Volunteer Vacations

By Nicole Davis

Ever feel as though we’re running out of time to save the environment? Try taking a vacation to solve the problem. In the span of one week you can make a significant change. Volunteer vacationing has become a style of travel so popular, it now has a nickname, voluntourism. We’ve cherry-picked trips that allow green vouluntourists to work in fabulous countries like Peru or Thailand. You’ll be so captivated by your surrounding you’ll hardly notice you’re working.

(Note: Prices don’t include airfare)

Bring Cleaner Energy to a Peruvian Village

Even if you can get away only for a week, you still have enough time to do good in an exotic locale. Kimberly Haley-Coleman understands the average do-gooder’s time constraints, which is why she created Globe Aware in 2000. Instead of two or three weeks of international work, her non-profit offers week-long vacations that include unique projects and side trips in seven fantastic destinations.

In Peru, for instance, volunteers stay in a facility in Cusco where they teach children English and computer literacy. Or they can travel to rural Andean villages, which often lack electricity and running water, to build adobe stoves for cooking – a huge environmental – and health saver since they use only a fraction of the energy of traditional wood fires. This also eliminates carcinogenic smoke exposure, which can be the equivalent of smoking three packs a day.

Like every Globe Aware trip, the extracurricular activities are just as eye opening: Volunteers can visit Machu-Picchu and other ancient sites, as well as explore the cobble-stoned, streets of colonial Cusco.

The non-profit offers other eco-minded vacations too. Like the trip to Laos, where volunteers build wheelchairs from recycled parts for locals victimized by landmines; and a Costa Rican restoration project in a national forest reserve.

Duration: one week

Cost: $1050 to $1390 including accommodations and meals

Contact: www.globeaware.org

Before You Go

Before signing up to volunteer halfway around the world, its worth investigating your potential job, the job’s organizer, and your financial concerns. David Clemmons, industry expert and director of volunteerism.org, offers a few pointers.

  • Volunteer with an established organization (like the ones we’ve suggested). If yours offers fewer than 20 trips a year, or serves fewer than 200 volunteers a year, you may find yourself a victim of its inexperience.
  • Determine if you have the right skill set. If you’re not a numbers person, you probably don’t want to collect data for a field research team – even if you’re in the Caribbean.
  • Ask about the intensity of labor. Will you be spending a full day under the African sun doing backbreaking work? Or will you get afternoons off?
  • Speak to former volunteers about their experiences. If your organization can’t produce one, there’s probably a reason.
  • Make sure to ask what the other volunteers are like – are they mostly retired? College students? Church groups? – to find a group you’ll be most comfortable with.
  • And finally, because you will be donating your time to a charitable cause, it’s possible you can write-off your entire vacation. But before booking that first-class flight, ask your accountant if its tax-deductible.
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