Family Travel Volunteer Trips
Jan 09, 2023
When you’re the parents of multiple young children, traveling is always a lot of work. Planning your family trip to the other side of the state can seem overwhelming when you’re juggling nap schedules, kid gear, and well-timed rest stops. Knowing this reality, the idea of planning your family international volunteer trip with your children may seem…how can we put it…unwise, and maybe even a little crazy? However, we’ve had the great privilege of doing exactly this with our four children…more than once! We’d love to share some practical tips with you if you’re getting ready to jump into international travel with little kids. Is it work? Yes. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely.
Start with prayer when planning your family international volunteer trip
Pray for wisdom together as a family about whether this trip is right for all of you at the present time. Ask God to allow you to use your gifts for His glory and that He will bless others through your work. Going on a trip to serve other people is good, but making sure your heart and mind are focused on Christ and His leading is even more vital to your trip.
Work with a trustworthy organization
This will save you many headaches when planning your family international volunteer trip! There are some excellent international volunteer organizations with good reputations, and many encourage family travel. The partner you choose can make or break your trip, so choose wisely! To help you figure out which organizations might be a good fit, we’ve included a list of questions below to help you narrow down your options.
Does this organization….
…have a good reputation?
…respond promptly to your questions via email or phone?
…refer you to others who have used them and been happy with their experience?
…have multiple international locations from which to choose?
…support work and causes that reflect your personal family values?
…allow their teams to share their faith during trips?
…support the trips in particular ways?
…price their trips fairly? What is included in the cost?
…spend more of the money on the people they’re trying to help or use most of it to keep their business running?
Personally, we’ve always used Globe Aware. They not only allow you to bring young kids, but they also encourage it!
Who will be going?
Just your family? Is anyone staying behind? Will other volunteers be joining you at your destination? Would any extended family or friends like to come as well? (This can be a bonus on multiple levels: More people means more fun, and kids always like traveling with buddies!)
Where are you going?
Is there a particular program location that your organization offers that you feel pulled towards? Is there a certain kind of volunteer work you want to engage in, and is it offered in your desired location? We recommend choosing a destination when planning your family international volunteer trip that is a relatively easy trip for your first time, such as a country in Central or South America. Global travel requires flexibility, and you want to make it as easy and predictable as possible.
Choosing a place within a couple of time zones of your home state can minimize jet lag and help with adaptability. (In other words, don’t start with eastern Europe, which tends to run a good 8-10 hours ahead of most of the United States!)
Bonus tip: If you’re open to suggestions, ask the organization if there is a particular location that they would recommend for your family as you plan your family international volunteer trip. They may have some great options for you that you’d never think of yourself.
What type of work do you want to do?
If you are looking for a specific kind of work, it’s great to look for a program location that will allow your family to have those opportunities. On the flip side, it’s also wise to avoid places requiring work that doesn’t fit your family’s skill set. Our family looks for programs that will give us the opportunity to work with our kids. We enjoy these types of tasks, and our children like interacting with kids at our destinations and experiencing what life is like in other parts of the world.
Fourth, you’ll want to get your to-do list in order. There are a lot of pieces that go into international travel. Let’s tackle them one by one:
Make sure these are current when planning your family international volunteer trip! We recommend working on these about 6-12 months in advance to not have to worry about them arriving on time. Passports for children are only valid for five years rather than ten, so if you or your kids already have them, double-check those expiration dates. We recommend a buffer of one year, that way, they won’t expire until well after the date of your planned trip.
Health and vaccinations
Ask the organization you’re working with if there are any special health considerations at your destination when planning your family international volunteer trip. Some countries may require special immunizations that will be important to receive for your family’s health and safety.
Many organizations will give you some basic international travel insurance in the program fee, but you’ll want to know exactly what that includes so that you can determine if you want to purchase any additional coverage. Often, organizations can recommend a reputable carrier.
Depending on the weather and the work you’re planning to do, it’s crucial to choose appropriate clothing when planning your family international volunteer trip. If you will be painting or doing a lot of physical labor, you should bring old clothes that you can discard if needed once you get home. Since you won’t only be working while you travel, make sure you also pack special sightseeing clothing as well.
Some airlines or destinations may limit the amount of luggage each person can bring along, so keep that in mind. Airplane trips can be very long, and we’ve found that packing extra snacks and small toys for the kids is a big help. You also may want to consider bringing special gifts for the group you’ll be assisting (your organization will probably have some good recommendations!).
Funny story: When we were going on our first trip to Peru, one of the suggestions that Globe Aware made was to bring toothpaste for the kids with whom we’d be working. We packed a suitcase full of toothpaste and toothbrushes to give away when we arrived, however, the suitcase never made it to us! It got stalled at an inspection in Colombia, and we got it back about a month after we returned home.
You will likely need to exchange some US dollars for local currency. Many people don’t know that if you give your local bank some notice, they may be able to do this for you before you even depart. However, if this isn’t an option for you, you will likely be able to do this at the airport when you arrive in the country (or your organization’s program coordinators can help you do it locally after you arrive at your destination).
Make sure your banks know that you will be traveling if you intend to use any credit or debit cards during your travels when planning your family international volunteer trip. You’ll want to notify them of the specific dates you will be gone and where you’ll be traveling internationally. A frozen account due to “suspect charges” is a nightmare to deal with overseas!
It’s a good idea to purposefully book flights that will be easy and convenient for your family when planning your family international volunteer trip. There are a lot of moving parts when you travel internationally, and choosing a good flight schedule can make things run much smoother (i.e., no red eyes with toddlers). Your organization may be able to provide some good travel recommendations: when and where to arrive, or possibly even specific airlines to choose. (Tip: Fly For Good sometimes offers discounted fares for volunteer trips.)
On our first international family trip, we missed a connecting flight by a few minutes and ended up having to spend the night in Denver before flying down to Peru the next day. We arrived a day late to our program site, and it was very stressful (for us parents) rebooking international flights for our entire family! We did find it interesting that our kids didn’t seem to miss a beat during our unexpected delay. This impressed upon us the importance of remaining calm and patient when dealing with unexpected challenges. Kids will notice and model Dad and Mom’s behavior.
You will want to determine if you will be responsible for any of your own food when planning your family international volunteer trip. Sometimes, organizations will provide meals for you, and it’s wise – especially with kids – to know in advance what kind of fare you’ll be experiencing. This will give you the chance to talk with your children about new foods so that they are not surprised.
If you have very young kids, bringing some familiar snacks to help offset the culture shock can be very beneficial. We often bring a suitcase full of snacks for our kids to eat during these trips, as we know that there will be meals that they will not like. When the food has been eaten, we have room in that same suitcase for souvenirs to bring back home!
Ask your organization where you will be staying when planning your family international volunteer trip: a hotel, rented home, a condo? Some places will have multiple options, while others will be more limited. If you have options, we recommend doing your best to choose a place with hot water, internet, and heating and air conditioning.
When we traveled to Peru, we were lucky to have a warm shower – certainly not hot – but the rooms we were staying in did not have air conditioning or heating (you may need to consider bringing extra blankets). Also, keep in mind that many countries have different types of outlets. You may need to purchase a specific power adapter to charge your phone or other electronic devices in a different country.
Will your sponsoring organization be providing all of your in-country transportation? If not, how do you plan to get around (cabs, buses, rental cars, etc.)? We have used taxis, trains, vans, station wagons, and buses when traveling in other countries.
Traveling to another country as volunteers can be an excellent way to make lasting, life-changing memories with your family. It’s a lot of work, but the rewards are well worth it. Having your heart right before the Lord is a vital part of trips like this, and it makes a big difference in your focus. Working with a reputable organization can be a huge help, especially if your family is going on a trip like this for the first time.
Once you figure out where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing, sit down together and hammer out the details so that your traveling can be as smooth as possible. We’re excited for you! You won’t regret it.
If you are still not sure about taking your family on an international volunteer trip, check out these 8 Powerful Reasons to Consider Family International Volunteer Trips with Kids.
Family international volunteer trips with your kids can be very rewarding but do require a lot of planning.
It is critical to find an organization whose values are consistent with those of your family, and that encourages you to bring your kids.
It is a blessing to give to others through the use of your gifts during an international volunteer trip, and you and your family will receive many great experiences and memories that will last a lifetime in return.