The benefits of taking a holiday are well-known: They can reduce stress, rekindle relationships and rejuvenate body and mind. But the break from your 9 to 5 routine can also benefit the world around you. Around the globe there are opportunities to give back to the environment and local communities, through taking a volunteer vacation.
The key to a successful volunteer vacation is being realistic about what you want to get out of the trip and what you can bring to the table, ability-wise Think about what areas and subjects are important to you, ask yourself some important life questions, for example, do you want to study climate change in the Arctic, or preserve the campground you and your family love?
But don't just ask yourself questions. Speak to the trip organisers and enquire about the demographics of others on the trip. You should know if there will be families, singles, seniors, or school groups on this trip, you'll be spending a lot of time with these people and although these volunteer vacations are a great way to meet new people, if you are the only single person vacationing with families, you could feel a bit left out.
Most of us are going to make our mind up regarding where we go, or who we go with, based on four criteria:
- Length of stay.
Many of these factors vary so much, that there are bound to be projects out there for absolutely everyone. Here are some that might tickle your fancy.
Imagine yourself on an inflatable boat studying dolphins in the eastern Ionian Sea of Greece. The data that you will help collect will assist the Mediterranean common dolphin (which was listed as endangered from 2003 to 2005). When you're done working, you can retire to enjoy picturesque Galaxidi, with its delicious, authentic cuisine, or take a swim in the clear waters of the nearby bays.
These dolphin conservation trips are run by Global Vision International, are available from April to September, and cost approximately £550 per week.
Getting back to grassroots
Kibbutz LotanDeep in the heart of the Israeli desert lies one of the greenest places you could volunteer in, the Kibbutz Lotan. This low-impact organisation boasts composting toilets (no water), a passive cooling system, and shared grey-water systems, to help conserve water.
As a volunteer you'll help with:
- Organic gardening.
- Creative recycling projects for visitors.
- Construction needs around the kibbutz.
The program has a strong educational foundation, with participants gaining practical skills and learning about topics such as ecological design and permaculture. You will learn about nature, getting back to basics in this project. You'll even stay in a straw-bale and mud home, created by previous volunteers.
Ecological volunteers must stay a minimum of two weeks; the cost is £350 for that time period.
Parismina TurtlesEach year, the endangered leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles return to the beaches of Parismina, Costa Rica to nest. Unfortunately, poachers also frequent those beaches. It was with these turtles in mind that the Asociacion Salvemos Las Tortugas De Parismina (ASTOP) was started.
The agency was founded by local residents who patrolled the beaches at night to stop poachers and protect sea turtles during their night-time nesting routine. Volunteers can patrol the beaches while also collecting data on these amazing creatures. The nesting season is from March to September, and it's the best time to go, weather-wise.
Top tip: ASTOP suggests making your trip as authentic as possible, by staying with a local family for around £15 a night.
Big high five
Siyafunda elephantsOn many safari trips you get see the 'big five' - lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. But on this trip, you'll be helping to protect them too. During the Siyafunda bush experience in South Africa, you'll learn practical bush survival skills, such as animal tracking and plant identification. You'll take your newly acquired skills out into the wilderness, while gathering data on the amazing creatures of Africa.
Volunteers may stay overnight in the bush, in a tented camp area for the rest of the trip. This trip is run by Enkosini Eco Experience and costs approximately £625 for one week.
Canada's Churchill RiverIn this vacation station, volunteers are sited near Canada's Churchill River. Here you'll see that climate change is most visible at the edge of the Arctic, by monitoring the ecosystem.
Your research will be used by scientists to monitor ecosystem responses to global warming. From the tundra, to the forests, volunteers measure snowpack, monitor plant development and, during downtime, even learn how to build an igloo. Your own accommodation will be a little warmer, as volunteers stay in modern dormitories. The price is approximately £1900 per person. To find out more, contact EarthWatch volunteer vacations.
Montana WildernessThere are few better ways to explore the wilderness of Montana than by helping to build and maintain trails there. You can volunteer for as little as one day or a weekend, or you can spend a week backpacking in the western Montana wilderness.
Families and people of all different ages are welcome. The youngest volunteer to date was eight years old and the oldest was 89. Volunteers clear and maintain trails during the day, and have plenty of time to bond with campmates at night, during meals cooked together and in classes such as wildflower identification. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation does not charge for its volunteer trips, although an overnight excursion requires a refundable deposit, and volunteers must bring their own gear. Most meals are provided though, so your hard work will be rewarded with full tummies.
Colorado TrailThe Colorado Trail was built by volunteers back in the mid-1980s, and each summer volunteer groups, organised by the Colorado Trail Foundation, set out to remove trees that have fallen over, fix signs and markers, educate trail users and generally keep the trails open for everyone to use.
Volunteer vacationers camp out in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, cooking, eating and working together. Trips are available for weekends or full weeks, with prices from £15-£35.
Another way to see Europe
Bulgaria Black SeaHave you ever thought of traveling through Europe? What about maintaining ancient forests in England, protecting wetlands in Germany, or building nests on the Black Sea in Bulgaria. These are not your typical European vacation activities, but each promises an unforgettable experience. Toss out your travel guidebooks and explore a foreign country while helping to protect it with a BTCV conservation holiday.
The organisation offers conservation trips around the world, but focuses mainly on the U.K and other parts of Europe. Trip prices range from approximately £40, to £650, and the trips can last from 2-15 days.
Helping a cheetah
Baby CheetahTo participate in this project, you won't have to keep up with the cheetahs; you just help save them from local extinction in Namibia. EarthWatch volunteers are based in Eland's Joy, the headquarters of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. This area is the last stronghold of the wild cheetah, so it's the perfect place to conduct wildlife surveys, feed and care for captive cheetahs and spread the word about cheetah conservation to the local people.
Trips cost between £2700-£3600, more info about volunteer expeditions can be found at EarthWatch.
Coral Reef FishAvid scuba divers interested in taking an active role in the conservation of the coral reefs have been deep-sea volunteering for over 10 years, with Reef Check. In fact, Reef Check was the first organisation to conduct a global survey of coral reef health, providing scientific confirmation that coral reefs are in crisis due to over-fishing, illegal fishing, and pollution.
Experienced divers are always needed to help preserve the reefs, and help collect data used for education and scientific research. Volunteering locations include Oman, the Maldives and Honduras. Trips are usually 1-2 weeks, and the average price for a trip is around £880, excluding airfare.
Baby crocodileAcross the world, shark and crocodile populations are being threatened. The Oceanic Society's goal is to protect these animals, and other endangered species, by working with local groups and universities to research and collect data, and to eventually translate this information into policy proposals.
Volunteers on these projects will be living in the Turneffe Atoll area of Belize, participating in activities like counting crocodile hatchlings and deploying underwater cameras. In their free time, volunteers can explore beautiful Belize and try activities like snorkelling among the coral reefs. Trips cost an average of £1250.
green book wormThere are a number of great book resources available that cover volunteer vacations. These include:
- Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others.
- 700 Places to Volunteer Before You Die: A Traveler's Guide.
- Ecotourists Save the World: The Environmental Volunteer's Guide to More Than 300 International Adventures to Conserve, Preserve, and Rehabilitate Wildlife and Habitats.
Top 5 Tips: Volunteer vacations
- Ask yourself what activities you would be interested in, and work these around your physical ability.
- Figure out how much time you have to devote to a project. Don’t over-commit to something if you know that you can’t live up to your word.
- Decide on where it is in the world you would like to go and volunteer. Is it close to home, or further afield? Environments need help in almost every country on the planet.
- Calculate how much you have to spend on your volunteer vacation. Cost is a big determining factor in the options we choose to support.
- Whether you are going on holiday to volunteer, or planning on volunteering while on vacation, check out a few environmental causes in the places you’re heading to on holiday.