Voluntourism, or volunteer travel, is one of the best ways to see the world and feel good about it. Volunteering for a charitable cause can mean working in an orphanage, teaching English to school children, preserving the rainforest, building homes, restoring natural marine habitats, disaster relief or painting murals in impoverished areas- whatever your skill level or interest, voluntourism has an opportunity for you to leave your mark while traveling.
Along with other voluntourists looking to do some good, you can bring together the best parts of traveling: exposure to culture, art, geography, history and recreation - with the best part of human nature: the desire to give back and improve the world through personal contributions.
While there are thousands of opportunities all over the world, here are a few far-flung destinations to travel for a cause.
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Redang Island in the South China Sea is home to hundreds of species of marine life, including threatened species like hawksbill and green turtles. The island is home to the largest population of nesting green turtles in Peninsular Malaysia. Volunteers can help to conserve and monitor these turtles with the Sea Turtle Research Unit (SEATRU) of University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT). The weekly program runs from April to October and brings together volunteers from all over the world. You will assist experts in monitoring every turtle that comes onto the beach, protecting them and their eggs. Volunteers can also enjoy snorkeling, swimming, hiking, exploring and fishing nearby.
This annual program is quite popular and you really need to be book ahead. The cost is $250US ($150US for students) for foreigners. The program fee includes boat rides, food, accommodation and a water safety training session. It does not include airfare.
For more information or to book a trip, visit http://seatru.wordpress.com/
Ecological Research and Environmental Work
Seeds, a voluntourism group, hosts short-term voluntary service projects around Iceland. Volunteers are involved in the ecological research of the area, beautifying parks, building walkways or paths, cleaning up coastlines, restoration and erosion control, reforestation, community building renovations and much more. No prior knowledge or skill level is required to participate and the opportunities are open to everyone. Because they are offered all around Iceland, tourists can also get a taste different parts of the country.
The cost is around $100 - $200 (EUR 80 - 140) and includes excursions, food, and housing. It does not include airfare.
To learn more, visit http://www.seeds.is/volunteer-workcamps-is.html
GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND
National Trust Working Holidays
Britain's National Trust cares for more than 1,250 vulnerable species on over 240,000 ha of land and 575 miles of coast line. Whether you see yourself surveying forests, herding sheep, planning an organic garden, restoring beaches or preserving endangered species, over 450 projects across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have something for you. During your week long stay, you can try your hand at a myriad of things to find what you are best at; and, as of 2009, the company is now offering family projects for children ages 8 and up. With prices so cheap, it is easy to do more than one week of volunteering.
The cost is around $110(£60) a week including food and hostel-type accommodation.
To book a trip (or two), visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-trust/w-volunteering/w-workingholidays.htm
Bishnoi Tribal Project
This service opportunity will transport you to the Thar Desert of North India. Volunteers will stay in the sand dunes of the desert while they interact with traditional Rajputs- the natives of this area for more than a thousand years. Visitors will teach English and math to school students and will also have an opportunity to train and work with local teachers. Doctors and those in the medical field are also welcome to provide trained medical care and advise as well.
The program runs from October to March, but there are other voluntourism opportunities in the area as well. Check them out at http://www.destinationhimalaya.net/voluntourism/index.php
The Egyptian Red Sea is home to some of the most unique marine life in the world. Volunteers can assist in surveys, field research and observation duty as well as being educated on field research methods and training. This is perfect for marine biology students or enthusiasts. Most of the time will be spent on a boat, collecting data, observing animal behavior and taking photos and videos of the sea creatures. Volunteers can also aid in taking skin samples and listening in on real time dolphin calls.
NEW ORLEANS, U.S.
More than five years after Hurricane Katrina and the city is still trying to rebuild itself. Slowly but surely relief organizations like Habitat for Humanity are helping to get the city back on its feet. Volunteers can help with all aspects of home building, from construction and planning to painting and installation. All skill levels are welcomed- as long as you are willing and ready to try new things. you can stay for a day, a week or however long you want. There will be plenty of time to explore the vibrant nightlife of the city in addition to rebuilding it. Groups can also volunteer together.
To volunteer today, visit http://www.habitat-nola.org/volunteer/index.php.
Get Started Today
These are only a small fraction of the many voluntourism opportunities available to you around the world. Find one that works best for you and get started in voluntourism.
Visit http://www.voluntourism.org/traveler-start.html to see if you are ready to dedicate your vacation to volunteering.
If you would like to plan a trip, but are strapped for cash, apply for a Travelocity voluntourism grant at http://www.travelocity.com/TravelForGood/voluntourism.html