Thinking about your next family vacation? Traveling is a great way to see the world and learn new things, but it can also be an opportunity to help others. More and more organizations are offering volunteer vacation trips, and they can always use extra sets of hands—even little ones! From faraway places to trips in the states and even one great option that requires you to just pack a few extra items, here are our picks for the best volunteer vacations to take with kids.

Proyecto Asis via Flickr

International Volunteer HQ

If international travel is in your future, you’ll definitely want to check out this resource that offers insight on some of the best programs suited for the ages and abilities of your children while also accommodating your travel desires. International Volunteer HG has a safe and family-friendly volunteer program in over 45 destinations that offer home-stay accommodations (as opposed to dormitory-style) allowing families more privacy and ease. Living in a homestay is a unique experience, as your family can enjoy living alongside a local family while learning about their culture, cuisine and traditions.

International Volunteer HQ offers volunteer programs for families with children under the age of 18 in Indonesia, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Peru and Tanzania as well as a few other opportunities in Argentina and Bali.

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If your family has some extra elbow grease to spare, Helpx just might be the key to open an entirely different vacation trip altogether. The online service lists many organic farms, non-organic farms, farm stays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who offer free short-term accommodations and sometimes even meals in exchange for a little work during the day. They operate worldwide including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. Work responsibilities can be anything from light housework to feeding barnyard animals and basic yard work to bricklaying. Helpers often live with the host family and are expected to join in and offer a helping hand with day-to-day activities. You can expect to work anywhere from two to six hours a day depending on the host.

Some extra benefits of using Helpx may include opportunities for free internet use, horse riding, kayaking, bike riding, local sight-seeing trips, etc. To help make a perfect match, it is advised that you offer a description of your family and any skills that you possess such as building, carpentry, landscaping, working with animals or an ability to care for and ride horses.

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Give the Kids the World via Flickr

Give Kids the World Village

If you are planning a trip to Disneyworld this year, you might want to plan to spend an extra day serving at perhaps the second happiest place on earth. Give Kids the World is an 84-acre nonprofit resort that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children (and their families) who have been diagnosed with critical illnesses. Volunteering here is fairly easy as most people don’t consider what they do here actual work, but a chance to help may a child’s day or week special. You have to be at least 12-years-old to help, but you won’t find opportunities like this anywhere else. Depending on your age, you’ll serve as a ride operator, become a train conductor, perform on the stage, become a character and many other opportunities that anyone can do like:

  • Greeting families at the airport, train station or at the resort
  • Help serve families with meals at the many restaurants or room service
  • Help with office tasks, helping families find information and more
  • Serve as an attendant at one of the play areas or the pool
  • Helps with arts and crafts
  • Perform in a show or become a costumed character
  • Become a ride operator

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Hands Up Holidays

Hands Up Holidays provides “luxury family trips that give back” the combines “sightseeing with serving.” It’s a hybrid of a travel agency that books luxurious hotels for your family while also setting up opportunities where you can get your hands dirty and serve together. It’s a pretty cool concept that has won numerous awards, and they guarantee that you and your family will love your getaway. Unlike other programs, there's a lot less research that you need to do—their consultants will arrange everything. Of course, the tradeoff is that the accommodations aren’t free. The types of volunteering tasks needed include helping build homes, become reading partners to children, help with wildlife conservation and giving young entrepreneurs business advice, etc.

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Sandals Reading Road Trip

Here’s a cool idea: Guests (ages 8 & up) who stay at the Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts and Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts can take part in a two-hour program that will take you to one of the primary schools in Saint Lucia, Antigua, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos or Jamaica for Sandal Foundations’ Reading Road Trip. During your time you’ll engage small groups of children in active reading strategies. Don’t worry, you won’t just be thrown in there expected to know everything. Facilitators will be on hand to guide you on how to engage and encourage the children during your visit.

Another great way to help while there is to pack along a couple of new or gently-used children’s books that can be donated to the school’s library and leave a little of yourself there as well. Reading Road Trips are offered every Thursday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. when schools are in session, September through mid-June.

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Beach Corps

Bridging the gap between an incredible vacation and opportunities to connect with local nonprofit charities is the goal of Beach Corps who are big fans of families coming together to make a difference. As long as your children are old enough to listen to instructions and won’t wander off on their own, they are qualified to come onboard. There are lots of activities that are suitable for your kids: from sharing English to coming together and put on a show to simply picking up litter on the beach. Beach Corps says that worthy nonprofit causes put the focus on empowerment, not begging. You can book your trip by activity or by nonprofit partner too.

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Workaway is similar to other programs that help out host families a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. Not all hosts welcome families, but with a list of over 30,000 active hosts in over 180 countries, chances are good that you can someplace to go. Workaway is sort of a dating site matching up hosts with “Workawayers.” Each listing includes months available for booking, a description of the hosts and their interests, the type of help needed, information on the cultural exchange and learning opportunities, the languages they speak and accommodation information. The site also gives a host rating, feedback from previous guests, an estimate on how well the hosts respond to inquiries, etc. Opportunities range from just a few days to a few months and the sky is the limit on the type of work that is required. Start by choosing the country you’d like to visit, type the word “family” in the search bar and make a match!

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Global Family Travels

Global Family Travels helps families to “learn, serve and immerse” during their vacations helping to build cultural bridges while also giving a helping hand. These learning tours offer a mix of cultural and educational activities, homestays and participation in local service projects. Many of the trips offered include opportunities to stay with a local family or cooking a meal with the hosts. Destinations include Africa, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Galapagos, India, Nepal, Nicaragua and Peru among others.

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Pack with a Purpose

Pack with a Purpose

One of the easiest ways to help others and have a big impact on their communities is to leave just a little space in your luggage to pack much-needed supplies. Since 2010, Pack for a Purpose travelers have taken over 281,417 pounds of supplies meeting essential needs in over 60 countries. Pack with a Purpose works with many organizations around the world in the areas of education, health, child welfare, animal welfare and socioeconomic development. And you can pick the organization that you would like your supplies to go to as well. Examples of the things you can donate and pack include 400 pencils, five deflated soccer balls and one inflation device, a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, 500 Band-Aids, animal supplies, etc.

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Travel for Good

Don’t know where to go to help serve? Travelocity offers a service that lists numerous places across the country that are looking for short-term help on a regular basis. So whether you plan to visit the San Diego Zoo or take in a baseball game at Wrigley Stadium in Chicago, there just might be a place where you can help pack lunches, help at a dog shelter or in other ways you would never be able to do at home. They also offer a blog with topics on how to volunteer while on vacation and at the time of this writing, they also offering a special promo code where the company will give you $25 off your next hotel stay and give $25 to the Red Cross—a win-win!

Areas listed with places to help include: Chicago, Las Vegas, Nashville, Orange County, Orlando, New Orleans, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

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—Jeffrey Totey



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