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OK, here's the relevant part from Pub 526 about that charitable travel to Costa Rica:

Generally you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses necessarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation in the travel.

Just as I thought--if you have fun, it's not deductible. So if I had gone only for the two weeks of tutoring I might have been able to deduct my airfare. But if the family I stayed with took me sightseeing on the weekend between the two weeks, that might have nullified the deduction. As I said, I thought it might be ambiguous.

Reading Pub 526 jogged my memory--I now recall having looked this up five years ago to check on a 2004 trip I took to Guatemala with a different nonprofit to do some interpreting. The daily hours of bouncing along on terrible back roads in a small truck with no suspension and the earthquake one midnight definitely kept the fun level down on that one.

This year I think I'll engage in some sanctioned whaling activities to qualify for a deduction.

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