Ready to take ‘adventure travel’ to a whole new level? Want to support the environment while still having an amazing vacation? Sick and tired of having no exciting travel stories to tell your friends when you get back home? If so, you should consider taking one of these ridiculously cool volunteer vacations for your next adventure. Not only will you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but you can feel good about giving back to the environment and learning about the world all at the same time.
For over 40 years EarthWatch has been creating exceptional opportunities for everyday people to get involved with groundbreaking, hands-on scientific research around the globe. EarthWatch offers hundreds of programs year-round in fields like climate change, oceans, archaeology and paleontology and mammals.
The trips EarthWatch offers are categorized by their activity level, duration, and the amenities provided so people know exactly what they are getting into before embarking on one of their eco-adventures. Some of the exciting trips EarthWatch offers are: tagging sea turtles and counting their eggs on the moonlit beaches of Costa Rica, monitoring the activity of the largest colony of African penguins on the planet in South Africa, and searching for prehistoric dwellings on Easter Island.
Based in Australia, Conservation Volunteers is committed to preserving the unique ecological environments of Australia and New Zealand. Conservation Volunteers offer their volunteers the opportunity to assist in many facets of environmental conservation including: habitat restoration of endangered species, cataloging flora and fauna, planting trees, seed collecting and maintaining walking trails.
What’s unique about this organization is that they offer tons of one-day volunteer opportunities. This means AU and NZ locals with a free day can really do some environmental good and people visiting AU or NZ can take a little time out of their trip to help the environment without committing their whole stay to being a volunteer.
Committed to sustainable development in Nicaragua, Comunidad Connect manages community projects, a recycling program and a micro-savings bank. They also offer VolunTourism, a volunteer program that connects visitors with a wide range of their ongoing projects.
Through VolunTourism, volunteers can work in Comunidad Connect’s mobile library, assist in rural construction projects, or compete on one of their sports teams during a goodwill tour to neighboring cities. While helping Comunidad Connect, volunteers also have the unique opportunity to stay with a local Nicaraguan family in San Juan del Sur, a picturesque town known for its world class surfing, fishing, and white sand beaches.
Image: All People Be Happy
American Hiking Society is a 30 year-old foundation committed to protecting the beloved public hiking trails that wind through United States National Parks and educating hikers about the best way to preserve and respect those trails. Want to help? The America Hiking Society organizes Volunteer Vacations that give dedicated hikers the opportunity to give back to the trails they enjoy by working on trail maintenance and trail building projects all over the US.
The trips are categorized by how strenuous they are; some involve hiking 10 miles to base camp and camping for weeks in the backcountry, while other projects provide cabins and flush toilets for volunteers. The one thing America Hiking Society requires? “Bring only your camping gear and a willingness to get dirty. We provide the rest.”
WWOOF is an organization that connects organic farmers around the world with people interested in working on organic farms. The relationship between the farms and volunteers is a simple exchange; the farmers don’t pay the volunteers, and in return the volunteers don’t pay for their stay, which includes lodging and food.
Instead of providing certain trips to go on, WWOOF acts as a forum where farms post a description of their farm and the kind of help they need, and WWOOF helps prospective volunteers choose a host farm that will best fit for them. What’s amazing is the variety of farms that are looking for help, from a fruit farm in Daraniyagala, Sri Lanka to a Racka wool processing farm on the Great Plains of Hungary to a Kona coffee plantation on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Planeterra is committed to sustainable community development through travel and the organization does this in 30 projects worldwide. Their projects involve, “health programs, micro-enterprise development, social programs, education initiatives, environmental conservation, and community infrastructure improvements. All projects have the central goal of helping local people achieve a sustainable way of life in an environmentally sensitive manner”.
Some of these amazing project include maintaining a Woman’s Micro-Credit Bank in Honduras, running a Tibetan Eye Camp where surgeries are performed and helping to break the cycle of poverty in India with the New Delhi Streetkids Project.
Azafady is an incredible program that, “aims to eradicate poverty, suffering and environmental damage in Madagascar”. Azafady organizes tons of programs throughout Madagascar that promote health and wellness within the local population, support environmental conservation efforts and the reforestation of Madagascar’s rainforest.
For people outside of Madagascar who want to be involved, Azafady offers the Lemur Venture Program: a four to six week adventure vacation that offers the opportunity to live and work in remote forests of Madagascar, collecting data on endangered lemurs. The program even won ‘Best Volunteer Organization’ for Virgin Airlines Responsible Tourism Awards in 2007.
Wilderness Volunteers’ trips have been described as, “fantasy camps for those of us who dreamed of being a backcountry ranger but found ourselves sitting in a cubicle.”
Eager to get in touch with your inner ranger? Wilderness Volunteers offer trips all over the US. Some of which include trail maintenance at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, campsite rehabilitation at John Muir Wilderness in Sierra National Forest in California and trail construction at Buffalo National River in Arkansas.
Image: Oregon Live
Located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for distressed elephants that provides a safe and healthy environment and medical care for the previously abused animals. Currently 34 elephants reside in the park, many of whom have been rescued from cruel lives as circus performers or work animals. The park offers some unique volunteer opportunities that allow people to work directly with the elephants themselves.
Licensed and experienced veterinarians have the opportunity to volunteer their time administering medicine to the elephants and working with them in a professional capacity – all under the direction of the park’s head veterinarian.
Students studying to be veterinarians can work at the park for a month, learning directly from seasoned veterinarians and gaining hands-on experience with the elephants. They can even receive course credit for their stay!
And for those volunteers with no veterinary experience, Elephant Nature Park offers the program “Elephant Helpers” where volunteers can assist in cleaning the elephants and performing less technical duties.
10. Reef Check
Founded by marine ecologist Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check is committed to studying and conserving the marine ecosystems of tropical coral reefs and California rocky reefs. Reef Check organizes scuba expeditions to these types of reefs around the world where volunteers are led by scientists and researchers to collect data and report on reef health. Their scientific findings are used by labs, universities and by academics around the world.
Reef Check offers some incredible trips to pretty remote locations, including a trip to the Musandam Peninsula on the Gulf of Oman. While there, volunteers monitor the rich reef activity of this currently unprotected site.
Image: Wikipedia Commons
Located on 100 acres of lush rolling hills on the US Virgin Island of St. Croix, the VISFI’s mission is the, “development of ‘agroecology': an innovative field of agriculture that enjoins productivity with resource conservation, using ecological and indigenous management models to create sustainable life systems”.
The VISFI offers a unique opportunity called “Farm Stay” where volunteers can stay in rustic, charming cabins on the farm, work for part of the day doing light farm chores (like feeding the farm’s bunnies!) and then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring St. Croix.
The VISFI also offers sustainable farming internship programs and special workshops like Fruit Tree Care, Bamboo Propagation and Slow Cooking: Tempeh Making.
Have you been on a great trip not on the list? Gone on any of these and want to share you experience? Let us know!