Volunteer Vacations: 13 Eco Trips Worth Working For

Travel to exotic locations like Kenya and Cambodia (or just within the United States) to immerse yourself in a new culture, learn valuable skills and make a difference in ecosystems and communities. Volunteer vacations let participants take a break from normal life to hand-feed kangaroos, explore archaeological finds in ancient temples, improve isolated rural areas, protect endangered species like lemurs and manatee and even study the effects of climate change in the Arctic. These 13 trips offer incredible cross-cultural experiences that will broaden your horizons and make you feel good about your contribution to the world.

Rescue Rhinos in Kenya

(images via: bobrayner)

Spend 15 days helping to bring back black rhinos from the brink of extinction with Earthwatch, gathering data on the African savannah. Opportunities to travel to Kenya for this trip arise nearly every month of the year. Volunteers will help Dr. Geoffrey Wahungu observe rhinos in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, measuring the composition and condition of the vegetation eaten by large herbivores like the rhinos as well as elephants and giraffes.

Save Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

(images via: parisminaturtles.org)

Volunteers are critical to the success of the Parismina Sea Turtle project, which works to protect endangered sea turtles, particularly during nesting season. Stay with locals, in hotels, in cabins or in camping areas; the minimal fees charged to participate vary by accommodation type. Volunteers interact directly with the turtles, count and collect eggs and watch baby turtles hatch.

Uncover the Origins of Angkor in Cambodia

(images via: dave_b_)

The stunningly intricate and mysterious temples of Angkor in Cambodia will be your playground and classroom as you help Earthwatch map the area, look for new prehistoric sites and measure and photograph excavated treasures. Fees start at $1925; volunteers stay at an inn. The next 7-14 day trips are scheduled for January and February 2012.

Work with Wallabies in Queensland, Australia

(images via: goeco.org)

The chance to hand-feed a rescued wallaby joey with a baby bottle is reason enough to join the Go Eco volunteer trip on a wildlife reserve in Marlborough, Australia. Trips are scheduled every two weeks and cost $680 including bunk beds in rustic rural lodgings and communal meals. Volunteers care for and rehabilitate the endangered Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, one of 45 existing species of kangaroo in Australia.

Garden & Get Creative in Israel

(images via: kibbutzlotan.com)

Healthy young volunteers are needed at Kibbutz Lotan in Israel to design, build and run sustainable communities. Get practical hands-on experience in natural and alternative building methods as well as gardening, and create art with recycled materials. Volunteers live in straw bale dome homes at the ‘Eco Campus’ for two weeks at a cost of $550.

Learn About Lemurs in Madagascar

(images via: belgianchocolate)

Join Azafady, a Madagascar charity, in protecting endangered lemurs on volunteer trips ranging from 2 to 10 weeks long. Each 10-week block starts in January, April, July and October every year and involves practical hands-on conservation research. The data collected is used to highlight the plight of lemurs and other threatened species in the area. Volunteers are asked to raise a minimum donation of $967 for the first two weeks of the program, with decreasing donation amounts for each two weeks thereafter.

Study Climate Change in the Arctic

(images via: noaa photo library)

Study climate change firsthand on the front line – the Arctic circle. Volunteer teams on this Arctic trip leave in September, February, June or August to collect climate change data from the forest to the tundra in northern Canada. In addition to using high-tech scientific equipment, you’ll travel on sleds pulled by snowmobiles, and even learn how to build and live in igloos. Based at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, the program is 10-11 days long and costs a minimum of $2995.

Monitor Mangroves and Manatees in Belize

(images via: blueventures.org)

Hit a biodiversity hotspot and help develop new conservation and research initiatives with Blue Ventures in Belize. This volunteer program assesses the sustainability of fishing practices and the effectiveness of existing protected areas, takes surveys of coral diversity and researches mangrove ecosystems, which are among the last safe havens for such endangered species as the West Indian Manatee and the American Saltwater Crocodile. Volunteers of all ages are welcome in expeditions that range from 3 to 12 weeks; fees depend on length of stay and whether you’re certified to dive.

Maintain Nature Trails in Montana

(images via: bmwf)

If you’d rather stay within the United States, there are plenty of volunteer vacation opportunities from coast to coast. This one, organized by the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, takes you into the wild rugged terrain of Montana to maintain trails and campsites. Volunteers, who also get the opportunity to learn new trail and backcountry skills, can choose from projects that range from long weekends to weeklong backpacking trips, from fairly easy projects to those involving strenuous hiking. Prior trail maintenance and backpacking experience is not required.

Improve Rural Romania

(images via: btcv.org)

If you’re interested in helping a human community in need, consider one of the volunteer trips organized by BTCV. In concert with Agora, a non-profit NGO, BTCV embarks on programs in needy areas of the world including Romania and Bulgaria. Volunteers will experience traditional rural life, maintaining orchards, making improvements to existing buildings and helping to construct new ones. For the first week, you’ll stay with a local family, and for the remaining four days you’ll be camping.

Care for Captive Cheetahs in Namibia

(images via: earthwatch.org)

While you might not get quite this up-close-and-personal with a cheetah on a volunteer expedition to Namibia,  you will participate in vital data collection on cheetah populations as well as wildlife surveys and livestock guard dog programs. Volunteers stay in two-person bungalows at Eland’s Joy, a working farm that serves as the headquarters of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Trips begin nearly every month, last 15 days and require a $3,539 minimum donation.

Explore Active Volcanos in Nicaragua

(images via: javier.losa)

Explore the effects that volcanic activity has on surrounding wildlife at the edge of the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. You’ll get to monitor volcanic gases, take water samples and see red-hot magma and tropical species like turtles and parrots first-hand. Volunteers stay in a small hotel and enjoy local food during this seven-day trip, which costs $2595.

Marine Survey Dives in the Bahamas

(images via: livingonimpulse)

Never dived before? That’s okay! You can actually earn credit toward diving certification while diving off one of the three largest barrier reefs in the world to establish and monitor three new marine protected areas. Participants in this volunteer trip to the Bahamas first get dive training, learning how to study coral and fish underwater, and then do two survey dives a day Monday through Friday with recreational dives available on Saturdays. The program ranges from one week to three months and starts at $3,300.


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