Young people collecting garbage on beach

Taking a volunteer vacation gives you the opportunity to recharge while helping others. It's the ultimate win-win scenario!

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Vacations are a tricky thing. Sometimes you arrive at your destination with an itinerary that will guarantee no actual rest. But other times you end up bored out of your mind on day two. If you're lucky, you will have a good time, great weather and will feel refreshed when you return. These days, there are endless vacation packages and cruises from which to choose. But many of these journeys will come with a hefty price tag and a barrage of hidden expenses along the way, such as meals, entertainment costs and a sack full of trinkets for your friends back home. Feelings of guilt at spending an armful of money for a holiday when others are struggling financially can ultimately rob you of the rewards of your respite.

One way to ensure you have a good time -- guilt-free -- is to plan a volunteer vacation. You may ask, "Why would I want to work on my vacation?" The thing is that you aren't actually working -- you're giving back to a community, the environment or a special family. Research has shown that volunteering can improve your health, extend your life and lower the risk of depression [source: CNCS]. The simple truth is that it feels good to help others.

Travel company has been studying vacation time for nearly a decade. According to its 2009 survey, nearly 34 percent of Americans give back three vacation days a year. There are a variety of reasons why people don't use their vacation time, but most people are cutting short their vacations or not going at all due to pressure from work [source: Expedia].

Your vacation time is yours to use. It's budgeted into your salary, and it's one of your benefits. Just as you would probably not give up your health insurance, you shouldn't feel guilty about taking your time off. If you need a reason to vacation, volunteering may be the best option for you. In this article, we'll discuss planning a volunteer vacation and explore opportunities in Africa, the U.S. and in Latin America.