Make Your Next Vacation a Volunteer Vacation

by Liz Magill on June 2, 2011
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VolunTourism, or combining travel with volunteering, is becoming a popular way to “give back” while on a personal or business trip. Whether you’re inspired to save manatees in Florida, rebuild homes in New Orleans, or clean up our nation’s parks, you’ll find plenty of resources to plan your volunteer travel opportunities here in the U.S. or abroad.

Volunteer work doesn’t all have to be backbreaking and sweat-generating. For example, volunteer researchers are needed to explore calving of whales in Maui. You also don’t have to have three weeks available to build someone a home either; there are plenty of opportunities for volunteer “bite-sized” gigs, lasting a few hours, a day, or a weekend. Volunteer opportunities include scientific research, animal welfare, environmental protection, community building, children’s issues, health, safety, and more.

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, here are some resources to help you plan a “giving back” trip.

Domestic Volunteer Vacations

Appalachian Trail Conservancy – In exchange for bare-bones lodging and grub, volunteers help build and maintain trails over the 2,000-mile long Appalachian Trail, which is home to thousands of endangered and threatened species.

Sierra Club – Members of the persuasive grassroots environmental organization work to save valuable wildlife areas. Through its Sierra Club Outings division, the club offers environmental family trips ranging from New York City parks to the rugged west backcountry.

Habitat for Humanity – All volunteers are welcomed with open arms to rebuild affordable homes for those in need. Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity has helped build roughly 30,000 homes across the United States.

Cheap Tickets – This popular travel site has teamed up with The United Way to offer volunteer vacations. Every month, the website lists special deals on hot vacation volunteerism packages. Interested travel volunteers can search by social cause or state to find a desired opportunity.

Turtle Teams - Turtle Teams is the coined phrase of the thousands of groups dedicated to save threatened sea turtles due to over-exploitation at turtle nesting beaches. Two notable Turtle Teams are the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and Island Turtle Team. Some of these groups are very small and would appreciate the help, if only for one night, when the sea turtles come ashore to nest.

Student Conservation Association (SCA) – Volunteers, including interns, dedicate over one million hours annually to conserve our nation’s parks, forests, and urban areas. SCA is the nation’s largest and oldest conservation organization.

HelpX – In a typical HelpX setup, volunteers “work” for four hours on various tasks for organic farms, hostels, B&Bs, and even sailing vessels. In exchange, volunteers receive food and accommodations.

Volunteer Match – To find more than 76,000 nonprofit organizations looking for volunteers, check out Volunteer Match, which connects people with a cause.

Nature Corps – Native to California, Nature Corps, previously known as Sousson Foundation, assists with the rehabilitation and preservation of the California’s National Parks wilderness ecosystem. Nature Corps offers award-winning volunteer vacations lasting a weekend or longer.

Lean on Me – Local to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Lean on Me’s goal is to decrease the causes of local homelessness and domestic violence. Volunteers are needed to donate their time to serve as tutors, guest speakers, or conduct workshops.

Kaho‘olawe Island Restoration CommissionHow does volunteering on a restricted island of Hawaii sound? Well, it sounds good to a lot of people — considering there’s a two-year waiting list to help out with such projects as stacking lava rocks, tying seaweed to coral, and replanting native shrubs and grasses.

International Volunteer Vacations

VAOPS – VAOPS is a resource where interested volunteers can search by interest or destination for free- or low-cost opportunities to plan a voluntourism vacation abroad.

Globe Aware – Globe Aware organizes volunteer vacations to a number of international destinations including Peru, Thailand, Cost Rica, India, Mexico, Jamaica, China, and more.

International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) – The IVPA is a resource for organizations sponsoring international volunteer and internship exchange opportunities as well as volunteers wishing to take part in international volunteering opportunities.

WorldTeach – Have you ever wanted to teach English in China? If so, WorldTeach may be able to hook you up with a trip there or another exciting international destination. You’ll need to provide a longer commitment: The shortest programs typically call for a summer-length obligation.

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