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What’s your favorite way to vacation? I like being busy, knowing what we have planned for the day and being outside. Whether you like the calm of sitting by the beach, or the active hiking, biking, climbing vacation, another option you can consider for a unique experience is a volunteer vacation.
There is nothing better than knowing you’ve contributed to improving your community, or that of another, and leaving your mark behind by helping others. You can help at any of a multiple of organizations, for the National Park Service, an overseas group or other agency that specializes in helping organize groups where help is greatly needed.
US National Park Service
The VIP program (Volunteers-In-Park) with the National park service and National Forest Service has a wide ranging program, for people of all ages. Retirees, students, families, corporate groups and those over 18 have the ability to help in programs. Opportunities can be one time or recurring, ranging from a few days to a year or more. Some programs and activities may require background checks and specialized skills depending on the tasks and goal of the project. Others may have no particular skills required and anyone who wishes can participate.
Opportunities can be found in locations throughout the United States; including the Pacific and Caribbean. You can search for opportunities near your area, or a destination you wish to travel to at the Volunteer website.
Volunteer work may involve working with park rangers and employees or with groups of other volunteers; tasks could range from trail building, habitat restoration, removing invasive plants, and working in greenhouses. Less strenuous tasks may be camp hosting, gatehouse volunteers, trail head stewards, or groundskeeper.
Depending on the location and duration of the role your housing may even be provided.
There are numerous programs for different groups as well. Both the Boy and Girl Scouts have National Park Ranger programs. There is even an international Volunteers-in-the-park program for those outside the US to participate and experience the wonders of the US National Parks.
Programs for artists, musicians, and other creative medium skills are available in the National Parks Artist-in-Residence program. Each park has its own application process for this program so contacting the park directly would guide you to their procedure. You may even be asked to work with the public and share your work.
Do you already volunteer for a federal park or agency. Check with your agency or park to see if they participate in the Inter Agency Pass Program. If you volunteer a minimum of 250 hours and your location participates in the program you could be eligible for a free National Park Pass. Park passes cost $80 a year and this is a nice benefit for your volunteer time.
To find out what opportunities are available at the National Parks check out their website. There you can find what roles are needed, how to apply and where they are located.
Volunteer vacation agencies
There are many agencies that work with people interested in spending their time volunteering while on vacation away from work. There are some that specialize in particular locations or regions, and you can search based on where you would like to travel. Do you want to go overseas, stay within the US or Caribbean or maybe venture further? Are you single and want to meet other like minded people? Are you a family wanting to spend your time together volunteering? Maybe you’re an animal lover and want to work with and help animals, or you and your significant other decided to spend your honeymoon helping out others. There are agencies and volunteer vacations trips just for you!
No matter what you choose there is a volunteer opportunity for you during your vacation. Locations such as Bali, Costa Rica, Ecuador, or Shri Lanka to name a few.
Are you a true hiker and backpacker than maybe working with the American Hiking Society is for you. Volunteers day hike and backpack into areas for trail restoration and creation. Crews of 6-15 work with leaders work within both wilderness areas and National Parks.
Other Volunteer Vacations
Do you have a particular skill that may be needed somewhere. Are you a doctor or nurse, maybe someone interested in teaching English. These skills are just a few that are needed all over the globe and spending your time doing what you love and know may be for you.
What do you get out of a volunteer vacation
There are many reasons people decide to spend their time volunteering on their “time off”. Spending any time in nature whether walking along a path or being the one helping to build that path allows you come back with a greater appreciation of nature and all its wonders.
Giving of ones time and skills fills the soul and knowing that the work you are doing is helping others and giving back to the community is self fulfilling volunteer appreciation.
I managed a volunteer department at a blood center for almost 7 years. I worked with volunteers from 14 to 103 years old. Each told me that helping people was the reason they started to volunteer. When they became involved and learned about the company mission it made them feel that they were giving back to their community and doing something good.
No matter where you volunteer or what you do; giving of your time, talents, and skills is a great gift to the world. But volunteering is just a one way street of giving. You may learn new skills during your time volunteering or have new experiences that can be sited on your resume. Noting your volunteer time on resumes and LinkedIn show others your interested and giving nature.
Finding the Right Volunteer Opportunity
No matter the reason you decide to try a volunteer vacation, with some research and time you can find the right one for you. Take into consideration the following when doing your research:
What do I want to do?
Where do I want to travel to? Near or Far from home?
Ask a lot of questions. How will you be transported while there, where will you stay, how much will it cost, what is included in the price.
Make sure the program benefits people, nature, animals etc in some way; and is not just for the “tourist” to feel like a volunteer
How much time can you give?
Consider volunteering on our own. Locate our own non-profit to volunteer for during your time at that location.
Above all else, make memories of a lifetime. Remember this is your time to get away and do what you feel is worth your time and money. Enjoy it, and bring home the experiences to carry you forward.
Have you ever volunteered on a vacation? We’d love to hear about it. Share you story with us then share this post.
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Donna Martorano is a lifestyle and travel writer for Donna Unbound. A true believer in age is just number, and slowing down is not a requirement. Her passions are family, teaching other women how to shoot and the importance of self - protection. She's enjoying re-learning what it's like to be a couple again with her high school sweetheart of 31 years. Their family of consists of two beautiful daughters, a wonderful son-in-law, and two sweet grand daughters; as well as 3 cats who keep them laughing.