Road Less Traveled Finds Teens and Families Volunteering on Vacation

by  Paul Eisenberg | May 17, 2011
Voluntourism / yacobchuk/iStock

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Spend just five minutes with your teen while she’s forlorn or disengaged, and the idea of one of you leaving town won’t seem like a bad idea. And while that scenario’s not what Jim and Donna Stein had in mind when they began The Road Less Traveled, the couple has lured thousands of teens out of town - with and without their families - for vacations commingling adventure and community service.

Helping out the locals during vacation has been aggressively marketed in recent years with the buzzword “voluntourism,” but the Steins can’t be accused of being trendy, as they’ve been running their adventure trips combining recreation and camping and volunteering for 20 years.

Popular spring trips geared toward families include Costa Rica ($2,195 per person), where your brood might do some whitewater rafting as well as help a local family repairs their house. The Florida Keys trip ($2,295) mixes snorkeling and SCUBA with coral reef restoration.

Parents who prefer to let their teens go it alone will take heart in knowing that the maximum student to leader ratio is 7:1, that all leaders have wilderness and medical training, and that the company itself is accredited by the American Camping Association. And though trips are co-ed, sleeping arrangements are not. In a rule that sounds like it was written by somebody’s mom or dad (the Steins have three kids of their own), “a participant found in the tent of a member of the opposite sex will be sent home.”

Since trips range from one to seven weeks on any one of five continents, trip tuition varies appreciably, but all include food and lodging, community service materials, activity fees, and ground transportation; neither external nor internal flights are included.

One July trip with two eight-day sessions caught my eye, not just because it was moderately priced at $1,450 per person or because it would work for families or just teens, but because I was so moved by the description. In the wake of the April tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa, participants on a disaster relief trip “will focus on lending our hands to debris removal, manning donation centers, standing side by side with those affected, and lending an ear to those who want to share their story. Our work will be difficult, our accommodations simple, and the time we spend being of service to the warm people of Alabama will be priceless.”

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