When the year-end holidays draw near, many of our travelers may start thinking of how they are going to celebrate them. Unless you plan far in advance, the truth is it’s difficult to plan for a “go-away” Christmas-New Year’s holiday; most resorts, cruises and holiday venues are booked solid.

Voluntourism vacation in Guatemala

Volunteers put their muscle into building cement-block homes in Guatemala.

But why not start planning now for next year and why not plan a unique trip that incorporates “do good” to others – something everyone can relate to, whether couples, entire families, seniors or simply individuals who are perhaps at loose ends after losing a spouse or having recently recovered from a long illness.

What Are Voluntourism Vacations?

There are a number of organizations and companies that specialize in volunteer tourism, or “voluntourism vacations.” These are trips wherein your group could not only enjoy a new destination and perhaps actively participate in local holiday events but also bring assistance and happiness to some less fortunate locals. Programs are available nearly worldwide – some short term for a week or two. They range from the usual sightseeing tour with perhaps just a day or so of working on a community project to a trip that is almost totally volunteer time.

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I recall years ago when I put together a holiday tour to the small colonial cities of Mexico: Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Lake Chapala, Dolores, etc. A friend of mine was then living at Lake Chapala and through her and her local church we arranged for each of my tour participants to bring a student backpack filled with classroom needs: pens, pencils, ruler, crayons, scissors, glue and so forth. Not expensive, but a big hit with the Mexican youngsters receiving our stuffed backpacks at a special holiday party we had planned to get our tour members together with the local kids and their families. It’s amazing the amount of happiness one can create with a little bit of advance planning.

For the last three years, my niece Karen and her young daughter Ariella have been volunteering in Guatemala over the Christmas holidays, physically building cement-block houses through an organization called Houses Into Homes. Each house is a one-room affair with one door and one window –no heat, no electricity – an outdoor cooking area and an outhouse in back. The owners-to-be select the colors in which they’d like their house painted. These houses are appearing little by little throughout “aldeas” in the mountains (small communities dotted with cornstalk and cardboard housing). The sponsoring organization arranges your stay in a small hotel in lovely Antigua and provides transportation in the back of a pickup truck daily to and from the building site.

“You can’t imagine the emotion that runs through the family as their house is readied,” says Karen. “They’re presented with an ownership certificate, there’s food and music to celebrate. In my case, I was able to crowdfund sufficient monies to allow the family to actually buy the $10,000 piece of land on which the house now sits – a monumental achievement. Owning the land gives them pride and a feeling of stability –particularly when it comes with enough space to grow almost all their food staples: beans, potatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots as well as mangos, papayas, oranges and fruit of every color. “

All it takes is the willingness to try some-thing different next year, something to bring happiness and security to a waiting family out there. Try a voluntourism vacation. You may wish you’d dared to do it before.