THERE ARE MANY reasons to engage in volunteer travel, and there are literally thousands of charities and organizations that provide volunteer opportunities for passing travelers.
Many ask for donations or fees to cover costs and others operate as for-profit businesses, but the list below includes only those that cost little or nothing to get involved with and help out:
1. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)
www.wwoof.org – Board and lodging is offered in exchange for a day’s work on the farm. Stays available from one week to many years, and with thousands of hosts available in 53 countries there are volunteer opportunities suitable for everyone.
For more information, check out A first-timer’s guide to WWOOF-ing.
2. Turtle Teams, Worldwide
A generic name for the thousands of small groups that help threatened sea turtles. Most groups are based at one or two nesting beaches — which are typically at risk from over-exploitation — and appreciate help for even just one night.
All-inclusive, week-long volunteer travel tours range in cost from a few hundred dollars to the thousands, their style of accommodations reflecting the pricetag. However, if you can cover room and board on your own, nearly all sea turtle organizations accept volunteers. A few even offer extremely low-cost housing (though typically very basic) for those willing to volunteer long-term, including Playa Las Tortugas in Mexico.
Search for groups at the local tourist office close to any tropical beach and help a species come off the endangered list. More information can be found at these larger organizations: www.seaturtles.org and www.cccturtle.org.
3. Conservation Volunteers, Australia and New Zealand
www.conservationvolunteers.com.au – Through various short-term projects in Australia, New Zealand, and a few international locations, you’ll work in teams to protect habitats and promote ecotourism.
Volunteer opportunities that include overnight stays, meals, and lodging are typically provided at approximately AUS$40 per night for shorter stays, and starting from AUS$208 for week-long projects. The type of accommodations can vary widely from campsites to bunkhouses. UK-based TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) offers programs for EU residents ranging from no-cost day trips to pricier week-long International Conservation Holidays.
4. Sudan Volunteer Programme, Sudan
www.svp-uk.com – Teach English in one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Placements are at schools or universities, but many volunteers help with community projects in addition to their teaching.
Volunteers must pay for their airfare but all other costs are covered, and a small monthly stipend is provided.
5. Appalachian Trail Conservancy, USA
www.appalachiantrail.org – At over 2,000 miles long, the Appalachian Trail is the classic long trail in the Eastern US and home to almost 2,000 endangered or threatened species.
Volunteers help with trail building and maintenance in return for food and (usually very basic) accommodation.
6. Trip Leader for HF Holidays, Europe
www.hfholidays.co.uk – One of Europe’s most popular walking holiday operators is searching for volunteers to guide their treks. Leaders are provided with accommodation, meals, and the chance to explore Europe in return for sharing their passion and knowledge with the groups they accompany.
7. Help Exchange, Worldwide
www.helpx.net – A website that lists worldwide hosts who are looking for an extra pair of hands, whether it be in their farm or garden, working in schools or on religious projects, building houses or community centers, or simply helping a family take the kids to school.
A small membership fee is required to access host details, but board and lodging is provided in exchange for your work.
8. Peace Corps, Worldwide
www.peacecorps.gov – A unique chance to live and work in another country. Participate in a variety of projects, from healthcare and the environment to business development.
A commitment of 27 months to the placement is required, but for those who are willing, this is a life-changing position. Open only to US residents, but similar volunteer travel projects are available for other nationals with VSO.
9. United Nations Volunteers, Worldwide
www.unv.org – From healthcare and economic development to assisting after natural disasters, the UN offers volunteer opportunities for those that are dedicated to making a difference abroad.
While many positions are open only to experienced professionals, the UN has links to hundreds of international NGOs and QANGOs that are looking for help in similar fields on a less formal basis.
10. Kibbutz Volunteer, Israel
www.kibbutzvolunteer.com – An area that is rarely out of the news, Israel is a land of tight communities but complicated politics.
Engaging in volunteer travel here gives you the opportunity to experience this region firsthand while living as part of a socialist community where everything is provided. The region also serves as a good base from which to explore the Middle East and North Africa.
(Note: Traveling between other Middle East countries and Israel can be challenging, though you can fly from Israel to Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Having Israeli stamps in your passport will likely cause issues when attempting to enter some Middle East countries. Entry into Israel after having traveled the region is typically not denied, though you may be subject to travel delays for questioning.)
This is just a sample of what’s on offer; be sure to thoroughly research any options before undertaking a project. And remember, while it’s nice to get something for free, just because a project is requesting money doesn’t mean the fees aren’t going to a good cause.
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Having spent the majority of his adult life traveling and working abroad, Matt Scott has plenty to write about; his writing and photos have appeared in publications around the world, both on line and in print. Originally from the UK he currently lives in Paris, where he works as a trip leader for an active travel company.
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