Use your days off to do some good.
Using your vacation time to volunteer is a great way to see new parts of the world, help out in your own city and meet new people. Whether you’re inspired by recent events, hoping to help preserve natural areas threatened by traditional tourism, eager for a cultural experience or just have a few extra days, there are lots of opportunities to get out there and do some good. And, bonus, if you are working with a 501(c)3, your trip could be tax deductible.
If donating just doesn’t feel like enough when disaster strikes, volunteer with All Hands, a non-profit that builds homes and schools, provides clean water and more after natural disasters. Since 2010, All Hands has installed 518 bios and filters (which purify water making it safe to drink) and rebuilt 17 schools in Leogane, Haiti. With active projects in the U.S. and all over the world, there are lots of opportunities to get involved. How it works: Pick a project, apply to volunteer, pay for your travel, get yourself to the project site and then stay as long as you can. That’s it. Once you’re there, food and lodging are covered. Many projects run for months so you can choose one that gives you time to plan ahead.
Perks: No fees, the chance to live where you’re working and connect with locals, the opportunity to help a community in great need.
While tourism is a big industry in many parts of the world, it takes a toll on local environments. Spend 1-26 weeks working on ProWorld’s Eco-Tourism Project in Costa Rica. You’ll be living in a rural community 35 km from Quepos and working onsite to help out in an eco-tourism cooperative. You can work on the dairy farm, help out in the animal rescue center, sow seeds in the vegetable garden and more. For about $1,300 a week you’ll get lodging, meals, health and travel insurance, airport transport and more.
Perks: Live with a (carefully screened) local family, free time in the afternoon, a chance to use your Spanish-speaking skills—or take Spanish classes while you’re there.
If you have 2-12 weeks, Cross-Cultural Solutions’ Volunteer Abroad program has open start dates and let’s you head to 12 countries including Brazil, Thailand and Tanzania. The organization will work with you to determine the right role based on your skills and interests. You might work with locals in orphanages, childcare centers, schools, health clinics and hospitals, homes for the elderly, centers for people with disabilities and other community organizations. A two-week stay will cost you about $3,000 (which covers food, lodging and more) before air travel.
Perks: Weekends off to travel, eating food based on local flavors, airport transportation all taken care of.
Outdoorsy types, head into the wilderness with the American Hiking Society and spend a week hiking and helping to maintain trails in remote areas of the U.S. Trips are rated from easy to strenuous so you can choose the project that’s best for your fitness level. You’ll hike and backpack and sleep in accommodations ranging from primitive campsites to bunkhouses or cabins. The $275 non-member fee covers lodging, food and park entrance fees and, in some cases, travel from the airport to the site. You and your 6-15 person team will get the tools and guidance you need to revitalize the trails.
Perks: Affordability, the chance to unplug and exercise, volunteerism and vacation all rolled into one.
Lots of us get inspired to give when we’re on a trip or something happens overseas. But, what about taking a volunteer stay-cation? There are probably lots of people close to home that could use your help. Check out VolunteerMatch, Habitat for Humanity, or food banks for local opportunities. And, if you’re in LA, New York or Chicago visit iVolunteer for opportunities organized by cause and date along with articles that will help you learn more about how to be a top-notch volunteer.
Perks: If you have a great experience you can become a repeat volunteer, you can involve your friends and family, you’re giving back where you live.
A Few Tips:
Be prepared to work and get your hands dirty.
Ask questions, read reviews and do your research before picking an organization—if your gut is screaming, “Shady!” you should probably listen.
Know your limits and understand the logistics: If you’ll die without A/C, don’t volunteer in Vietnam in June.
Keep your travel eco-friendly.