Missionary trips can take you almost anywhere in the world. But before you decide where you want to go for your mission experience, you should determine what kind of trip you're most interested in taking.
You'll find that a wide range of service work opportunities exist in every destination — especially for people of certain professions.
Below, learn about the different types of mission trips available to people of all ages who want to make an impact abroad.
Types of mission trips covered in this guide include:
- Short-Term vs Long-Term Mission Trips
- Mission Trips for Children, Teens, and College Students
- Medical, Pre-Med, and Nursing Mission Trips
- Conservation Mission Trips
- Teaching & Childcare Mission Trips
- Construction Mission Trips
You'll also discover the best programs and destinations for each mission trip type.
How Long Are Short-Term and Long-Term Mission Trips?
Short-term missions can last anywhere from a week or two up to about eight months. Short-term missions are commonly intended to provide growth experiences for travelers. However, for missions that involve specific construction or conservation projects with a likely start and end date, a short-term mission trip can be a very effective means of aiding a host community.
For missionaries interested in making a significant, lasting impact, a long-term mission can be more of a lifestyle choice than a simple trip. Long-term mission work can involve the setup and maintenance of a ministry, a medical center, and numerous other types of permanent entities.
Mid-to-long-term missions typically last from nine months to three years or more.
The Benefits of Short-Term and Long-Term Mission Trips
The Pros of Short-Term Mission Trips
- Less time away from home and work
- Better for children who may become homesick
- More cost-effective for travelers
- Great for groups whose goal is to broaden participants' perspectives rather than to make a major contribution of time and resources
The Pros of Long-Term Mission Trips
- More cultural immersion possible
- More time to form lasting relationships in a community
- Can provide more significant and long-lasting aid for communities
- More time to complete major projects, such as the construction of homes and infrastructure or ministry management
- May provide missionaries with a more realistic understanding of how best to help their host communities
Age is never a barrier when it comes to missionary work. Most international mission organizations provide trip options for all age groups, from families with small children to people age 50+.
When searching for the right mission for you, you'll discover plenty of journeys designed for different age groups. Many provide options to customize your destination, travel dates, and programming.
Some of the organizations listed below may even provide trained staff to help lead your group, or destination-specific leadership training for adults who wish to organize a family or group mission of their own.
Mission Trips for Children
Some parents may be intimidated by the idea of traveling with their young children. However, pastor Titus Benton of Current, A Christian Church, says the benefits typically outweigh the risks.
"I was nervous about how they'd do," he writes of his service mission to the Dominican Republic, where he took along his 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. "They jumped right in and absolutely killed it. Is it all clean and tidy, having elementary-age kids around? Nope. But it can serve as a transformative experience for all."
A short-term mission trip can be a major source of faith development for kids. Add a few vacation-oriented activities to the itinerary to keep them happy and busy, and even your littlest ones can enjoy taking part in an experience of service.
To find a mission suitable for kids and families, first talk to your church administrators. Many churches offer to arrange mission trips for family groups or may have existing ministries overseas or at home where a visit could be organized.
However, if your church doesn't currently facilitate the kind of family mission you're looking for, you may consider reaching out to one of the following organizations to make your own arrangements:
World Vision makes it easier for people with children as young as five to experience mission trips that are scheduled, programmed, and arranged with families in mind. They offer all-inclusive trips, construction missions, and self-led trips that include training for parents.
World Vision is currently scheduling affordable summer excursions to Appalachia (Eastern U.S.).
Youthworks offers mission trips for families and large groups at an affordable price, and children ages 3 and under can register for free. While this organization does specialize in youth trips (short-term), family and multi-family groups are welcome and customized journeys are available for larger groups. Travelers with Youthworks may visit international destinations or various communities within the United States.
Mission Trips for Teens and Youth Groups
Teen and youth group mission trips are among the most common short-term missions you'll find, though there are opportunities for this age group to travel for a matter of months rather than weeks or days.
Take the maturity level of your teen into consideration when finding the right trip for them, as some 13 to 18-year-olds may become homesick on a longer journey. Whatever trip length you choose, service missions for teens should be well-structured to ensure that the group stays on track and gets the most from their experience.
The best place to look for a youth group or teen mission is at your church. Talk to your church administrators to discover the options your teen has for different types of work or outreach and different destinations.
If your church does not yet have a comprehensive youth mission program in place, or if you wish to help your ministry further develop an existing program, consider the following organizations. These organizations specialize in connecting with churches and other groups to help them create mission programs they can be proud of. They can provide trained supervisory staff, travel arrangements, training for adults, and also well-structured itineraries for your teens.
Team is a global alliance of churches and missionaries that helps church leaders create and implement effective missionary programs through workshops, networking, training, and more. Team has been helping churches and professional organizations mobilize missionaries for over 125 years, and can help your church get a new or expanded mission program off to a strong start.
Global Ministries offers a Global Church Partnership program that connects churches with partner congregations and hosting ministries in other countries. This program can help your ministry learn where your aid is most needed and put you in touch with motivated host communities.
Mission Trips for College Students
College students have a broader range of options than younger people when it comes to mission trips, though a highly popular type of trip for this age group is called a gap year. Gap year programs are great for people who:
- Are about to enter college
- Desire a development-oriented break in the middle of their college experience
- Wish to study abroad after they graduate by taking a mid-to-long-term trip abroad
Gap year programs tend to be more relevant to adult educational goals and cultural learning. Most people will be able to find a gap year program that supports their own educational and spiritual focus.
To find gap year mission trips for college students, the best place to start is with college admission departments. Many have existing associations with national organizations, and some may offer college credit for time spent abroad.
The following organizations also offer some of the most comprehensive and renowned gap year resources available:
The World Race
The World Race is one of the most popular and most challenging mission trips for college students in North America. It involves taking a planned year off school for people 18 to 35 years old. Students travel either to three countries over the course of nine months in the Gap Year program (available to 18 to 20-year-olds) or to 11 countries over 11 months in the World Race program (for those ages 21 and up). The World Race offers three different departure dates throughout the year while the Gap Year program launches in September.
The Gap Year Association
The Gap Year Association (GYA) is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the official Standards Development Organization for gap year programs in the U.S. This association maintains a searchable database of gap year programs which they have fully vetted to ensure they are accountable, engaging, inclusive, and fully up to GYA's standards for quality programming.
If you're a medical professional of any type or are studying to become one, then you might want to consider a medical mission trip. These trips are a great way to gain practical experience, work on your medical skills, teach abroad, and make a major difference in someone's life!
Doctors, nurses, dentists, and all types of medical professionals are sought after in every community, and medical mission trips can make a positive impact almost anywhere in the world.
Best Mission Programs for Medical Professionals and Med Students
No matter what type of medical professional you are, World Medical Missions can match your interests, abilities, and timeframe with a hospital or clinic that needs your help. This organization provides missionaries with travel arrangements, housing, orientation, and spiritual materials for their trip.
World Medical Missions specializes in short-term mission trips. Destinations include Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and the Middle East.
Mission to the World began as a small medical center in Cusco, Peru in 2011, but has grown into a self-sustaining, multi-specialty clinic with a rich evangelistic culture. Currently, their mission is to expand by educating students of multiple disciplines throughout the city. They are currently hosting doctors, dentists, nurses, allied health professionals, pharmacists, optometrists, and psychologists to help them reach their goals.
Waves South Africa provides two-month African adventures for young adults and pre-med students interested in learning more about global healthcare. This mission provides plenty of practical exposure to basic healthcare, including hands-on learning experiences. It's also an opportunity to discover all that South Africa has to offer a young missionary.
No prior healthcare experience is required, so this program is open to young enthusiasts as well as current or prospective medical students.
Learn More About Mission trips to Africa, Including:
Best Worldwide Destinations for Medical Mission Trips
Due to overwhelming economic pressures, Ecuador's government has reduced its budget for public hospitals. There are many Ecuadorians living in poverty who cannot earn the income necessary to procure basic healthcare for themselves or their children. Ecuador has several cities and many small villages, meaning missionaries can serve in both urban and very rural areas.
In many parts of Peru, mobile clinics are not uncommon. Some quality hospitals and clinics exist, but many are nothing more than tents set up outdoors. Both mobile and permanent medical facilities may need assistance in staffing. Around a third of the total population of Peru lives in poverty, which means they need volunteers and access to low-cost healthcare.
Though India is experiencing fast economic growth, its healthcare system is overtaxed due to the country's — expansive population. The cost of decent care is much more than some Indian citizens — many of whom are very poor — can afford.
Another problem facing India is the rapidly aging population. Elderly generations of Indians are coming to need extensive medical assistance, and the current system is unmatched to the task. India, much like Ecuador, has both urban and rural environments, both of which are in constant need of healthcare professionals and low-cost care.
People in countries all over the world, especially in places like South and Central America, have been recognizing the global importance of beaches, rain forests, and mountain areas. In 2020, new national park designations and conservation acts have allowed more countries to open their doors to volunteers.
If you enjoy ecotourism, nature, and conservation, then you might consider organizing a mission trip to help save the planet! The following organizations specialize in mobilizing international volunteers to do just that.
Best Mission Programs for Conservationists
Go Eco offers mission trips of all kinds and for all ages, including ecological conservation trips to places like Zambia, Ecuador, and South Africa. Participants of these programs can help out at wildlife rehabilitation centers or learn to create "eco bricks" for renewable construction projects.
Go Abroad hosts trips to multiple continents and communities to contribute to land conservation efforts as well as wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. Go Abroad offers many types of missions, including bear conservation in Romania, whale and dolphin conservation in Scotland, and the Elephant Freedom Project in Sri Lanka.
United Planet hosts travelers for multiple conservation quests around the world, including an ecotourism and land conservation quest, a botanical garden quest, a butterfly farm quest, and a sea turtle conservation quest. Locations include Costa Rica, Paraiso de Cartago, and San Jose.
Best Worldwide Destinations for Conservation Missionaries
Australia may be a relatively small continent, but it's home to a large majority of the world's mammal, reptile, frog, and bird species. Recent wildfires have destroyed many homes and human lives in Australia, but habitat destruction and animal deaths have been even more extreme.
According to recent reports, an estimated 1 billion animals have been killed. Countless more have survived and will need rehabilitation or introduction into new habitats. Missions volunteers are welcomed and needed.
Due to intercontinental conflict, economic development, and expanding populations, Africa is dealing with ecological issues like land and water degradation from pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, and freshwater salinization.
As one of the most biodiverse continents in the world, Africa's ecological future has long been a major concern among conservationists. Specific areas of need for conservation-focused missionaries and volunteers include Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Madagascar.
Interested in going on a mission trip to Africa? Here's everything you need to know.
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)
This region is home to many impoverished peoples whose economic security is tied to the natural resources of their land and waters. While there are many opportunities to help communities in need, conservation-focused missionaries will find a broad range of commitments available here too. These include coral reef management, wildlife conservation, and rainforest protection.
Most countries that open their borders to missionaries allow for teaching and childcare missions groups to aid local families who are in desperate need of education and wellness opportunities. These missions can involve anything from teaching in a school to helping out at an orphanage facility.
In some schools, you might even have the opportunity to write your own lesson plans or lead Bible study courses.
Best Mission Programs for Teachers and Childcare Missionaries
This 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serves groups, individuals, and summer interns by helping them reach children in need all over the world. It primarily serves the at-risk populations of Honduras, Kenya, India, Latvia, Russia, the United States, and Guatemala. Orphan Outreach supports a wide variety of programs that benefit orphans in these countries. Choose the country you wish to serve to view the educational programs available.
This organization is currently sending travelers to various parts of Africa to act as IT and English teachers for children. Teachers will work alongside local educators and may even have the chance to lead their own class sessions in South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, and Madagascar.
Experience Mission works with the Salvation Army to aid immigrants and refugees in the capitol city of the U.S., Washington, D.C. Immigrants and refugees in this area come from numerous countries, such as Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean to seek asylum or a better life for themselves and their children. Their needs run the gamut from proper housing to education.
Best Worldwide Destinations for Teaching and Childcare Missions
After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Russia's already troubled system for orphaned children fell with it. Since that monumental event, Russia has faced many widespread problems affecting children, such as climbing divorce rates and increased rates of HIV infection.
Now, Russia is home to one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world and more than 750,000 children are without their parents. Many Russian orphanages are overtaxed and understaffed and cannot meet the needs of such numbers. Childcare-focused missionaries can make an immeasurable impact on countless lives in this country.
According to UNICEF, Guatemala is currently home to over 370,000 orphaned children. Many come from families forced to live in economic hardship that resulted from the country's past civil conflicts. Child malnutrition, violence, and subpar or absent education systems plague the people of Guatemala, but with the help of devoted missionaries and volunteers, this country's most vulnerable populations can prosper amid hardship.
While India has seen exponential economic growth in recent years, this country's children are still very much in need. India's population has exploded over the last few generations, and now a country a third of the size of the U.S. is crowded with three times the number of citizens.
A sobering result of this country's statistics is that it now hosts more than 31 million orphaned or vulnerable children. You can volunteer to help these children obtain education, HIV treatment, housing, and so much more.
Many countries and locales offer the opportunity to help build new homes, schools, churches, and more. Populations affected by national and regional hardship need help rebuilding their communities, complete with infrastructures to bring clean water and electricity to both urban and rural structures.
You'll find that many construction mission trips take place in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
Best Mission Programs for Construction Missionaries
This organization hosts one-week trips (available from March to October) to serve in their House Repair Program. This program helps citizens of eastern Kentucky rise above the substandard living conditions that put them at risk of hazards like house fires, injuries, and illness.
Direct Christian Impact Missions needs volunteers to do everything from construction/installation and landscaping to decorating in Belize or Mayan Yucatan. Trips with DCI are affordable and suitable for both church and professional groups.
Build Abroad gives individuals and small groups of up to three people the opportunity to stay with a host family in Nepal, Haiti, Peru, Guatemala, or Costa Rica. As a Build Abroad volunteer, you will help communities and families build and renovate their homes as well as local schools, churches, and orphanages.
Best Worldwide Destinations for Construction Missions
America's Appalachian region includes West Virginia and parts of 12 other surrounding states. Thousands of the region's residents face conditions of poverty that leave them living in dangerously cramped and subpar conditions. This is largely due to suppressed economic activity that has been an ongoing problem for many years, thanks in part to the region's heavy dependence on fossil fuel companies to provide a living wage and economic stimulation.
Many Appalachian residents live in environments that put them at serious risk of house fires, illness, and injury, so construction missions are always welcome here.
There is currently a housing deficit in Kenya affecting nearly 2 million citizens. Urban areas are seeing an abundance of informal housing set up by displaced families, and now 61 percent of Kenya's urban population lives in overcrowded, slum housing. While government aid efforts are underway to reduce the country's homelessness problem, missionaries can make a major impact in this country.
Ethiopia has experienced huge economic growth, but this growth has been accompanied by the rapid overpopulation and formation of urban zones that have grown too quickly to accommodate their rising populations. Ethiopian citizens are dealing with a major housing shortage. While the country's government has taken steps to dampen the crisis, more housing and infrastructure is needed.
Make Your Mission Trip a Success
If you're preparing for your own mission trip abroad, you've probably realized that the prospect of aiding a foreign community can be incredibly intimidating. Gain some extra insight before your trip so you can better focus on your mission!
Read on with 12 Tips to Make Your Mission Trip a Success.