Personally, I have been to Ecuador on a volunteer trip. It was a great experience but I did feel hesitant to tell myself I was doing something good for the world. Was my money being spent to benefit others or myself? The trip costed a couple of thousand dollars which was almost equivalent to building a clean water system in a community. There were around 20 people on my trip, would the money for 20 water systems have made more of an impact than our volunteer trip. I have thought about this question and feel as if there are benefits to both.
First of all, if your going on a trip pick an organization that is providing a sustainable future for those they are aiding, not hand-outs which creates a cycle of dependency instead of empowerment. The organization I went with actually turned out to be working towards a sustainable future, had low office fees and wasn’t focusing on things like churches which can be necessary for spiritual well-being but not the basic necessities of survival. In fact the values of these churches contribute to problems like STIs because of their stance on birth control.
Second of all, are you going because you want to travel but would rather be doing something good? Are you going to do this for the benefit of others? If you answered yes to the first one go ahead with your plans for an alternative way of travelling. If you answered yes to the benefit of others, you may want to think if its about yourself or others? Sure you’re doing good, but is your unskilled labour really contributing all that much to creating meaningful change. In most cases donating the amount that you paid for the trip would benefit others greatly.
Also, taking pictures with the kids you met for an afternoon isn’t that cool and is actually exploiting children. On my trip we went to a school and played soccer with kids, some say “It’s totally worth it if I can make a kid smile for just one day”. In all reality your not impacting the lives of those in the community that much and it promotes a western saviour complex.
This is a good article about Voluntourism that offers alternatives too: