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Before you become a volunteer tourist, be prepared

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The following tips for becoming a volunteer tourist come from Jimi Cook, co-founder of Be The Change Volunteers; volunteer tourists Natalie Collins, Tammy Whitaker and Dusty Hoffman; Carla Barbieri, assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism at MU, and a release from the MU News Bureau:

  • Beware of scams. Protect yourself from frauds by checking references, talking with staff members and researching previously facilitated trips. 
  • Find the right destination. Especially for those taking a long trip, know the types of tourism activities available at your destination that can also fulfill your needs as tourists.

  • Understand exactly what the trip will entail. Have extensive communication with trip planners prior to traveling about lodging, volunteer work and tourism activities. 
  • Understand how the organization supports the community. Understand how organizers spend service fees imposed on travelers. What percentage of it goes for community development?  
  • Prepare yourself psychologically. What are the living conditions and lifestyles like at your destination?
  • Do your own homework. Ask people who've been there about their volunteering experience.
  • Get your shots. Go to Travel Connections, a health service website for international travelers to get personally tailored immunization, prescriptions and health advice in foreign countries. The website is provided by MU Health Center.
  • Pack wisely. Take a variety of clothes appropriate for the local climate and customs. Take out unnecessary personal items and replace them with things to give out, such as paper, pens, notebooks and stickers for the children in the country you are traveling in.

For more tips, travel  and volunteer opportunities check out these resources: 

  • Be The Change Volunteers, a Columbia-based organization: website, bethechangevolunteers.org; email, info@bethechangevacations.org
  • Voluntourism.org, comprehensive information for travelers and facilitators: email, vt@voluntourism.org
  • The International Volunteer Programs Association, an up-to-date search site for international volunteer opportunities: email, info@volunteerinternational.org
  • i-to-i, a useful source to find various opportunities globally and connect to the volunteer travel community: email, info@i-to-i.com

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