Why not do more than just visit a bunch of old temples and ruins when you travel? It is possible for travellers to improve the lives of people during their trips.
- See also: Teaching English.
A few ideas are:
- Take books to drop off at schools in villages you pass through.
- Rather than bringing back all your clothes, medical supplies and equipment, leave what you can with locals - this also frees up space in your luggage for bringing back other stuff!
- Support local enterprise.
Consider whether supporting beggars is the best directed form of assistance, or if there is a better organisation to support. If you decide to give something to beggars, consider giving them food.
Also, be wary of helping at an orphanage as some of these who look for foreigners to come and help, might be doing so for the wrong reasons and not in the children's best interest. You might also find that the actual number of genuine orphans living in some orphanages is actually quite small as sometimes orphanages "recruit" children with living parents in order to attract paying visitors to come and help!
Volunteering whilst travelling is a great way to 'make a difference' but it's not just about giving. Living and volunteering in a foreign country is a great way to get to know a different culture, meet new people, learn about yourself, get a sense of perspective and even gain new skills.
If you're only on a short trip, take time to visit an orphanage, hospital, etc. Those with more time can contact local NGOs, tourist offices, embassies, etc to inquire about longer term possibilities.
There are several ways to combine travelling and voluntary work:
- In Europe, young European citizens (legal inhabitants, you need at least a residence permit) can participate in the EVS program ("European Voluntary Service") , which allows you to work abroad for 3 months up to a year, funded by the European Union at some kind of charitable organization.
- If you would like to combine travelling and working on an organic farm, the WWOOF-ing - Willing Workers on Organic Farms  - might be something for you. You can be sowing seed, making compost, gardening, planting, cutting wood, weeding, making mud-bricks, harvesting, fencing, building, packing, milking and feeding livestock any of 80 countries.
- HelpX  is another organisation that is worldwide with opportunities beyond the scope of just organics.
- If you want to experience new cultures and ways of life by doing volunteer work exchanges with hosts in different countries, check out Volunteerstays .
- Workaway  has a large database of options for those wishing to travel and volunteer in exchange for lodging and food. They have a worldwide selection of hosts from over 100 countries with a wide variety of opportunities including gardening, babysitting, art projects, language learning and animal care.
- If you would like to work in an international work camp for two weeks as an alternative holiday, contact your national branch of SCI .
If you pay US or Canadian income taxes, you may be able to take a charitable deduction for some or all of your trip expenses. The IRS is very strict on which organizations' trips qualify, and if you combine volunteer work with vacation, you will have to prorate the deduction on your airfare.
Various agencies of Western governments send volunteers abroad: the US Peace Corps , British VSO , Canadian CUSO  and so on. These are among the best volunteer jobs. All expenses — immunizations, travel, lodging, etc. — are normally covered and there is support — training, medical insurance, emergency evacuation if needed — and some sort of small salary. When you come back, these organizations look good on a resume. On the other hand, these positions are harder to get and usually require a heavier commitment, typically two years.
As an alternative, or to complement the working holiday, many people have chosen to embark on a volunteering experience. These meaningful experiences allow individuals the chance to give back to the international community, whether this be teaching in underprivileged schools, working with animals in Africa, or helping with community development project. Typically there will be a fee to participate in these programs, and participants are not paid. Most famously, Prince Harry embarked on a volunteering Gap Year in 2004 when he went to South Africa.
There are many organisations offering gap year placements. A few of these are:
- EXIS  a 30 year old Danish organization that specializes in volunteering, internships and/or language/cultural stays in around 20 countries across the world.
- Frontier Conservation  specialises in scientific and conservation projects in locations such as Tanzania, Costa Rica, Cambodia, Fiji and Madagascar.
- Global Vision International is an award winning volunteer abroad organization running projects all over the world.
- Gap Year Diver , specialists in gap year and career break scuba diving trips. Marine Conservation initiatives, learn to dive, become a Divemaster, teach in local schools, community work, Instructor training, language learning and much more.
- The Great Projects . Beginning life as the multi award winning 'The Great Orangutan Project', the Great Projects now offers a wide collection of projects, used to showcase working models of animal conservation tourism around the world and promotes the importance of setting standards in endangered animal welfare and conservation in the tourism sector.
- Yomps, Gap year, career break and adventure specialist, from volunteering in Africa to learning to surf in Ecuador, Yomps has it all.
- Shumba Experience  Specialists in conservation and veterinary projects in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
- Global Vision International , Specialists in gap year expeditions such as marine expeditions in the Indian Ocean and exploration in Patagonia. GVI also has over 150 volunteering projects around the world.
- Gap Medics , Specifically aimed at students looking to go to medical or nursing school - Work experience and volunteer opportunities in The Caribbean, India and Tanzania.
- Gap Year Ghana , small organisation specializing in volunteer placements in Ghana, West Africa.
- Raleigh  Youth and education charity offering challenging enviromental, community and adventure programmes for 17-75 year olds in Borneo, Costa Rica & Nicaragua and India
- Projects Abroad , Global organiser of overseas voluntary work placements. Projects Abroad runs placements like Teaching, Care, Conservation & Environment, Medicine & Healthcare, Sports, Culture & Community projects and Journalism.
- VAE Kenya , a small UK organisation that organises challenging teaching placements in rural Kenyan schools.
- Praktikawelten  offers more than 300 volunteer projects in 17 countries as well as work and travel programs in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
- TAV India  is a non profit organisation that offers 2 days to 8 weeks volunteer travel program in INDIA , Elephant Care/ Work for Blind and learn Indian culture is the part of TAV Program. Travel As Volunteer India
- FruitFriends is a locally based organisation in Vang Vieng; Laos. FruitFriends provides immersion through volunteering. Positions available for: social enterpreneurship, teaching English, farming, building, community-based activities.
There are also various organizations that recruit volunteers. These may not cover the major expenses such as airfares and travel insurance. Some charge a fee for placement. A few of these are:
- Action Volunteer Alliance (AVA)offers affordable volunteer opportunities abroad. 
- AFECT offers volunteering opportunities to assist Burmese refugees in north Thailand 
- Akha Asia has volunteer placements with Tribes and Indiginous Peoples 
- Center for Children in Need (Thailand) offers short and long-term volunteering in a grassroot orphanage for abandoned Burmese children. (http://www.volunteeringthailand.blogspot.com)
- EDGE of AFRICA offers short and long-term volunteering in Africa, specializing in community empowerment, environmental restoration and wildlife research projects, as well as internships in local organisations.
- Ikando Volunteer & Intern in Africa 
- Tanzania Volunteer Agency provides personalized placements in a wide range of fields in Tanzania. 
- Global Vision International (GVI) has worldwide volunteering opportunities 
- Volunteers and Interns for Balinese Education 
- Year Out Group , a British organization promoting gap year volunteering
- Overseas Working Holidays , an Australian organization that offers guaranteed placements in regions such as Africa and India.
- Thai-Experience  specialized in placements in Thailand.
- Travel to Teach  with jobs in Southeast Asia and Latin America.
- Volunteer Abroad  offers volunteer programs in Latin America, Asia, and Africa
- Mundo Exchange  non-profit organization for volunteering in Guatemala and Thailand.
- Earthwatch  lets volunteers work on scientific field research projects all over the world for 1 - 3 weeks.
- Projects Abroad offers a diverse range of volunteer placements in 26 different developing countries - for students, gap years, grads and qualified professionals from 2 weeks and up. 
- The International Humanity Foundation [] works in Indonesia, Thailand and Kenya and is always looking for volunteers.
- Intiwawa  offers free volunteering in Peru. Opportunities mainly include social and educational projects as well as nutrition and water.
- Mozvoluteers  offers affordable volunteer projects and medical elective placements in South Africa and Mozambique.
- Mijn Bestemming Peru  Dutch organization focusing in volunteering free, internships, work and support to communities all over Peru.
- WorkingAbroad  offers a range of volunteering projects around the world in the humanitarian, conservation & teaching fields. They also have a free online database of 2000 volunteer organisations for visitors to find suitable projects.
- Volunteering Solutions  India based Volunteering Organization which incorporated in 2006 and provide volunteering opportunities in 20 countries.
- The Bergwaldprojekt (Mountain Forest Project)  to work in forests in German and Swiss mountains or in Austria, Catalunya or the Ukraine.
There are common scams specifically targeting volunteer travellers. One is the "bogus orphanage"; families in poor Third World locations are persuaded to give up their children to institutions on the pretext that they will be provided with an education or a way out of poverty. These children are then misrepresented to the traveller as orphans. Any money donated goes not to education, but to enriching the owners of the institution - which most often will not allow the "orphans" to leave. The usual caveats about the use of children for begging apply. Employing "voluntourism" to provide workers to these institutions is also problematic due to frequent departure of travellers (to be replace by new tourists) creating a very unstable home environment for the child.
Careful research is needed to verify the effort meets the needs of the local community, instead of merely what might sound good to prospective donors. Importing travellers as free labour to "rebuild a community", if the community already has many unemployed builders who cannot find work, is an expensive but unhelpful proposition; likewise, proposing to "build a school" in a community which already has a suitable building but cannot afford salaries to hire instructors sounds great but accomplishes little.