Travel Tips

10 Great Summer Volunteer Vacations

Locations in this article:  New Orleans, LA New York City, NY

Panda posing for pictureGot plans to clean up or help out on Earth Day?

Why not extend the goodwill and start planning for your next travel experience with an eco-friendly volunteer vacation in mind?

Here are 10 great ways to not only get your butt off the couch this summer, but to make a difference through travel with a voluntourism opportunity.1. The American Hiking Society offers multiple volunteer opportunities to help clean up our nation’s gorgeous trails. Each trip is made up of a crew of between six and 15 volunteers and a leader. The Hiking Society has trips organized by level ruggedness—i.e. whether you’re sleeping tents or cabin—and level of difficulty. The average vacation length is a week, but each volunteer can choose to participate for as long or as short a time period they wish.Volunteer Gardener

If you’re looking for a real getaway, check out a program at the Hawaii Nature Center in Maui, Hawaii in which volunteers will cut new trails through the vegetation or the Summit Creek Trail on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska in which volunteers will remove invasive plant species.

But don’t confuse a volunteer vacation with a traditional vacation: The workday starts early at 8 a.m. and volunteers work for about seven hours, followed by an afternoon of doing camp chores and exploring the local area. But the really good news is that these experiences are affordable: the first trip costs $245 for American Hiking Society Members and $275 for non-members; every trip after that costs only $175 per person.

2. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) teaches students leadership, environmental ethics, and wilderness skills. The organization offers courses ranging anywhere from 10 days to a full year. Previous experience is not needed—all you need to have is a positive attitude and an interest in learning wilderness skills. NOLS has courses for participants ages 14 and up.

One upcoming trip includes a 16-day Whitewater River Expedition in which students learn to kayak and row an oar rig on Utah’s Green River, starting from $3,535 per person. Or, if you are interested in developing your outdoorsy skills this winter, check out the Winter Outdoor Educator Trip in which students learn to build snow kitchens, igloos, and snow caves in Idaho Falls, Idaho. This trip departs in January and costs about $2,500 per person. NOLS can offer college credit if needed. www.nols.eduAustralian coast - Twelve apostles

3. If natural science is your thing, Earthwatch Institute may be for you. The group pairs real scientists with volunteers to work on finding solutions to the world’s environmental problems. Expeditions include visiting the Santa Lucia Reserve of Ecuador where volunteers take inventory of local species and their eating habits, which help’s the reserve workers to create habitat action plans. This trip departs in June and September and costs $2,550 per person.

Earthwatch has several teen-specific programs for students, including a nine-day experience tracking wildlife in and around New York City, starting from $2,150, and tracking dolphins and whales in the Bahamas for 11 days, starting from about $3,000.

4. The Student Conservation Association offers summer programs for high school students aged 15 to 19 through National Conservation Crews. Crews range from six to eight students and at least one leader who work on trails and in national parks. Participants can gain valuable outdoor leadership knowledge such as how to filter water and even dig a backcountry latrine. Programs take place in different locations in all 50 states, running anywhere from 15 to 35 days. For those 18 and over, The SCA also offers internships that can last anywhere from 3 to 12 months and has opportunities in various service fields.

Global Pair5. People to People focuses on engaging its volunteers in discussions to enhance cultural understanding through the exchange of ideas and experiences. The organization was founded in 1956 by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The delegates of People to People have worked more 100,000 combined hours of community service all around the world and continue to help today. Through informational meetings you will find out about volunteering abroad in diplomatic missions as a United States student ambassador. Upcoming experiences include becoming a sport ambassador, a young woman’s leadership summit and medically focused trips. Each trip is all-inclusive and the price varies greatly by location.

6. Four years ago Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeast’s gulf coast and the area still greatly needs our help. The city of New Orleans, which is still hurting from the storm, is very much in need of volunteers. The organization Common Ground takes volunteers who have many different kinds of skills. Started by a displaced resident, the group has built itself from the ground up. The organization is currently focusing on aiding in construction, legal issues, advocacy through the media, technology, police corruption, hunger, and homelessness. Volunteer housing, which is dorm-style, and most meals are provided in residential areas directly in the Lower Ninth Ward. Volunteers can work for any amount of time they wish and will receive room and board for a minimal sum.

Read Courtney’s report from New Orleans with this group in Volunteering in New Orleans: Wading the Wetlands With Common Ground Relief.

7. Greenforce is an agency that uses volunteers for conservation projects, which help to create sustainable communities. The program offers many different types of programs in both length and field of study, but specializes in “gap year” programs in which students take a year off before starting college. But it also works with older people looking for a temporary break from their career.Panda Bear A four-week program collecting data on great white sharks in South Africa departs on the first of each month, starting from $2,000 per person. Other projects include panda conservation in China and Amazon animal rescue in Ecuador.

8. If education is more up your alley, use your skills to teach children abroad. Volunteers with Cross-Cultural Solutions work as teacher’s aides in multiple subjects such science, music, sports and drama. Past volunteers have worked to engage children at a school for Russian orphans, led exercise routines at a community-run school in Thailand, and tutored junior high students in Ghana. No prior experience is necessary. Placements are available in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America and cost around $1,000 for one week and $2,500 for two weeks.

9. CRAWL is a volunteer organization that provides advocacy and aid for underprivileged children and women in Kolkata, India. Currently the organization’s focus is in three areas: the Shikshan Project, an educational center for slum children; the Pathashishu Unnayan Project, a center for street children to provide food and education; and Mahlia Shachetanta Project, which gives women access to health and family planning concepts. CRAWL also raises funds by selling products and crafts made by local children. www.crawlsociety.orgHelping hands

10. AIDE’s mission is to build a worldwide community of global citizens through discussion and an exchange of ideas. AIDE has opportunities both domestically and abroad including teaching children in Costa Rica and working with female teenagers and young adults in Argentina while living with a host family.One regularly available project takes place in the Ogala Lakota Sioux Tribe reservation in South Dakota—on of the lowest-income reservations in the U.S.—in which volunteers help build environmentally sound housing and develop cultural projects. Week-long trips are available several times between February and October, starting from $1,400 per person.

And one more for good measure: Airline Ambassadors, where Peter serves on the board, has several opportunities this summer. A four-day trip in July to El Mision, Mexico, involves visiting orphanages to deliver food, clothing and aid, as well as spending time with the children. A trip to South Africa brings visitors to Airline Ambassadors’ “adopted” village of Nkundusi, where volunteers can help deliver supplies, make improvements on the day care center, and spend time with the local families.

By Courtney Crowder for

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