Before you book your travel, make sure to find out exactly what's included. These trips are usually set up like all-inclusive vacations, where you pay one price up front that covers where you stay, most of your meals, local transportation, sightseeing trips, etc.
Keep in mind the reason many of these trips are affordable is because your accommodations and dining options are pretty basic. Know exactly what you're getting into so there are no surprises when you arrive.
If you're volunteering in a different part of the world you need to mentally and physically prepare yourself. Check with your doctor about immunizations you might need. If you're traveling with medications be sure to bring extra along in case your trip home is delayed.
To prepare yourself mentally for visiting a different culture read as much as you can about the destination you're traveling to. Try to learn a few simple words like "hello" and "thank you" and always be respectful of local customs and traditions.
Volunteers often work in some of the most difficult and heart-wrenching environments. Know that it's okay to be overwhelmed at first. Keep a journal and talk to the other volunteers about what you're experiencing. Also, keep a positive attitude so you're able to help empower the people you are helping.
Coming home from a volunteer vacation is an adjustment. Dana Blanchard from Montgomery, Ala., said you might feel guilty leaving everyone behind and going back to your privileged way of life.
Blanchard, 29, felt so strongly about her first trip to Africa she decided to take her young daughter and move to Malawi for a year to run the Mtendere Orphans Village.
"I think personal growth takes place when you put others before you. I'm learning every day from this amazing experience," Blanchard says.
Blanchard recommends when you come home to stay in touch with the people in your volunteer group because they understand what you're going through. Find ways to continue to give back. The experience doesn't have to end just because your vacation is over.
For more Volunteer Vacation options and to read Karen Schaler's story of her two weeks volunteering in Africa visit Karen Schaler's Travel Therapy Web site at www.traveltherapytrips.com.