Certainly, institutions that benefit from hundreds of hours of volunteer help, such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, can attest to the importance of volunteers. Studies now show that the volunteers themselves also reap advantages, including expanding their social networks, building their resumes, enjoying healthier lifestyles, and traveling the world.
A study led by Peggy Thoits, former sociology professor at Vanderbilt University, examined how volunteering affected various aspects of well-being and found that “people who were in better physical and mental health were more likely to volunteer, and conversely that volunteer work was good for both mental and physical health. People of all ages who volunteered were happier and experienced better physical health and less depression.”
Reaping those benefits is becoming easier with the ever-broadening range of volunteer opportunities that exist today. A 2011 Australian government report summarized that the hottest trends in volunteering included participating in short-term or project-based volunteer roles, combining travel and work with volunteering, and volunteering in roles that require involvement only online and not in person or at a physical location.
The idea of combining volunteerism and travel is an interesting one, and volunteering vacations are now quite popular for students, families, groups of friends, and seniors. These jet-setters not only travel to sightsee, but also contribute their time and talents to worthy endeavors that need extra help, from building homes in post-Katrina New Orleans to tending community gardens in Africa. For further insight and information on volunteering vacations, check out this 2009 post from the blog Travelanthropist:
Also, check out the New York Times travel section article from July 2011 on saving money on vacations through volunteering.