If you've ever dreamed about making your next trip more adventurous and emotionally fulfilling, consider booking a volunteer vacation.
Reap rewards. Whether you work with schoolkids in Ecuador or help preserve wildlife habitat in Africa, you’ll experience other cultures and communities in a deeper, more intimate way than you would as a sightseer—and you’ll create positive change, says Doug Cutchins, coauthor of the guidebook Volunteer Vacations (Chicago Review Press, 2009).
Build skills. Programs range from a few days to more than a year and opportunities include bathing elephants in a Bangkok zoo, building homes in Bali, or teaching disadvantaged children in the U.S. Trips can cost as little as a few hundred dollars or as much as $5,000, but a volunteer vacation can help you shape new skills, tap into underused talents, and even cultivate your career.
Get ready. To help you plan your journey, we identified a few choice programs. (For a full list of offerings, go to charityguide.org or globalvolunteers.org.)
Washington Trails Association
The work: Through construction, log work, and other physically demanding tasks, volunteers help maintain backcountry trails throughout Washington state.
The time: Excursions typically last one week.
The cost: $150, which includes all meals and basic camping supplies.
The work: In expeditions to more than 50 countries around the world, volunteers assist scientists in sustainability-related field research such as conducting population surveys on penguins in South Africa, monitoring biodiversity on vineyards in France, and counting fish on coral reefs in Thailand.
The time: Most trips run ten to 14 days.
The cost: $200 to $4,000, including accommodations and food.
Hands Up Holidays
The work: In between sightseeing, you’ll help tutor, repair orphanages, build houses, or plant trees in Peru, India, Brazil, Morocco, and dozens of other countries around the world.
The time: Most trips last 14 days and include four days of volunteering.
The cost: $2,900, including guides, accommodations, and meals.
The Tandana Foundation
The work: With trips to Ecuador and Mali, the Tandana Foundation supports indigenous communities through volunteer activities like teaching, providing medical care at health centers, and constructing grain storage facilities.
The time: Vacations last from eight days to more than one month.
The cost: $1,350 to $2,500, including accommodations (you’ll stay with a host family) and food.