Are you looking to get more out of your vacation than a nice tan? Do you want to travel to a country and spend more time with the nation's citizens than with tourists? Volunteer travel might be the answer for you. Hundreds of programs are available that provide tourists the ability to improve the environment and communities of countries all over the world.
While abroad, volunteers encounter local issues in their host communities. Most volunteer travel organizers stress that volunteers should not arrive with the attitude that they know what is best for the community. Instead, volunteers should learn from local leaders where help is needed.
Many programs require volunteers to pay a fee to cover the cost of food, lodging and transportation. Make sure you understand the program costs before committing to a project.
Founded in 1920 to help reconstruct sites after World War I, SCI International Voluntary Service is now affiliated with UNESCO. Each year SCI-IVS sends 5,000 volunteers to 50 countries for short- and long-term programs. Destinations include Kenya, Japan, Turkey and the Balkans.
Cross Cultural Solutions sends volunteers to China, Ghana, India, Peru and Russia. The volunteers assist local communities in various projects, such as teaching English, helping doctors at health clinics and teaching business skills. Programs run from two to eight weeks.
Founded in 1984, Global Volunteers is one of the most respected volunteer travel organizations. The group seeks to give volunteers firsthand knowledge of rural and underserved communities around the world. Global Volunteers sends people to 19 countries as well as eight sites in the United States. This Mother Jones article describes one volunteer's experience with Global Volunteers.
Global Citizens Network has projects in the United States and around the world. The group hopes to give volunteers an understanding of local issues by pairing them with community organizations at their destination. Projects include setting up libraries, building health clinics and planting trees.
Gain a new world perspective with Global Service Corps. Volunteers go to Costa Rica, Thailand and Tanzania. Global Service Corps offers short- and long-term programs as well as a college internship program.
If you're looking for an affordable short-term program, try Volunteers for Peace. The organization hosts international work camps, which bring together volunteers from around the world to live and work in one of 80 countries.
Get outdoors with the American Hiking Society. Volunteers get the opportunity to repair trails and footpaths around the country. AHS offers 80 one- and two-week programs.
Volunteers for Earthwatch help conduct scientific research for the environment. Projects are available year-round and worldwide, and include topics such as archaeology, biodiversity and endangered ecosystems.
Explorations in Travel offers volunteers the chance to work in animal shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers and rainforests. Destinations include Australia, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Nepal.
Does working to preserve historic landmarks and cultural institutions appeal to you? Then check out Landmark Volunteers, which sends people to 19 sites in the United States. Weeklong programs are available for adults and high school students.
Sierra Club Outings provide members the opportunity to explore wilderness regions all over the world. The environmental organization hosts 300 trips each year.