Taking a vacation can be expensive. An overseas trip to anywhere will cost at least $1,000, though it will typically cost much more. A weekend jaunt to a state near you can still cost a few hundred dollars, and a longer trip can easily rival those taken overseas.
An easy way to save money while still being able to see the world is to take a volunteer vacation. There are organizations around the globe looking for volunteers in exchange for boarding or other amenities such as meals. Some agencies charge you a high fee in order to volunteer, with much of this money going toward the organization you are helping. However, there are many other agencies that will allow you to help without charging these fees.
Here are a few ways to save money on vacation by volunteering:
Free Room and Board
Hotels can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the course of your stay. If you want to spend a week in Italy, expect your hotel bill to approach $1,000 or more. Add to that the cost of meals — which are overpriced in touristy areas — and you’re easily spending thousands of dollars on your stay.
There are many organizations that will exchange free lodging and sometimes meals in exchange for a certain number of volunteer hours. Some notable examples include:
- WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms – wwoof.org), an organization that asks volunteers to work on organic farms in exchange for room and board.
- Conversation Corps Russia (geovisions.org), which asks for 15 hours a week of English instruction in exchange for providing all your room and board.
Even programs that charge a fee to participate can still end up costing less than a traditional vacation package. You can also skip the organized travel and call charities directly to find out if they can offer you free lodging in exchange for your volunteer efforts.
Discounted Air Travel
Most organizations do not offer you air travel in exchange for volunteering. However, many do work with travel agents who can offer you discounted fares. Often, these are not advertised rates and are not available to the general public. Talk with the volunteer organization you are working with about possibilities for discounted fare or other ways that you can save on travel. Most organizations want to make it as easy as possible for you to volunteer and will help you find ways to save.
When you volunteer, most or all of your travel expenses will be tax deductible. This includes your airfare, lodging, meals, ground transportation, and any agency fees you may have paid. Depending on how much you spend on your trip — and what tax bracket you are in — this could potentially save you a few hundred dollars a year on your tax bill.
Talk to a qualified tax professional to find out what deductions will apply to you and how much you might be able to save.
While volunteering abroad (or even in your own country) won’t land you a free vacation, it can save you quite a bit of money if you do your homework. Volunteering also gives you a more authentic experience of the place and helps you to feel good about doing something that makes a difference. You won’t get that from buying a mini Leaning Tower of Pisa and eating pizza!
written by: Alexis Bonari