There's a lot to be said for lying on a beach for a week. But, let's face it, although you come home rested, nothing's really changed.
That's why voluntourism – a trip that combines vacation with volunteering – has become one of the fastest-growing genres in the travel industry. Not only do you get a chance to visit countries on your bucket list but you get to make a difference in the lives of the people who live there.
Book a trip through these top-rated organizations and come home with new friends, unforgettable memories and the satisfaction of having transformed yourself and a little piece of the world.
Giraffe conservatory in Kenya — Photo courtesy of Epic Road
Who said you have to sacrifice luxury to be socially-conscious? Epic Road designs bespoke trips to exotic locations in Africa, Asia, the Indian Ocean, Antarctica and the Arctic – or, as founder Mark Lakin describes them, “Five-star vacations with a soul.”
These trips go deep, providing rich, authentic experiences in which you also protect the planet. You don’t just go on safari – you satellite collar a lion, microchip a rhino or bottle feed an orphaned baby elephant. You don’t just scuba dive – you help grow coral and build the reef.
You don’t just take a trip – you make a transformative journey.
Women's artisan chocolate cooperative in the Dominican Republic — Photo courtesy of Carnival Corporation
When you cruise from Miami to the Dominican Republic with Fathom, the new social impact travel line from Carnival, you spend a week in a gorgeous country, immersing yourself in the local culture by working closely with its residents, 40% of whom live below the poverty line.
Choose from activities like building water filters for homes, helping a women’s cooperative produce artisan chocolates, working with entrepreneurs in the arts, and participating in English-language retention activities.
There’s plenty of time to relax on the beach, too, and because your home is the cruise ship, you’ll get to know your fellow volunteers while enjoying great locally-inspired cuisine and all the amenities of the well-established, 704-passenger Adonia.
Diving in Belize — Photo courtesy of Polly Alford, ReefCI
Take advantage of world-class diving and snorkeling in Southern Belize while helping ReefCI collect valuable data on lobster, conch and finfish, conduct surveys on coral bleaching and the health of the reef, and remove the lionfish that have been invading the waters since 2009.
Guests become citizen scientists while staying on a private, idyllic Caribbean island surrounded by turquoise waters, eating delicious meals and appreciating the scenery.
Whether you’re a novice or an expert, the three daily dives are the perfect way to support conservation efforts and give back to the marine environment you love.
Organic farm in Cuba — Photo courtesy of Go Eat Give
Go Eat Give
There’s no better way to experience a new country than through its people. Go Eat Give guests stay at top hotels owned by members of the community, dine at their homes and take lessons in culturally significant activities from Batik painting in Bali to Salsa dancing in Cuba.
You’ll get a firsthand look at what the people need and then you’ll help provide it, working with grassroots local charities including orphanages, women’s shelters, elderly day care centers and organic cooperative farms.
By the end of your trip – which, by the way, is custom-designed by people from that country – you will feel like a visitor rather than a tourist.
Working with rescued elephants — Photo courtesy of Pod Volunteer
If the idea of working with rescued elephants has you packing your trunk, check out Pod Volunteer’s popular projects in Cambodia, Thailand and South Africa. This award-winning non-profit arranges ethical, inspiring and supported opportunities in the areas of animal rescue and conservation, child care, education and community development.
Whether you volunteer for a week or for months, you’ll be working on long term sustainable projects that genuinely benefit the local community. You’ll also get to know the country intimately, and ultimately feel like a valuable member of that community yourself.
Caring for children — Photo courtesy of United Planet
United Planet matches your skill set and interests with a community’s need. You can sign up for a short term (1-12 weeks) or long term (6 or 12 months) commitment in one of 40 countries, with Peru topping the list as the perfect first time experience.
Founder Dave Santulli based the organization on the concept of Relational Diplomacy – the idea that relationships are the building blocks for a united world. Imagine becoming a Relational Diplomat, and serving as a vital piece of the foundation of a peaceful, sustainable and united planet.
Beach clean-up in Cambodia — Photo courtesy of Projects Abroad
Over the past 20 years, nearly 100,000 Projects Abroad volunteers have looked after 22,000 children in Care projects around the world, and protected more than half a million turtles in Mexico, Costa Rica and Peru.
A typical trip involves a 20 hour work week – in a wide variety of fascinating fields from archaeology to zoology – and weekends off to explore your surroundings, practice your language skills and spend quality time with your host family.
Living with a local family gives you an unparalleled look into another culture, and makes you feel like a welcomed guest.
Family volunteering in Ecuador — Photo courtesy of Global Volunteers
“Short-term volunteers can make the difference between a full life and one that’s stunted and short for millions of kids around the world,” says Michele Gran, founder of Global Volunteers, whose philosophy is “Serious Service.”
Her organization provides service on long-term development projects for pregnant and new moms and their children in countries including Cuba, St. Lucia, Peru and Tanzania.
Committing to 40 hours of service per week, volunteers also get time to enjoy the natural and cultural attractions in the country they may come to think of as a second home.