Where to go on a volunteering vacation

There’s a wonderful world of volunteer placements out there – each as diverse as the countries they are found in. You don’t need to go long haul to make have a far-reaching impact; placements can be found in Europe and the UK as well as much further afield. Placements do tend to be in developing countries, and wildlife and habitat conservation projects in particular may involve a long-haul flight followed by a lot of in-country travel to your placement, whether that’s in the middle of the jungle or on a remote archipelago. If you’d rather keep traveling time down, a number of placements are in inner city areas, meaning you can fly right in. Here are our top suggestions for where to go on a volunteering vacation.
Empowering women, Laos

1. Empowering women, Laos

Join a community program in Laos seeking to empower local women through English and vocational courses, as well as micro enterprise workshops and health classes covering topics such as nutrition and puberty. You’ll also take part in weekly evening English classes for the wider community, basing yourself in the UNESCO-listed city of Luang Prabang, one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia.
Elephants, Thailand

2. Elephants, Thailand

Thailand’s long history of working elephants means there are now sanctuaries across the country full of rescued and orphaned elephants. They need enormous amounts of food, baths and clean enclosures – so there is plenty of work for volunteers happy to get their hands dirty. Many placements are suitable for younger volunteers and families, while fees go towards salaries for local staff, food, medicines and better enclosures.
Marine conservation, Belize

3. Marine conservation, Belize

Dive the world’s second largest barrier reef around Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, monitoring sea turtles and coral degradation, and submitting data on commercial fish species and whale sharks. Placements are suitable for experienced and first-time divers; full training is included. Projects employ local people and train youths to be dive masters, boosting employment in remote coastal Belize.
Reef conservation, Indonesia

4. Reef conservation, Indonesia

The coral reefs surrounding Raja Ampat, in eastern Indonesia, are some of the richest and most diverse in the world, with over 1,300 fish species and six species of sea turtle. Volunteers carry out survey dives to monitor the reefs, as well as working on community initiatives and environmental awareness. Experienced divers can jump straight in; PADI courses are available for beginners and more advanced divers.
Panda conservation, China

5. Panda conservation, China

China’s iconic Giant Pandas need constant conservation efforts, so secretive are they with their feeding and breeding habits. A project based in the Bifengxia mountains just outside Xa’an cares for around 40 of these gentle creatures, where beside helping with feeding time and cleaning enclosures you can also take classes in Chinese and calligraphy, as well as making traditional dumplings!
Dolphin Conservation, Greece

6. Dolphin Conservation, Greece

If you were looking for somewhere to get your feet wet with marine conservation volunteering then you could scarcely do more idyllic than the National Marine Park of Alonnisos. Between June and September, volunteers take daily field trips on a research vessel to study the four dolphin species found in these pristine waters, with plenty of time set aside for snorkelling, naturally.
Volunteer with bears, Romania

7. Volunteer with bears, Romania

Romania and bears have a long and troubled relationship. Viewed either as entertainment for tourists or trophies for hunters, attitudes are finally shifting and a sanctuary has been set up to care for rescued bears. Volunteers prepare food, feed the bears and assist with tours, sharing messages about animal welfare. It’s hard but extremely satisfying work – with creatures who are in desperate need.
Volunteer with turtles, Costa Rica

8. Volunteer with turtles, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known for its admirable commitment to the environment, and the astonishing range of species living within its compact borders. The sea turtles that nest here are threatened by poaching, fishing and egg theft; volunteers can live beside the beach and guard hatchlings, monitor nests and contribute to data collection that will be used to protect the turtlesand create new regulations to save them.
Wildlife conservation, South Africa

9. Wildlife conservation, South Africa

Feel like a real researcher in the South African savannah as you track, monitor and collect data on endangered species across Zululand alongside professional conservation teams. Set up camera traps at waterholes, map sightings using GPS equipment and join night tracking excursions. You’ll be making a difference to the survival of African wild dogs, cheetahs, rhinos, lions and other threatened species.
Travel Team
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Where to go on a volunteering vacation

Jon Arnold, from our supplier Oyster Worldwide, offers tips to longer-term volunteers on how to choose where to go: “For first time travelers who have not done anything like this before, who are doing it as a longer term break – not as just a two-week vacation – then go somewhere that you are never likely to go to again. Go somewhere a little more off the beaten track, where you can’t get a direct flight, you’ve got to go via another country to get to wherever you’re heading to. If you’ve got a longer period of time then it’s a good opportunity to go somewhere further away, as you break down the cost of the flight over three months rather than two weeks.”
Harriet Whitmarsh, from our supplier, The Great Projects, shares her advice on choosing the right location: “Some projects are located on obscure little islands where travel links are poor and even though that’s amazing when you get there, arriving at your destination could involve internal onward flights, or lengthy road travel, which is fine if you’re a seasoned and good traveler, but won’t be comfortable if you’re not. Think about the logistics involved and don’t be immediately wowed by the location – places like Mexico and the Maldives are hugely popular marine conservation spots and very easy to get to, but might be a little bit more expensive than somewhere more isolated. Weigh up what’s important to you and choose your destination wisely.”
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: US Army Africa] [Laos: Martin Garrido] [Thailand: Christian Haugen] [Belize: Chupu] [Indonesia: Ratha Grimes] [China: Theodor Lundqvist] [Greece: Kostas Limitsios] [Romania: Georg Scholz] [Costa Rica: Frontierofficial] [South Africa: Frontierofficial] [Harriet Whitmarsh quote: NOAA Marine Debris Program]