We all know that with a little finesse, a business trip can include a bit of pleasure on the side and have a tax benefit, to boot. But are any other "vacations" good for taxation as well as relaxation? If you're willing to roll up your sleeves and do a little "voluntourism," they might be.
"There's been a substantial increase in the number of consumers and travel companies that are donating financial resources, time, talent and economic patronage to protect and positively impact the cultures and environments they visit ," says Brian T. Mullis, president of Sustainable Travel International. "Participatory philanthropy in the form of voluntourism opportunities, in particular, is really growing in popularity, since more and more individuals want to feel a sense of purpose in connection with their leisure activities."
Mullis points out that programs operated by nonprofit organizations often include a tax benefit for travelers. "The ones that are not operated by nonprofit organizations do not," he says.
In either case, opportunities for doing good while traveling are growing. New York-based Cross Cultural Solutions, with centers in 10 countries, expects to send at least 1,500 volunteers to destinations around the globe this year - nearly double the 854 who participated in its programs a year ago, says executive director Steve Rosenthal. Minnesota-based Global Volunteers plans to send nearly 1,700 travelers on volunteer vacations next year. They have recently added new trips to Australia and South America, to keep up with demand.
Travelers can expect to pay a basic fee for food and lodging (usually about $200 to $1,000 a week), plus airfare to and from the country where they'll be working. Those seeking a tax benefit should look at nonprofit organizations alone, and check with each on the individual tax benefits of each volunteer vacation.
When researching your own voluntourism experience, keep in mind:
1. Not all experiences are fully tax deductible. Check on the status of each vacation individually with the organization involved and with umbrella organizations like Volunteer International.
2. The amount of time you spend touring or doing other non-volunteer activities may affect the tax-benefit status of your journey.
3. Not all voluntour experiences must be had abroad. New Orleans, for example, offers a gamut of voluntour possibilities in the form of Hurricane Katrina rebuilding. Check out the Habitat for Humanity site for more information.
4. Be realistic about the amount of time and skill you have to offer. Don't sign up to rebuild homes if you don't have the energy or time to commit yourself fully to the project; give a tax-deductible donation to the organization instead.