any age, but whatever age she is, she probably has volunteered before at home.
Tearing open a bag of airplane peanuts next to your VolunTour friend, you’d be guessing wisely if you thought he was headed to his destination in order to humanitarian work, conservation, or community development. He definitely is motivated by altruism, according to the GeckoGo survey, and in fact he is a bit worried that he might not be useful enough, worried that when he gets there, the project might not be as organized as it could be and that his role might not be as important as he’d like.
Our friend doesn’t need to worry, though. When she gets back onto the plane for the trip home, 99% of the time (!!) she’ll respond that the experience was either meaningful … or Very. Meaningful. Only 1% of the time will she say it was not meaningful – hey, you get more than 1% of sixteen-year-olds who say their drivers’ licenses were not meaningful. Some volunteers flatly stated that the “ethical vacation” was simply the best experience of their lives.
In the GeckoGo survey, 96%, by which we mean “All,” of the volunteers thought they had been useful or very useful on the project. And the responses to this question might have been even stronger, except for the innate humility, desire to serve more, and level of need at the destination that they discovered.
If you asked your travel volunteer friend, on the way back, what the very best part of the experience was, he’d talk about the people that he met. “Do you mean, your fellow volunteers, or the people from the other culture?” Both, he’d smile.
She might talk to you some about seeing an incredible site on the planet, would talk about helping people out, would talk about culture and knowledge exchange, and would talk about teamwork. But when she got home to her family and friends, she’d talk about the friends she has back in Ghana, and how long it’s going to be until she sees them again.