Reconsider 'Voluntourism' As Your Way to Save the World.

Nigel AbelloNigel Abello

Discover. Book. Enjoy.

That’s what we preach here at Leezair and when you’re a tourist, you can enjoy the spoils that the world presents before us.

Then mix that with the opportunity to go into overseas communities to work on projects and help others… Voilà! You now have a purpose to travel and a sense of fulfillment.

That’s essentially what voluntourism is.

However, there’s a heated debate amongst people who believe there are clear negatives associated with voluntourism whereas others see the clear benefits it can provide.

I mentioned voluntourism in my last blog (if you missed out on it, you can check it out here) but many millennials see it as a chance to do something new in their life.

According to Google, voluntourism is defined as:

noun: a form of tourism in which travellers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity.

"at the core of voluntourism is the desire to help others"

I especially like their example that at the core, it’s the desire to help others. That’s my view on the topic because if you have the right intentions in mind, you don’t purposely volunteer abroad to leverage an industry. But in order to clear things up, I would like to present to you some of the arguments for why so many people don’t condone voluntourism and how you can prevent yourself contributing to the issue.

World-renowned author, JK Rowling founded her own charity – Lumos – that aims on helping children around the world who have been institutionalised and restore family life.

In a series of tweets in August 2016, Rowling expressed her strong opinion for why she does not support voluntourism after being asked to retweet an appeal from another charity on Twitter.

“As often happens when I tweet about the charity I founded, @Lumos, I have just been asked to retweet an appeal from another charity, this one offering volunteer 'experiences' in an orphanage in an extremely poor country. @Lumos does not support #voluntourism,”

“One of the advantages listed for your orphanage volunteer experience is that it will give you a CV 'distinguisher'. #voluntourism”.


Many people see voluntourism as an opportunity to exploit an industry that essentially exists to support the white saviour complex. With many of these volunteers spending big amounts of money to go overseas to help others, it begs the question as to whether the money they are spending actually goes into the hands of people who need it, or the orphanage owner’s pockets.

As many of these volunteer trips listed on websites are heavily focussed around international aid, there is a clear link between individual’s need to help address the issue of poverty as well as the need to have an authentic experience. If you combine that with the incentive to add experience to your résumé you can see how some organisations are taking advantage of this industry.

A writer for the Huffington Post, Mario Machado spent over twenty-seven months as a Peace-Corps volunteer in a Paraguayan community. In a post he wrote he expressed that even that length of time was insufficient to make a long-lasting impact and difference in his community. When considering many of these volunteer trips are short term, a few weeks to a few months, you can begin to wonder if the projects themselves are substantial enough.


There are mounds of research conducted into voluntourism and the growing industry it has now turned into. Quite frankly, there’s too much research to be formulated into a snappy blog post like this one.

In response to one of JK Rowling’s tweets an individual went on to say “a horrific example of the "monetising" of absolutely everything by a morally bankrupt western culture.” In which Rowling responded “Well, I wouldn't got that far; the flip side is the Westerners working/donating to help reform the system!

Despite the negativity connotation associated with voluntourism, there is a general consensus that volunteering does have benefits. Especially because these trips are targeted at young adults like myself, there are still some precautions we can take to ensure that our interaction overseas is mutually valuable.

Think to yourself as to whether you have the necessary skills to get the job done and get it done correctly. If you want to go to a village to help build a library but have no prior experience with laying bricks or carpentry, are you really making the most of your time and theirs? Consider if the money you would pay to go on the trip would be better off investing into the local community itself to get the job done.

The onus is on us to make sure we don’t add to the problem. I’m sure that none of us would want to do more harm than good so we need to ask the right questions and do proper research before committing to anything.

As an individual from a Western culture we should be aiming to empower these individuals to transform their own lives. They shouldn’t feel that we need to go into their lives and change it for them. Thus we need to remember our impact and presence in other’s lives. We can make the change we want to see but we need to be careful in how we approach it.

Hopefully by now you can see it's not as easy as 'I really want to volunteer and I want to do good and I really want to give back.


However, I’m not saying every international volunteer trip is detrimental but, be that as it may, you can still have an authentic experience just as a tourist as well. See, we are people who want to do something different from the conventional norms of the typical ‘tourist’ who goes to all the main sights and attractions. No, we want to live life and experience the world from a different perspective. I feel like that’s why many young adults apply for these trips because they need something to challenge them and bring them out of their comfort zone.

That’s why if you’re out-and-about and need a more authentic experience, you can check out our catalog for something to fill that void. Go on a series of adventures that no one else has done before and discover the world in the way you want to see it.

Nigel Abello
Thanks for reading guys!

Nigel Abello

Sign up to get early access to our new personalised travel app.

Read more

More On Travel Tech Talk Things To Do