The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: 4 Volunteer Vacations to Light Your Holiday

Fifty-seven percent of respondents say they donate to charity in some way over the holiday season, according to a survey by Ask Your Target Market. Of the 57 percent (with some submitting multiple answers), 46 percent claimed to make a monetary donation, 64 percent donate to a third party charity collection, 24 percent buy gifts for people through Adopt-a-Family or Mitten Tree, while 63 percent donated items like nonperishable foods and home goods.

Just 22 percent of respondents donated their time through volunteering. As much as we might think of charity as a material gift, it can often be more satisfying on both ends to conduct acts of service instead. Beyond the local soup kitchen, here are four ways you can give back this holiday season with a volunteer vacation.

1. Romania Working with Children Quest

Photo by Heifer International via Flickr

United Planet is planning a one-week winter break program to Romania from December 30, 2013, to January 8, 2014. Participants will be able to spend part of their holiday in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, which contain an orphanage and a diverse community of residents with severe need. Volunteers can teach English, complete arts and crafts, and play with the children in the orphanage. Since the community is largely Christian Orthodox, optional mass services and religious activities will also be available for volunteers to gain the whole experience of this unique part of Romania. The deadline for enrolling is October 31, 2013, and the cost to attend is approximately $1,985.

2. South Africa Volunteer Abroad

Photo of poverty in South Africa by Nagarjun via Flickr.
Photo of poverty in South Africa by Nagarjun via Flickr.

Cross-Cultural Solutions is one great organization that comes with greater flexibility than a lot of programs out there. Volunteers can select a specific concentration for their volunteer project: improving education, caring for children, helping the disabled, or improving the quality of healthcare. A CCS staff member will also take volunteers on a tour of the city, and even offer volunteers language classes and opportunities to cook local cuisine.

Although dates are flexible, signing up sooner could save money and make it easier to stay organized. A one-week trip to South Africa through CCS costs $2,654.

Make sure to take precautions before traveling to Africa, such as getting the appropriate vaccinations and protecting yourself with an identity theft protection service.

3. World Endeavors Volunteer in India

Photo by Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet via Flickr.
Photo by Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet via Flickr.

Home to a dynamic landscape and diverse people, there is plenty to see and influence in the second most populous nation in the world.

Winter is mild and sunny in India, which allows visitors to really take advantage of the bustling atmosphere.

Participants in the World Endeavors program will live with a host family in Jaipur, choosing from concentrations like Childcare and Orphanage Assistance, Special Education, and Women’s Development.

Whatever you choose, the program will run for two to three weeks during the months of December and January, offering some flexibility for your holiday schedule. A two-week trip costs $1,515.

4. Northern Michigan University Volunteer Abroad in Thailand

Photo by fortes via Flickr.
Photo by fortes via Flickr.

Most institutions of higher education will have an established volunteer abroad program, and many of them will offer college credit as a reward for your participation.

One program worth spotlighting is Northern Michigan University’s Thailand volunteer program, which allows students to learn how to train and care for elephants at the Maewang Elephant Camp for two days. Students will also take a tour of Bangkok and work on building a new community in Chiang Rai for four days. The total trip will take place from December 21, 2013, to January 10, 2014, and will cost approximately $3,900.

Of course, seeing as how around 90% of our readers are from the United States, there is plenty of volunteer work and people in need of physical and spiritual help right here at home. Stay tuned for an article on how you can volunteer and make a real difference in the United States.