At Yahoo!Finance, David Bach (author of Start Late, Finish Rich) offers four tips for vacations that give more.

According to nonprofit consumer education organization the Myvesta Foundation, the average American planned to spend $2,249 on his or her summer vacation last year. Taking the average family of four to the archetypical American vacation spot — Disney World — can cost $3,000 to $4,000 or more by the time you figure in the cost for flights, food, lodging, and all the goodies. Now, I love theme parks or pure relaxation as much as the next person. But this year, I’d like you to consider doing something a little different: Take a volunteer vacation.

Bach recommends that individuals and families explore a vacation spent doing service work: help rescue and rehabilitate endangered animals; work on an archeology dig; build homes for the needy; build hiking trails on public lands; or participate in missionary work. He gives four tips to find a rewarding trip:

  1. Spend less, live more. You won’t be spending your time and money on rides and souvenirs. Instead, you’ll be experiencing someplace new by actually interacting with the people and environment, making positive contributions. Some volunteer vacations offer stipends or free transportation and lodging. Most cost something, though not as much as heading to a tourist trap.
  2. Know your interests. “No matter your interests and skills (or lack thereof) and who you want to help, there’s a volunteer vacation experience that’s right for you,” Bach says. He lists options for people who like wildlife, archeology, history, nature, and more.
  3. Expect the time of your life. “The benefits of volunteer vacations go well beyond just having a good time during your trip — you’ll end up with memories, images, stories, and friendships that will last a lifetime. You’ll learn new skills and discover new interests that will enrich your life for the rest of your days. And you may well have a life-changing experience that gives you a new focus or purpose.”
  4. Choose a destination. You can select a volunteer vacation by interest or by location. Decide what it is you want from your vacation, and then find a location or project to suit you.

I’ve been pondering volunteer work and charitable donations lately, and how they relate to personal finance. I’ve never done anything like this, but I know people who have. One of my brothers spent a short time in Mexico building houses with a group from his church. A friend spent a summer giving tours in a wildlife preserve.

For more information, visit Volunteer Abroad, or borrow the book Volunteer Vacations from your public library.

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