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June 18, 2009

How To Be a "Voluntourist"

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angelina jolie in tanzania

Angelina Jolie helps build a hut for Congolese refugees in Tanzania.

Photo Credit: N. Behring-Chrisholm/Getty Images

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You tumble out of your bunk at 5 a.m., take an ice-cold shower, and schlep banana-tree trunks across the rainforest to build a bridge. That's called summer vacation for volunteers with the Malaysia-based Great Orangutan Project, which works to protect the dwindling population of red-haired apes. And it's one of hundreds of do-goodery options for people itching to heed President Obama's call to service, asking not what your time off can do for you (tan lines, hookups, tiki bars), but what you can do with your time off.

A slew of "voluntourism" books are hitting shelves this summer, starting with Volunteer Vacations Across America and National Geographic's The 100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich Your Life. The guides describe how to do everything from building a mobile karaoke studio in Cambodia to restoring a monastery in Tibet.

A little too selfless for you? Consider this: "In today's economy, it can be crass to talk about how you spent two weeks at a resort," says Andrew Mersmann, author of Frommer's 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference, in stores this fall. "But if you spent your days saving endangered black rhinos, that's cocktail conversation."


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