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Enhance Your Travels: Volunteer!

When traveling to another city for a trip, time is very precious. So much to do, so little time. But before you take off on your journey, think about donating some of that time. Consider volunteering while on a trip, perhaps after a conference or even during a vacation.

Oftentimes when people hear about the topic of volunteering while on vacation, they automatically think of opportunities abroad. While there are an abundance of volunteer projects internationally, there are also many not far from your own home. VolunTourism – combining travel with volunteer work – is becoming a trendy way to give back while on a business or personal trip.

Whether you are interested in rebuilding homes in New Orleans, saving manatees in Florida or preserving the wilderness in the Midwest, there are numerous resources ready to help you with planning travel volunteer opportunities in the USA.

The work doesn’t have to be all sweat producing and backbreaking either. For instance, there are volunteer projects for researching calving of whales in Maui. And you also don’t need to dedicate three weeks to build a home. There are many opportunities for “bite-sized” volunteer gigs lasting a few hours, a day or a few days.

Volunteer opportunities include:

  • animal welfare,
  • community building/rebuilding,
  • environmental protection,
  • scientific research, health and safety,
  • children’s or senior’s issues

Here are some resources to help you plan a “giving back” during your travels:

Volunteer Match. Volunteer Match is an organization helping connect people with good causes. They support a variety of nonprofit projects, all committed to civic purposes. Over 76,000 nonprofit organizations have used Volunteer Match to showcase their needs and opportunities. This is my go-to site to review volunteer activities in the city I’m traveling to, as well as opportunities right at home.

Turtle Teams. Sea turtles are threatened due to overdevelopment at nesting beaches. Turtles Teams is the coined name for all the groups whose goal is to help save sea turtles. To find out more, visit the Sea Turtle Restoration Project or Island Turtle Team. Most of these smaller groups appreciate help, even if only for one night when the sea turtles come out to nest.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy. In exchange for food and bare-bones accommodations, volunteers help with trail building and maintenance of the 2,000-mile long Appalachian Trail, home to nearly a couple thousand threatened and endangered species.

Habitat for Humanity. According to JustGive.org, Habitat for Humanity has helped build 30,000 homes across the United States since 1976. They welcome all volunteers to help rebuild simple and affordable homes for those in need. My husband and I worked on a Habitat house in New Orleans as part of my then-company’s give-back days during our annual meeting. (I hope the siding we nailed to the house is still attached!).


Student Conservation Association (SCA). Interns and volunteers of SCA, America’s oldest and largest conservation organization, put in over one million hours per year conserving the national parks, urban areas, forests and refuges throughout the U.S.

Sierra Club. Members of the Sierra Club, an influential grassroots environmental organization, fight to save valuable wildlife areas. Through their Sierra Club Outings arm, the club offers family and multi-generational trips in places such as New York city parks to rugged backcountry in the west. With accommodations ranging from base camps, campgrounds or lodges, you’ll be sure to find the right choice.

Help X. In exchange for food and accommodations, volunteers help with all sorts of tasks for organic farms, B&Bs, hostels and sailing vessels. In a typical arrangement, volunteers “work” for four hours to receive a meal and lodging.

Lean on Me, Inc. Lean on Me, Inc is a local community whose goal is decreasing the causes of domestic violence and homelessness in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They are always in need of volunteers donating time to conduct workshops, lend a voice as a guest speaker, or serve as a tutor.

Nature Corps. The Nature Corps, previously known as the Sousson Foundation, has been going strong since 1987 assisting with rehabilitation and preservation of the wilderness ecosystem in California’s Parks system. Weekend or extended volunteer opportunities are available through their award-winning volunteer vacation opportunities.

Cheap Tickets. Every month the Cheap Tickets website provides special deals on vacation and volunteerism hot spots. They teamed up with the United Way to add a day (or more) of volunteer opportunities to planned travel trips. Interested volunteers can search by state or by social cause to help local disaster areas or work with youth, to name a couple.

These groups are just a few of the thousands of organizations who would love to hear from you. Doing this with a friend, colleague, or a whole group volunteering together makes the time even more fun.

My alma mater, Deloitte, has an annual IMPACT Day where tens of thousands of company employees across the United States participate in hundreds of projects. Many organizations have similar give-back days or support individual service efforts so check with your corporate office.

Volunteering during your travels is a win–win event for all. It provides a rewarding opportunity and releases some of the stress of business travel or vacation by focusing on others. Added benefits: You have more great stories from your trip along with unique insight into real issues that exist every day. Those benefits are priceless.

Before you finalize your itinerary and agenda for upcoming travels, use these ideas to seek an opportunity that’s near and dear to your heart. Your travels will be greatly enhanced when you have helped others.

To receive a free copy of our ebook, 70 Secrets to Safe Travel — Because Your Life Can Change in a Heartbeat, and for more travel savvy info to help you travel smarter, safer and with more enjoyment, visit SmartWomenTravelers.com and PearlsofTravelWisdom.com.

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