A word both awkward and elegant, and also subject to misinterpretation.

Voluntourism is differentiated from ‘Volunteer Travel’ or ‘Volunteer Vacation’ in that Voluntourism is a combination of volunteering AND tourism, and is never just one or the other.

Voluntourism, or traveling to volunteer for a charitable cause, is one of the most dynamic trends afoot. Almost five million Americans traveled over 120 miles from home to participate in voluntourism programs, according to the US Corporation for National & Community Service.

The Travel Industry Association of America highlighted this growing trend as far back as 2005, when it spotlighted an annual National Public Lands Day event that saw nearly 100,000 volunteers head to our National Parks to build bridges and trails, plant trees and remove invasive plants.

The latest data available indicates that the volunteer tourism trend is only getting stronger. While New Orleans has been the site of various voluntourism programs since Hurricane Katrina, other major cities are getting into the act. The Philadelphia Convention & Visitor Bureau made voluntourism an integral part of their 2009 Fiscal Year Planning Guide, making Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love,” the first U.S. city unaffected by a natural disaster to officially commit to voluntourism.

Voluntourism can thus be experienced on any budget, and for any age; however there are specific travel agencies that specialize by offering luxury accommodation, and seeking out accommodation providers that have strong environmental and social credential: ‘eco-luxe’ hotels and lodges.

“Hands Up Holidays specializes in the voluntourism sphere in that they tailor-make all our trips to suit your travel and volunteering preferences,” says Christopher Hill, Chief Experience Officer of Hands Up Holidays.

“Our biggest segment is family voluntourism, which is just how it sounds: a family holiday where you explore a destination, and also give back to a community or assist with an environmental conservation project, staying in luxury accommodation throughout (to repeat, luxury is not part of the definition of family voluntourism, it’s just what we specialize in).”

Are you looking for an activity holiday that has some substance? Then Indonesia is the place for you to visit. Rafting, cycling and trekking are all on the agenda. For diving enthusiasts, mid-July also heralds the arrival of the Mola Mola (sunfish), a rather strange-looking creature that should not be missed. That all sounds great, but the substance and many of your fondest memories will come from your time helping with the disabled children in Bali. It is a heart-warming experience that will tug at your heartstrings.

Summer is a fantastic time to be in the Maasai Mara, with the Wildebeest migration from the Serengeti generally running from July through to September. The spectacle of these massive herds traveling hundreds of miles, following weather patterns in search of food, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You’ll also love getting to know the fascinating Maasai people as you help a fledgling community tourism project, that supports young Maasai women who have been ostracized by their tribe.

Borneo is a fascinating place just a little off the beaten tourist track. As a result, this trip is a bit more of an adventure and the accommodations a touch more rustic, but that lends it some of the charm. Working alongside the indigenous Dayak people, you will get a good look back into the past – but don’t worry they have put their headhunting days behind them.

Like any island paradise, Fiji has stunning beaches and offers a host of water-based activities. But it is the friendly and welcoming people that make your time spent at this heart-warming project an indelible experience. For visitors from North America, summer is surprisingly one of the cheapest times to fly. So don’t miss this exciting opportunity!

The 24th of July 2011 will mark the 100th anniversary of the rediscovery of the Machu Picchu ruins. This is a fantastic time to visit this remarkable world wonder. Your volunteering project here aims to help restore the lives of those impacted by the landslides, whilst the rest of the trip takes in some fascinating and less well-known sights.

Think of Ecuador and images of giant tortoises and flightless birds come to mind, but there is so much more to this remarkable country. There is the mighty Amazon rainforest, the UNESCO World Heritage centre of Cuenca and the shy but lovely people in the rural communities where you can help make an impact. Of course the Galapagos Islands aren’t bad either…