Cover Photo by Cpl. Jesus Sepulveda Torres

With colder weather starting to come around, people are setting their sights on vacationing in warmer climates now more than any other season. There’s nothing like going on a beach getaway and relaxing by the sea, but what if you can make a difference while enjoying the beautiful scenery?

At a time where many priorities have become vain and superficial, people are searching for something more meaningful in their lives. Taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life is needed and encouraged, but why vacation like always when you can donate a portion of your holiday to a worthwhile cause?

Not only will you experience peace and relaxation, but you’ll go home knowing your time away was used for something more than just yourself — a feeling that’s hard to replicate by other means. Here’s what you need to know about volunteer vacations and the opportunities that await you.

What Are Volunteer Vacations?

Volunteer vacations have been around since the 1990s and have grown in popularity since then. As long as volunteer work is involved, pretty much any travel excursion can be considered a volunteer vacation. There are many different opportunities to help communities in need, so there’s something for everyone.

Vacation lengths come in a variety of ranges, but most seem to span a week to 10 days. Don’t worry either if you suspect you lack specific skills. Training sessions are usually involved and many programs require little to no experience beforehand. Conversely, if you want a vacation that involves a little more work and technical skill, there are trips for you as well.

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It’s really up to you how much work and play your time is comprised of. You can be lounging on the beach and snapping pictures for most of the day, or you could be digging wells instead. Although you can set up a volunteer vacation on your own, you could also go with hotel programs, travel companies, and nonprofits to have an easier and safer trip.

Do Your Research

Before planning a volunteer vacation, there are a few things you should consider. First off, you need to know which trip is the right fit for you. The number of programs available is too numerous to count, and some will mesh better with you than others. It helps to volunteer with a cause you are already passionate about.

Some of these opportunities involve difficult work, making it harder on you if you’re lackluster about the cause. You can narrow it down even further by supporting specific causes in locations you’ve always wanted to travel to and that require skillsets you already possess. That way, you’ll enjoy both the work you do and the leisure time you’ll get afterwards. Lastly, make sure to ask questions.

It’s best to know things upfront then book a flight and meet an unpleasant surprise due to a lack of information. Find out if you have to commit to a specific amount of time with a desired program and how much of that time will be delegated to work. Also inquire what the costs of the program will cover. Volunteer vacations can either be relatively inexpensive to very expensive. However, some costs cover airfare, transportation, food, insurance, and lodging.

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Pick a Vacation

Now comes the fun part: picking your volunteer vacation. There are as many volunteer opportunities as there are needs in the world. However, listing out all the trips would take up an entire novel. Instead, here are a few favorites to pique your interest:

  • Environment: If the health of the environment is something near and dear to you, then a volunteer vacation involving the conservation of our planet is your kind of trip. There are plenty of opportunities to make our ecosystems a little greener. For example, you can scuba dive off the coast of Africa to collect samples and contribute to research on coral reefs. Reforestation projects are also a possibility along with cleaning and removing debris from beaches and rivers. 
  • Wildlife: Volunteering with animals is one of the more popular vacation destinations. To be able to get up close and handle wild animals is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that many people don’t want to miss. You’ll help with the rehabilitation of different animals and can even feed and walk the cubs of tigers and lions at a park in South Africa. Costa Rica also offers a sought after opportunity involving the conservation of sea turtles. Volunteers relocate nests to safer spots, collect eggs, and take care of any other needs the turtles might have.
  • Community: Help a community in need by vacationing in underdeveloped countries. This trip usually involves some form of manual labor, so being physically fit is usually advised. Different opportunities involve building homes with amenities (like a kitchen and bathroom), introducing and teaching sustainable practices, and teaching English. Locals can help teach you a new language too!
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With all the benefits that can be gained from giving back to the community, why not make a vacation out of it? Not only will you broaden your horizons and see more of the world, your perspective on life will change for the better. So what are you waiting for? You’re next volunteer destination awaits!