Giving Back While Taking a Break

If taking a vacation induces so much guilt that you can't bear to take the time off, but you know you need to get out of town, there is a happy medium.

And while volunteers may not get a traditional break, many say they get something more satisfying from the experience.

"I think about those kids every single day. They really made a difference in our lives. And it really sparked volunteerism in me forever," said Jena Douglas, who traveled with her husband to India to teach English in an orphanage for two weeks.

Travel groups like Voluntours, Global Volunteers and I to I are popping up all over the place offering opportunities to combine travel and volunteerism.

Volunteer vacations offer individuals, couples and even entire families the chance to spend vacation time helping others in the United States and around the world -- building schools, tending to babies and teaching English.

Volunteer vacations can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. And prices, which typically include all lodging and food, start at around $800 per person.

Honeymooning Helpers

When Jena and Kris Douglas started planning their honeymoon three years ago, they were intent, like most young couples, on relaxing in a luxurious resort.

"I just sort of imagined that you'd be out on the beach with pina coladas, laying out in your bathing suit, having a romantic time," Jena Douglas said.

But when the Maine couple -- he's a chef; she manages a fine dining restaurant -- saw images of the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, they had a change of heart.

"There was so much going on in the world, and Kris' exact words to me, 'I can't justify spending so much money on myself right now,'" Jena said.

What Jena and Kris wanted, they said, was to celebrate their new life together by doing something for others.

So they shelved the beach plans and instead took a volunteer honeymoon to India.

"It's kind of like a double whammy. We got to do something positive and hopefully good for the world and we got to enjoy each other," Kris said. "What more could you ask for?"

Mother-Daughter Bonding, Overseas

For Jamie Nelson and Karen Smart, best friends since college, a volunteer vacation to Romania with their teenage daughters was a parental dream come true.

"I think one of the reasons we took this trip is that as moms we always ask each other how is it that we can help our kids to understand how blessed they are or how much they have, or help them to realize there are other people in the world who do not have as much as we have. And I think this trip was kind of an answer to that," Jamie Nelson said.

For two weeks this past summer, the Utah moms and their teenage daughters took care of infants and toddlers in a rural Romanian clinic.

"These little kids, they didn't have a mom, they didn't have someone who was always there to love them and take care of them," Nelson said. "For us, it was just so much fun to hold those babies and cuddle them."

Vacation organizers note some volunteer sites lack the comforts of hot water and electricity, and many travelers suffer from culture shock.

But for those who would rather give of themselves than get a break, participants say volunteer vacations are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

"I wouldn't trade this trip for anything, I loved it so much -- I want to go back if I can," said Jamie's daughter, Ashlee Nelson.