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Volunteering on Vacation

You may not be able to change the world during a week’s vacation, but you can change a little corner of it. Volunteering your vacation time puts your green living principles front and center. Whether you help build a house, assist in a remote archeological dig, comb beaches for signs of endangered species, or clear trails in a storm-damaged park, you’ll return from your vacation knowing that what you’ve done has made a difference in the world. And there’s a very good chance that you’ll also gain new skills and new friends at the same time.

Knowing what to expect

You really need to do your research before committing to a volunteer vacation. In many cases, you share fairly basic accommodations with other volunteers in anything from tents to dormitories to local homes. You also should fully understand the level of physical strength or stamina that may be required. Mentoring journalism students, for example, may require specialized knowledge but little in the way of brute strength. If you’re building rock retaining walls to protect against coastal erosion, however, you shouldn’t be surprised when someone points to a rock and asks you to “lift!”

Find out how much assistance you’ll receive in getting to the volunteer site: In many cases, you travel with other volunteers; in others, you travel alone. Either way, you’ll likely be met at a transportation hub near your destination by organizers who take you the rest of the way. Organizers may provide cooked meals for you on-site, or you may be responsible for some or all of your own meals. Knowing these details can help to ensure that your expectations are realistic — and met.

Volunteering your vacation can be hard work, but very rewarding. [Credit: Purestock]
Credit: Purestock
Volunteering your vacation can be hard work, but very rewarding.

Most organized volunteer vacation opportunities ask you to pay for your trip, including transportation, accommodation, and meals. Some organizations also ask for a monetary donation as a portion of the trip fee in order to further their work; they may ask you to provide this yourself, or you may have the option of fundraising at home before you head out on your vacation.

Check your federal tax regulations: In the United States and Canada, charitable donations can be tax-deductible, so it’s possible that at least a portion of your trip cost could be deducted from your taxes.

Finding volunteer opportunities

If you already support a cause or a nonprofit organization, that’s a natural place to ask about volunteer vacations. Otherwise, an Internet search on volunteer vacations will produce hundreds of options. (Try narrowing down the overwhelming results by refining your search with a geographic destination or a skill; for example, you may want volunteer vacations Nicaragua or volunteer vacations trail building.) These organizations also can help:

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