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Who knows what's causing it – Brangelina's many visits to Third World orphanages, or the recent devastation caused by hurricanes and tsunamis? Whatever the cause, there's apparently been a huge upsurge in volunteer vacations. Voluntourism, as the industry is now called, is tourism with a twist. A trip to a far-flung place, replacing lounging on a beach with active charity work and perhaps a spot of sightseeing. Saving Pandas in China. Rebuilding homes in Sri Lanka. Saving sea turtles in Costa Rica or black rhinos in Africa. It's Peace Corps light. Brangelina without the five-star hotels and adoption papers.

VoluntourismTime magazine asked: 'Are volunteer vacations merely overpriced guilt trips with an impact as fleeting as the feel-good factor. Or do they offer individuals a real chance to change the world, one summer jaunt at a time?' It's hard to say. Most travelers embarking on these trips have good intentions; whether all the tour operators do too is open to debate. There is a chance that some more unscrupulous types are cashing in on this surge of goodwill. Chances are, though, if you research your trip carefully (start with companies like Global Vision International, i-to-i, Voluntourism, and even Cheap Tickets), you'll come home with more than just sunburn and an overstretched credit card. RM

Images: Global Vision International

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