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PBS aired a segment recently about how more Americans are using their vacation days in search of more than suntans and souvenirs. Instead, they’re working in orphanages, building schools, teaching English, sheltering abandoned pets, and having a blast in the process.

It’s called volunteer tourism, or “voluntourism,” and it’s one of the fastest growing trends in travel today. According to PBS, pre-Covid more than 1.6 million volunteer tourists are spending about $2 billion each year. The idea is to enrich the traveler’s experience (as you visit or live in Mexico) while giving back to the local community. Ideally, folks hook up with a qualified non-profit organization. But there are less structured but equally rewarding opportunities to be found across Mexico.

As we age, priorities change. Many baby boomers now shun the sun (and bathing suites), while wanting to connect with local causes and communities. Trending ‘lifestyle migration’ is also playing a role. U.S. and Canadian expat residents are taking up local Mexico causes, and seeking visitor contributions via materials, time, and ability.

A volunteer vacation (or a simple day of sweat equity) is one of the best ways for a ‘fly and flop’ vacationer to be effective. If you embrace Mexico for living, it’s a safe, social and multicultural encounter with the Mexico that exists outside the all-inclusive resort walls. There’s no shortage of shovel-ready projects.

So, something as simple as a suitcase of school supplies (public schools do not supply student materials) or proper clothing (leave the ski masks at home) will always be welcome gifts.

This means the opportunities are almost endless, especially if you’re fond of kids or animals. While volunteer options cover a wide array of causes, three ‘themes’ are the most easily found: nature/conservation, child wellness/education, animal rehabilitation.

International volunteer organizations

So, if you’re a Mexico veteran with a fondness for a particular area, ask locals you meet for suggestions. Check with the regional tourist board, get on the mailing list of local newsletters (expatriates, especially, tend to keep tabs on needy causes) and bookmark local Facebook groups.


Links worth checking out:

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ): wide range of projects around Cuernavaca.
Volunteer Abroad: volunteer and internship programs throughout the country.

Pack for a Purpose: lets visitors respond to local needs by packing medical/school supplies, tools and other handy but hard to find resources.

Yes, you’ll spend a portion of your vacation untethered from the swim-up bar, and (in some cases) pay for the privilege. Whatever happens to be your motivation, most travelers volunteer for the most selfish of reasons: personal enrichment and connection with a cause. It’s putting into action the ‘Think Global, Act Local’ mantra, and having some memorable fun along the way.