There are many lessons we try to teach our children, but one of the most difficult might be the importance of giving back to others. Whether you spend an hour of time or several days, it’s an experience whose worth is immeasurable. Travelocity Ambassador Kirsten Maxwell of Kids Are A Trip took a voluntourism vacation to the Dominican Republic with her kids, and shares why a volunteer vacation is something every family should consider.

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to take a volunteer vacation with Fathom Travel. The concept was a unique one, a smaller cruise ship set sail from Miami with a destination of Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic. Once the ship docked, guests would interact with a variety of local organizations, volunteering their services as part of their vacation experience. On board the ship were discussions of what to expect, how to support these organizations and others like them, and how to continue making a difference once we returned to our daily lives. I eagerly signed up and decided to bring my two oldest children along, not knowing how it would change all of our lives forever.

Why You Should Take a Family Volunteer Vacation

1. Children are never too young to learn about giving back

My children were thirteen and eleven when we went to the Dominican Republic, and I thought it was the perfect age to teach them about the world we live in and the importance of helping others in need. We had several opportunities to interact with locals, from taking a few day trips to working with summer school students in a local school. On the day we visited the school, we had a chance to help students practice their English skills and even play some games on the playground. Even though my boys didn’t speak Spanish, they could still communicate through hand signals and smiles.

Playing Sports with locals on a volunteer vacation-Kids Are A Trip

We made lots of new friends during our family volunteer vacation. Photo: Kirsten Maxwell

2. You learn more about each other outside of your daily routines

When we are at home, every day brings a very similar routine of school, sports, friends, family, and video games (not necessarily in that order). Taking our kids on a volunteer vacation allowed us to see a new destination, experience different foods, and meet new people. We learned about each other on a different level as we were out of our element, trying to navigate something new. It was the best way to unplug and enjoy spending time together without distractions.

Maxwell Family Dominican Republic-Kids Are A Trip

It was a great opportunity for us to connect as a small group. Photo: Kirsten Maxwell

3. It’s an opportunity to teach children about other cultures

When we were in the Dominican Republic, we spent half a day hiking to waterfalls with local guides and my boys loved having fun with them and chatting about baseball in broken English. One of our guides was studying engineering and my son couldn’t believe he had never heard of LEGO. We had a lengthy discussion afterwards about what things cost and how a lot of people in the world can’t afford things we take for granted.

That day our driver took us to the grocery store where we enjoyed shopping for local goods and then he took us to his home and introduced us to his family. It was eye opening for all of us as he proudly showed us his tin roof home with its cement floors and barred windows, making us really appreciate how fortunate we are. As my oldest son said, it really opened their eyes to the struggles of the world.

Dominican Locals Volunteer Vacation-Kids Are A Trip

Our driver stopped at this road side stand so we could have mangos. Photo: Kirsten Maxwell

4. It is a ton of fun

One of the best things we did on our trip to Dominican Republic was meet with the women from Chocal Chocolate Cooperative. This was created by a group of women who didn’t want to drive to Puerto Plata from their homes in Palmar Grande and leave their children behind with babysitters. They decided to start a chocolate cooperative so they could work and have their children nearby. We spent half the day sorting cacao beans, learning about the chocolate making process, and wrapping chocolate bars. My boys made friends with other kids who were part of our group and the local children as well. Just as with the opportunity at the school, everyone communicated with their hands and smiles. We left with bags full of chocolate and full hearts as well.

Working at Chocal Cooperative Dominican Republic-Kids Are A Trip

Spreading chocolate at Chocal before it goes into the molds. Photo: Kirsten Maxwell

5. It will plant a seed for a lifetime of philanthropy

I didn’t realize at the time of our volunteer vacation, but the trip to the Dominican Republic changed my kids forever. Both of them have written several school papers about the people they met, the experiences they had, and how it made them want to be better people. Since then, my kids have volunteered at various charities and local organizations, always happy to lend an extra hand.

I will always be grateful for our time in the Dominican Republic and I look forward to finding more volunteer vacations in the near future.

Considering your own volunteer vacation? Pin this for later: 

If you want the perfect family vacation, consider taking an opportunity to volunteer. Everyone will learn lessons that will last a lifetime. - Kirsten Maxwell Travelocity

Kirsten Maxwell of Kids Are A Trip is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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