International Volunteer Day is this Friday (Dec. 5).
To mark this global celebration of volunteerism, the travel experts at Cheapflights.ca have come up with ways to take your love of travel and combine it with giving back. Their list of “Short-Term Volunteer Vacations: 10 Charitable Trips for the Time-Crunched Traveller” features a variety of “voluntourism” excursions that can be done in two weeks or fewer. Whether travelling with family, friends or on your own, enhance your travel experience through the gift of giving; and create memories that will last a lifetime for you and those who will benefit from your generosity.
- Help save leatherback turtles, Costa Rica – Head off to biodiverse Costa Rica where you can experience unmatched natural beauty and adventure, while doing your part to help revive the Pacific leatherback turtle population. Threatened by a number of factors, these endangered turtles have been on the decline since 1980. Many of Costa Rica’s beaches serve as nesting grounds for female leatherbacks when they lay their eggs beginning in March each year. Volunteers are often charged with attaching transmitters or tags to the turtles, tracking these gentle giants and moving their eggs away from potential danger. Organizations such as the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the Earthwatch Institute, La Tortuga Feliz and i-to-i all feature programs fewer than two weeks long.
- Care for Asian elephants, Chiang Mai, Thailand – Visit Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand where you can participate in wildlife conservation by helping rescued Asian elephants. Volunteer programs run for different amounts of time – some offer one-night stays, while others have one-, two- or three-week programs available. Volunteer tasks often include feeding and bathing the elephants, learning about the challenges these animals face, locating elephants in the forest and leading them to their health examinations, assisting elephant caretakers and, yes, shoveling elephant excrement (pack your nose plugs!). Elephant Nature Park gives volunteers the opportunity to stay at the sanctuary and rise in the morning to the sound of elephant calls. Other programs are offered through various organizations such as gvi and i to i.
- Tackle trail work along the Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine, United States – Get back to nature along the Appalachian Trail, a 3,508-km stretch that passes through 14 states, running from Georgia‘s Springer Mountain all the way up to Mount Katahdin in Maine; it’s one of the longest marked paths of its kind in the world. Each year, a few million people visit “the A.T.” and an estimated 1,800 to 2,000 set out to hike the entire length of the trail in one go – a feat that takes several months to complete. Volunteers are said to donate about 220,000 hours to the trail each year, taking up activities such as trail maintenance, removing invasive species and constructing things like bridges and shelters. Search for volunteer opportunities in line with your timeframe and interests at any point along the trail through the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. And leave a little time to do some day hikes along this famous footpath, which has been welcoming foot traffic since the 1930s.
- Help run sports programs, Cape Town, South Africa – Donate a few weeks of your time to supporting physical education for kids in one of the many townships surrounding Cape Town, where there has been a lack of sports opportunities. You’ll likely work with local volunteers and staff to make fitness a daily part of kids’ lives, imparting valuable lessons around teamwork, health and leadership. That could mean organizing soccer, netball or basketball games, running drills or teaching students nutrition – for the most part, the activity opportunities are only limited by your creativity. Short-term opportunities are available through organizations like gvi and Projects Abroad, though you may be paired up with long-term volunteers. No previous coaching experience is necessary, but pack your enthusiasm – the kids won’t forget theirs.
- Control the lionfish population, Belize – Adventurous travellers can combine diving with doing good by contributing to lionfish research off the coast of Belize. Volunteers will work to examine and curb the growth of the lionfish population (an invasive species with no natural predators in this area) as a means of minimizing the impact these fish have on the Belize Barrier Reef as well as other fish populations in the area. Divers stay at the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve dive camp, which serves as a home base while participants learn about the lionfish population. Blue Ventures offers seven- and 16-day trips, and volunteers must hold a PADI Advanced Open Water certification to join an excursion.
The next five types of voluntourism excursions take part in various locations around the world but all provide a way to get involved in the local community: work on a farm; build something; contribute to natural disaster relief; volunteer via a hostel; and clean up a beach.
To find out more about these giving-back trips and to read Cheapflights.ca’s complete list of Short-Term Volunteer Vacations: 10 Charitable Trips for the Time-Crunched Traveller, visit http://www.cheapflights.ca/news/short-term-volunteer-vacations-10-charitable-trips-time-crunched-traveller .