Volunteer vacations are an alternative to the standard vacation and can cost a lot less. Doug Cutchins, one of the authors of Volunteer Vacations, says being realistic about your expectations and your abilities are the key to choosing the right vacation. Think about what areas and subjects are important to you.
Cutchins suggests asking about the demographics of others on the trip with the host organization. Ask: Will there be other families, singles, seniors, or school groups on this trip? You'll be spending a lot of time with these people and although these trips 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.
Here are a few of the vacation destinations suggested by Mr. Cutchins in an article in the Daily Green Magazine.
Volunteer to patrol the beaches at night and stop the poaching and protect sea turtles when they come ashore to nest. The season runs from March through September. 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. Volunteers in Costa Rica can patrol the beaches while also collecting data on these amazing creatures. Your trip can be an authentic Costa Rican visit by staying with a local family for around $25 a night.
Dolphins are listed as endangered in the Ionian Sea of Greece. A volunteer trip there would include collecting data that will help save the Mediterranean common dolphin. When you’re done working, you can retire to enjoy picturesque Galaxidi, with restaurants, or take a swim in the clear waters of the nearby bays. These Dolphin Conservation trips, which are run by Global Vision International (GVI), are available from April to September and cost approximately $900 per week.
On 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 Experiencetrip in South Africa you'll learn practical bush survival skills, such as animal tracking and plant identification. You'll take your new skills out into the wilderness while gathering data on the amazing creatures of Africa. Volunteers may stay out on an overnight in the bush and in a tented camp area for the rest of the trip. This trip is run by Enkosini Eco Experience and costs approximately $1,000 for one week.
Work on trails in Montana
The Montana wilderness needs your help to repair and build mountain trails. You can volunteer for as little as one day or weekend, or you can spend a week backpacking in the Western Montana wilderness. Families and people of all different ages are welcome — in fact, the youngest volunteer was 8 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 ID" or "Tracks and Scat.” Overnight trips require a refundable deposit and volunteers must bring their own gear — but the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation does not charge for its volunteer trips. Most meals are provided, too. Check out upcoming trips at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation Website.
Maintaining ancient forests in England, protecting wetlands in Germany, building nests on the Black Sea in Bulgaria: These are not your typical European vacation activities. But each promises an unforgettable experience. Check out their website. BTCV Conservation Holiday. (That acronym used to stand for British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, but now they simply go by BTCV.) The organization offers conservation holidays around the world but focuses mainly in the U.K. and other parts of Europe. Trip prices range from approximately $70 to $1,000, and the trips can last from 2-15 days
The Colorado Trail was built by volunteers, back in the mid-1980s, and each summer volunteer groups organized by the Colorado Trail Foundation set out to remove downed trees, repair 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 ($25) or full weeks ($50). Find out more information from the Colorado Trail Foundation.
Support trails across America
All over the United States, forest trails need volunteers' support, and you can participate by joining the American Hiking Society. For a membership fee of $275, you receive Backpacker and Hiker magazines, discounts on gear and access to any of its volunteer vacations — all trips include food and lodging — taking place all over the country. Some particularly beautiful vacation spots include the Virgin Islands and San Francisco, and in areas of natural disasters, there are many trails in desperate need of repair. Volunteers can expect to clear invasive species and to build and maintain trails and bridges. To find more information about American Hiking Society, visit its Website.
Work at an organic farm
The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program gives you the opportunity to work at an organic farm in exchange for room and board. This program encourages the exchange of agricultural knowledge, so no previous farm experience is necessary. Once you've paid the annual fee for membership ($20), you can access a directory of more than 1,000 U.S. farms looking for volunteers — including farms in Alaska, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Typically, you'll be expected to work one half day in exchange for each night of room and board; most housing is indoors in your host family's farmhouse or in a nearby cabin. Join WWOOF or preview of some of the host farms on its Website.
Preserve the Pacific Crest Trail
From Mexico to Canada, the diverse Pacific Crest Trail weaves through California, Oregon and Washington, covering all kinds of terrain — from deserts to snow-covered landscapes to old-growth forests. As a volunteer, you will work to maintain and rebuild the trail. Projects include cutting brush and building stone and wood structures. Volunteer opportunities are available all along the 2,650-mile trail. The Pacific Crest Trail Association provides all meals and does not charge a fee for its volunteer vacations. Most trips last 1-2 weeks, but there are certain opportunities to work for one day or weekend. All ages are welcome. A list of upcoming trips is available on the Pacific Crest Trail Association Website.
Another opportunity to volunteer and have a working vacation is Earthwatch Expeditions.
Since 1971, over 93,000 volunteers have joined their scientists in the field as research assistants, who between them have contributed more than 11 million hours of their time to frontline environmental research all over the world.
Earthwatch expeditions are not ecotours, voluntours, or volunteer vacations. Their volunteers are people of all ages, from diverse backgrounds all over the world. Earthwatch volunteers are individuals united by a desire to connect and protect the planet, its rich biodiversity, endangered species, and threatened habitats.
Expeditions are not free, but offer a wide variety of destinations around the world. View the many places around the globe where they offer trips to learn and be an active participant in research and data collection here.