When most people hear about voluntourism, they think of rescuing animals, helping orphans in Africa, or teaching in a classroom.

But you don’t have to travel that far to have a volunteer vacation. It can be something as simple as going to your nearest national park and helping maintain trails.

I’d never heard of a volunteer vacation until I stumbled across a brochure for the American Hiking Society a few months ago at my local REI. There I was, feeding my addiction for outdoors equipment, when I just happened to pick up the brochure. I flipped through it, intrigued by workers mending trails against a gorgeous mountain backdrop. The cover had four simple words, “Get out. Give back.”

That’s all it took; I was hooked. The search had begun.

American Hiking Society

AHS trips last as short as four days and as long as 10. They offer different projects depending on the length of the trip and crew size. All trips include meals as well as accommodations (keep in mind accommodations may mean tent camping).

AHS needs volunteers to help build new trails, maintain old ones, and work in National Parks. Locations depend on your budget, but with the price of a plane ticket and joining AHS you can see volcanoes in Hawaii, camp on the beaches of the Virgin Islands (without getting arrested for public trespassing), or hang out at places like Mt. St. Helens.

For a list of site locations or to see a recorded log of a volunteer’s personal experience visit their website.

Sierra Club

Sierra Club chapters organize “service outings,” running close to 90 trips a year. Different chapters handle individual interests for their volunteers. Family groups, women’s groups— they have it all.

For people wanting to stay within the United States or those adventurous types who travel to a foreign county with the clothes on their backs, they give you a choice.

There’s no fee to join, though there might be fees depending on service locations. Visit their website for details.

Wilderness Volunteers

Anyone looking for a hard-core volunteer vacation might consider Wilderness Volunteers. WV emphasizes the importance of physical health in all their volunteers and even provides a guide for physical fitness. Anyone wanting to take it easy with light work might want to read the descriptions for each trip before they commit.

While there is a charge of $250 USD for trips, food is included. This is, however, an adults-only vacation. Their website says they work with sharp objects, so children under should be left at home unless they’re sixteen or older and accompanied by an adult.

International Volunteer Programs Association

Anyone willing to travel abroad for an extended period might be interested in the International Volunteer Programs Association. The shortest trips range between one and three weeks and the longer trips actually entail living with locals and cultural immersion.

IVPA consists of volunteer programs from around the world, so there are numerous choices. There is a fee, but how many people spend a vacation renovating a castle or building a clinic? There are all kinds of options to consider when working with this organization.

Rural/urban locations, language barriers, and time constraints are just a few things to consider before deciding where to go. Specific skills are not required as long as you have a willingness to learn and have an open mind.

For more information visit Volunteer International.

Volunteer vacations can be as enlightening as we want them to be. Life changing, affirming, or just a great way to switch it up. It’s a great way to spend time away from the everyday grind and make your life count. I’m definitely going to try one.

Community Connection:

We’ve featured lots of volunteer opportunities around the world, just waiting for your help. Check them out on our Volunteering Abroad Focus Page.