Volunteering can take you far: to Africa, Mexico, Europe, and anywhere else that there's a community or societal need.
Simply find a cause you believe in, choose an area around the world to explore up close, and give your time and talents on the vacation of a lifetime. Plan the trip with a small band of like-minded folks (religious group, alumni group, family members, poker club), and the trip will be even more memorable.
Here are organizations that give you a chance to make a difference while on vacation:
- 1 to 4 weeks of volunteer vacations from teaching basic math to a rural African classroom of kids to helping scientists ensure endangered species survive through Charity Guide.
- Just for groups, Earthwatch customizes trips to fit the needs of the group. Help sustain the environment by working with scientists on expeditions in the field. Group leaders go for free (on select expeditions with 6 or more people going).
- Stop child poverty and raise literacy rates, do plant conservation, sustain economy building. You name the issue (or country) and the Global Volunteer Network has it. From Alaska to China to Costa Rica to Russia to Tanzania and beyond, great programs await.
- Tutoring, health care, construction, teaching English, environmental protection or research is all done abroad through Global Volunteers. There are also U.S.-based programs as well. All programs take 1 to 3 weeks, depending on your schedule.
- Through Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program, you can travel to another country and work in partnership with people in need and communities to build homes. Requires a 2-week commitment. Habitat also offers a Collegiate Challenge program for students 16 and older in groups of 5 or more (an alternative way to spend spring break).
- Join professional leaders on a "group quest" volunteering opportunity of a lifetime to gain cross-cultural field experience for humanitarian causes with United Planet. Expand orphanages in Romania or teach English to tsunami-affected Thai kids (both urgent volunteer projects) and more on 1 to 12-week programs.
- i-to-i.com offers experiences for families volunteering, paid teaching programs in Asia and Europe, 2-week summer programs for high school kids, and many more opportunities for any group to build homes, preserve the environment, even teach sports for kids in developing worlds.
- Thousands of international volunteer opportunities abound via Responsible Travel for those who've had enough of mass tourism and want a distinct holiday (vacation) to write home about.
- Student volunteer travel is a great way to spend summer breaks, spring breaks, and post-graduation down-time. About.com offers several suggestions for volunteer trips just for students.
What are people saying about some of their volunteer vacations? Here are first-hand, candid accounts of volunteering abroad from GoNomad.com. Voluntouring around the globe. Global Volunteers volunteers.
Save your money. Some non-profit organizations may be able to provide volunteer stipends, but most need you to pay your own way since non-profits are just that – not profiting. That means your help is all the more critical to their mission.
Any other organizations like this out there? Has anyone volunteered and found it rewarding? Post a comment and tune us in. This kind of a vacation is definitely on my hit list for things to do in the coming years.