Step Off the Beaten Path with a Volunteer Vacation

woman holding box with vegetables


It’s not that I don’t like lounging around on the beach with nothing to do but leisurely sip my margarita and occasionally cool off in crystal blue waters. It’s just that I can only handle it in small doses. Sipping a margarita on a beach in Mexico is pretty similar to sipping sangria on a beach in Spain. It’s wonderful, but at the end of the day, it’s not especially conducive to really getting to know a place or, you know, contributing meaningfully to society. I’m not judging. I’m just saying.

Volunteer vacations are short-term service opportunities that provide travelers with the chance to experience a new culture and place while contributing to community-driven work projects. In addition to allowing travelers the opportunity to give back, volunteer vacations also provide a unique and authentic glimpse into another culture and community. Travelers are always in search of ways to scratch below the surface of a place, and volunteering is one way that enables visitors to experience something beyond the tourist attractions. There are numerous websites that offer guidance and support to those looking for programs so whether you’re interested in conservation, teaching, farming, or journalism, the following sites are a good place to start.

World Teach
WorldTeach is a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for individuals to make a meaningful contribution to international education by living and working as volunteer teachers in developing countries. Founded in 1986, WorldTeach sends volunteers overseas to 16 countries to teach a range of subjects. As a volunteer, you’re able to choose the country you’d like to teach in as well as the length of your stay. Options include summer, semester, or year-long programs.

Many volunteer vacations can end up being pretty pricey when you factor in the cost of the program, the flight, and any other expenses that crop up while traveling or residing in another country. If you’re set on a volunteer vacation, but aren’t able to shell out a few grand, then check out Volunteer Abroad Opportunities (VAOPS). This site helps would-be volunteers find free and low-cost trips around the world.

Looking to till the soil for a few weeks? For a reasonable fee, you get access to a list of farms around the world who are looking for volunteers available from two weeks to two months and everything inbetween. For more information, check out this article we recently posted about what to expect from the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

American Hiking Society
If hiking is your preferred activity and you’re not thrilled about the idea of hopping on a plane overseas, then join the American Hiking Society for a week of building and maintaining trails across the country. “Bring only your camping equipment and a willingness to get dirty. We provide the rest.” Spend time in some of the most scenic locations in the U.S. while contributing to maintaining an expansive network of trails. Besides, what’s a vacation without a little manual labor? Check out their website for current volunteer
vacation locations.

Projects Abroad
Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad has a variety of established volunteer and internships programs all over the world. Most of the projects cost at least 1,000 USD a week so it’s not always the most attractive option for the budget traveler. However, that price includes everything from accommodation and food to travel and medical insurance as well as 24 hour support from local and international staff so it’s a great option for those looking for a little more structure and support. Plus, they offer a wide variety of volunteer options so if you’re more interested in equine therapy than teaching English, you’ll find that here.

Looking for more? Check out these sites to find more opportunities and information on volunteering abroad

The International Volunteer Program Association provides guidance on choosing the right volunteer vacation program and includes numerous resources on its website.

By Nikki Hodgson