Tips for Going on a Volunteer Vacation

Not everyone wants to bask on a beach during their vacation. If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, consider a volunteer vacation.

Volunteer vacations give you a chance to interact with people from other cultures and to help others improve their lives. Pick a trip with an organization that shares your values doing work you consider valuable. You’ll work hard during your time away, but you’ll come back spiritually refreshed. You’re not going to change the world, but you will be contributing to the greater good.

Although many trips require volunteers to rough it during their stay, volunteer vacations may end up costing almost as much a regular vacation. Most are run by non-profits and they depend upon the volunteer workers to cover the overhead of the trip. Think of it as your contribution to the cause. Also, you generally have to arrange your own transportation to and from the site. You do, however, have time to explore the area you’re working in.

There are volunteer trips for animal lovers, for travelers who want to go off the beaten track, for history buffs and teachers and healthcare workers. Consider your skills and the kind of impact you can make abroad. When you contact groups to volunteer with tell them about your skills and what you have to offer and see if they have any suggestions.

Here are some organizations that offer volunteer travel opportunities:

  • United Planet: Provides volunteer opportunities for people from different countries and cultures to perform meaningful community service work together. The trips, called quests, are offered in 50 countries and can be as short as one week or as long as a year. Volunteers participate as individuals or in groups either internationally or within their own country.
  • Charity Guide posts a variety of different volunteer opportunities; projects range from helping to save the rhinoceros in Borneo to working at a camp for children with special needs
  • Volunteer Adventures: This program offers volunteer projects in countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe in either community development, teaching English or conservation. For example, in the Build Rural India program volunteers help villagers repair buildings, such as day care centers and primary schools. Volunteers may also participate in public-awareness campaigns that focus on such topics as hygiene and health care, nutrition and balanced diet and HIV/AIDS prevention.
  • Sierra Club: You can participate in one of the 90 service trips club members pay each year to national and state land agencies. Current trips include archaeology service in Gila National Forest, New Mexico and trail building in the Ozarks
  • Projects Abroad offers volunteer opportunities on six continents. Projects range from teaching English to building schools to working as a journalist in a foreign land.
  • Amizade offers volunteer programs for individuals and groups and Global Service Learning Programs for college students. The group has a historical preservation program in Auschwitz, during which volunteers work on preservation, documentation and archive projects. In Jamaica, volunteers stay with villagers in a small, rural community and support a growing eco-tourism initiative. Volunteers to the Karagwe area of Tanzania work with three community-based organizations, to help rebuild this area, which has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS and malaria.
  • The Earthwatch Institute offers volunteer expeditions in which volunteers work to “protect the world’s endangered animals and habitats, improve lives of people and animals living in biodiversity hotspots, and help scientists make discoveries that may lead to a better understanding of our world.” There’s a pretty diverse array of projects available, from monitoring wildlife in New York City to restoring the fountains and tabernacles of Tuscany. They offer volunteer opportunities for whole families and teams of teens.
  • Global Volunteers offers service opportunities throughout the world, including in the US. Though a few projects pay a stipend to volunteers, most volunteer vacations will run between $50 to $3,000, depending on the agency’s degree of involvement and the accommodation provided. Airfare is not included.
  • Global Vision International offers opportunities to work on conservation projects, to teach English and to work with children. A popular project available right now is the elephant conservation program in Namibia, in which volunteers track and study desert elephants and help local natives coexist peacefully with the animals. A full list of the group’s projects and their costs to participate is here.
  • Biosphere Expeditions offers one- and two-week conservation expeditions throughout the world. You can volunteer to study whales in the Azores, or observe the endangered antelopes of the Carpathian mountains as part of a study. “Taster weekends” cleaning up national parks are also available in the UK and Germany
  • Keepers of the Wild Nature Park & Animal Sanctuary is a non-profit sanctuary dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of neglected, abused or endangered exotic animals. Volunteers prepare food for the animals, work in the gift shop or park, lead tours and presentations, help with rescuing animals and animal feeding.
  • Best Friends Animal Sanctuary also works with rescued animals. Volunteers can work in the group’s Utah headquarters feeding, cleaning and grooming the dogs and cats, birds, bunnies, horses and pot-bellied pigs.
  • Heritage Conservation network offers conservation workshops during which volunteers learn by doing while restoring valuable, but neglected, cultural artifacts. You can travel to Serravalle, Italy to work in a 15th century cloister, or to Virginia City, Montana for ongoing conservation of a gold mining town. In August there’s a workshop repairing stone stairways in the gardens of the Bartow-Pell Mansion in New York.
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions Volunteer Abroad porgram has 20 sites in 12 countries: Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala , India (2 sites), Morocco, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand. Trips are from two to 21 weeks long; Inside Abroad, another program run by the group, offers one-week trips. volunteers work in orphanages and child care centers, schools, health clinics and hospitals, homes for the elderly, centers for people with disabilities, and other community organizations.
  • The American Hiking Society volunteers travel to remote locations to construct or rebuild footpaths, cabins and shelters on America’s public lands. Each crew consists of 6-15 volunteers accompanied by a crew leader. Trips involve backpacking or day hiking and accommodations vary from primitive campsites to bunkhouses or cabins. There are several trips available each week throughout the year.

Each voluntour trip is unique to the location and the situation but all offer a chance to experience a foreign culture from a local perspective and do some good in the process.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: rappensuncle