Two of the most popular and rewarding activities that keep seniors busy in retirement are travelling and volunteering. Unfortunately, the pandemic made both of those difficult and, in many cases, impossible.
Now that vaccines are rolling out and the world is starting to reopen, why not catch up on both at once?
“Voluntourism” gives travelers an opportunity to enjoy a new place while also helping those in need. To make sure that your time and money will be well spent, do some homework and answer these five questions.
1. Who’s really in charge?
Some voluntourism trips are coordinated by several organizations with varying responsibilities. It’s important that you understand who is ultimately responsible for volunteers, especially if you’re planning to travel far from home. That well-known corporation whose logo is at the top of advertisements might just be a sponsor with no role in on-the-ground operations. The friendly voice on the phone who’s helping you book travel might be a coordinator working for an intermediary. Are you working directly for a reputable charity organization, or is the larger charity connecting you to a smaller host organization that will be responsible for your transportation, room and board, and safety?
Drilling down into these specifics will help you connect to causes and organizations you will be more comfortable helping and donating to. When in doubt, follow one of my golden rules of charitable giving: avoid trendy grassroots campaigns and only work with established, reputable organizations.
2. Where is my money going?
Unlike volunteering at your local soup kitchen, voluntourism can often cost as much as taking a regular vacation. Don’t let the fact that you’re dealing with a charitable organization keep you from asking some frank questions about how your money will be spent. Does your money only cover your travel and living expenses, or does a percentage of it go directly to local community needs? If several organizations are coordinating your trip, who ultimately receives payment? Is the recipient a certified charitable organization or nonprofit, and if so, can you take a tax deduction for any part of this trip?
I know asking money questions about charity can make folks feel like they’re being uncharitable. But money is another reason to be skeptical about new organizations and social media campaigns, no matter how slick their videos are. Even if these groups are well intentioned, most simply don’t have the resources, the network, or the oversight to guarantee that your money goes where it’s needed the most.
3. What, specifically, will I be doing?
Some retirees find that volunteer work, fulfilling as it may be, is also more physically and emotionally demanding than their 9-to-5 jobs were. And while voluntourism can be a great way to experience life in places like India or Africa, many disadvantaged communities won’t have the amenities or climate that you’re used to at home. Moreover, if you’re expecting to help children learn English and the host organization asks you to spend hours stocking a food pantry, you’re not going to feel like you’re putting your skills to their highest uses. Look for voluntourism that offers a good balance between clearly defined and scheduled responsibilities that you can handle and some down time for exploring your destination.
4. Could my volunteer work have any negative consequences on the local community?
If you’ve been researching voluntourism, you’ve probably come across articles urging tourists not to volunteer at orphanages in developing countries. Sadly, many orphanages have turned goodwill into a commercial prospect, diverting resources away from the children they’re supposed to help so that they can operate like a for-profit business. In many countries, donating to or volunteering at private orphanages frustrates larger efforts by international organizations like UNICEF to help governments connect children with loving families.
Voluntourism can also have unintended consequences on local economies. Ask your trip organizer if your volunteer work could be depriving someone of a paying job or an opportunity to learn a new skill. Does the host organization have a good relationship with the community? Are the benefits of this program sustainable?
5. How am I going to pay for this trip?
Once you’ve found a voluntourism trip that provides positive answers to these and other questions, it might be a good idea to review your annual travel budget. Are you rolling over some unspent vacation money from 2020? Do you have other delayed travel plans that you’re hoping to catch up on this year? Or are you thinking about making volunteer work and charity a larger part of your retirement plan and your legacy?
Whether you want to go abroad, give back, or both, call up my team at Keen Wealth and let’s discuss how your financial plan can help you make the most of 2021.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with nearly three decades of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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