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Some Ohioans choose "volunteer vacations"

These trips typically include hard labor or long days in a classroom. But there are benefits, including a tax write off.

This January Dublin resident Susi Havens-Bezair and her husband are leading a team of 11 local volunteers on a trip to Ghana in Africa. They'll be there 2 weeks and they plan to build 10 homes.

This volunteer vacation is coordinated through the Habitat for Humanity Global Volunteers program. In Ghana the homes are made of heavy bricks. Havens-Bezaire has told her team of volunteers - retirees, students, and business people - they need to start lifting weights to get ready. It's not exactly your traditional leisurely vacation.

The trip is not cheap. Each person is paying nearly 3-thousand dollars. That includes airfare, accommodations and building supplies. Because they're volunteering, the entire trip is tax deductible. But Havens-Bezaire says that's not why people choose a volunteer vacation. Her family went to Costa Rica to several years ago and built houses there. She says it was a life-changing trip and she expects the same this time.

Retired OSU professor and attorney Harold Schneiderman took a volunteer vacation a couple of years ago with a group called Global Volunteers. It's one of the largest and oldest volunteer vacation organizations in the country. Schneiderman is 84 years old and has traveled to all 7 continents. But he wanted to try something different. So, he taught English to children at a school in Indonesia. He says it was unlike his other vacations with one exception.

"I found out volunteering is as expensive as going on a trip," he said.

At offices of Twin Horizons Travel most of the calls coming in are about Disney vacations or trips to the Alamo Bowl.

Robin Schneider owns the travel agency with her twin sister. They look alike, dress alike down to the matching cat eye glasses and they talk about travel at a dizzying pace. Volunteer vacations are a still a small part of their business, less than 5-percent but they're seeing more people interested every year. Robin Schneider says those who choose volunteer trips are hooked on the warm fuzzies that come from helping others.

But, for many people the only thing they want to accomplish on vacation is a nice tan. And so, volunteering isn't for everyone, says Robin's twin Susan Schneider.

Volunteer vacations don't all include manual labor or international travel. Travelers can help catalogue wildlife while lounging on the beach in Florida, work in museums, or assist archaeological digs right here in the US.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.