A country where you can do either sea turtle or elephant conservation, work and live with local communities, and yet it is still often upstaged by Thai volunteering projects. The culture and natural heritage here is so rich, the trip is inspiring from beginning to end. And Sri Lankan culture celebrates family, so the welcome is beyond humbling. And, if you have cricket bat and ball for free time, beyond fun.
Wildlife is not all about fluffy animals. And marine conservation is not all for adults either. Volunteer with marine wildlife and sea turtles – or if you are a diving family, or want to learn, you can help with coral reefs in Thailand. On a remote island, away from tourists but totally immersed in the all important world of marine conservation. And a tiny island community with the biggest welcome.
Head to the Wild Taiga of Finland or the Carpathian Mountains of Romania where, if you go into the woods, you are definitely in for a surprise. Not a picnic however, but tracking and monitoring bears, building hides, sleeping out in hides in Finland and, in Romania working to rehabilitate mistreated bears in a sanctuary.
Working with horses that have been neglected or mistreated in South Africa involves having to ride them along long beautiful beaches. Tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Many people come to South Africa for volunteering projects with monkeys, which are superb, but if your children are obsessed with horses and would work from dawn to dusk just to be with them, this is a dream volunteering vacation.
The world’s largest land mammal has been used and abused over the years be it through war, for logging or performing for tourists. The result is proliferation of sanctuaries which help rehabilitate and bring them back to the wild. Thailand and Sri Lanka offer contrasting projects in beautiful countries. For something completely different, head to Namibia for time in the desert working with these great beauties.
Already one of the world’s most eco and family friendly destinations, this makes volunteering vacations here so much easier than some other far flung places. Staying in local communities well off the tourist trail, turtle conservation are the leading volunteering projects here. Go on beach patrols, protect nests, and release hatchlings by night. With lagoons and surf to swim in and hammocks to swing in by day.
This is probably one of the most hands on family volunteering vacations, working in a monkey rehabilitation centre in South Africa, you and your kids get to spend precious time caring for primates. Bottle feeding baby monkeys and getting them ready to return to the wild, there’s not a dry eye in the house. And in country with so many other family adventures on the doorstep when the work is done.
You and your family will be joining real conservation projects, with scientists, naturalists and local experts. There really is work to be done. These aren’t vacations with a bit of ‘feel good about yourself’ tasks thrown into the itinerary, when really all you want to do is get your PADI. For that, you want to go on a diving vacation. It’s fun, often life changing work, but it is work.
We don’t feature any orphanage volunteering trips and if you come across any elsewhere, do think very carefully and read up on it thoroughly first. The boom in fee paying volunteering travelers has made orphans something of a commodity. In some countries ‘orphanages’ are suddenly opening, many nothing of the sort. Plus, care of vulnerable children should be carried out by highly trained experts. End of.
It might feel irresistible to hug a cub or feed one with a bottle, but the chances are that trips advertising such proximity with cubs are working with ‘canned hunting’ profiteers, the cubs being sold on as adults so that they can be shot by tourists who pay a fortune to do so. The fact is, if the lions are being habituated, they ain’t never going back into the wild. Read more about canned hunting.
‘It will be brilliant for your personal statement, darling’. This is just the wrong approach. These vacations are all about the project, not preening your little ones for Oxbridge. They are about having a fulfilling family time as a result of working with and living in a community. Leave all pushiness behind and let the conservation experts lead the way. The natural way.
Sorry, but it really isn’t cool. The sad thing is that some elephant ‘sanctuaries’ are actually glorified circuses, where elephants paint, perform and carry tourists on their backs. If it is pushing elephant rides, it definitely doesn’t have conservation at its heart. Because these elephants have been trained in a very unnatural and often very cruel way to perform. Say no to trekking and read more on our stance about elephants.