Volunteer to Travel!

I love traveling. I’ve written enough on this blog that you know how I sometimes get – that itch that needs scratching, a craving that needs to be fed, an emptiness that needs to be filled. And travel can certainly do that. But sometimes, once I arrive home, I still feel unfulfilled. I guess it’s the same with really good Chinese food – I will leave the restaurant stuffed only to find myself rummaging through the refrigerator for a snack a couple hours later. Usually when I travel my big plans revolve around a beach or a pool, an easy summer read – yep, even in the middle of winter, and a cocktail (or five). So my next trip will definitely be with the intent to somehow give back to wherever I decide to pack up and journey to. Maybe I will coach kids on soccer in Kampala, teach monks English in Lhasa, or help care for baby lions in Johannesburg. I think if I were to travel with more of a purpose – a goal rather than just a destination – I would come back feeling accomplished and rejuvenated rather than simply relaxed…and a wee bit hungover.  Here are some great ways to volunteer and travel at the same time:

Tern Island

Tern Island is a part of the French Frigate Shoals, the largest atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  While the entire atoll consists of only a 20 mile long crescent-shaped reef, a dozen sandbars, and La perouse pinnacle, a 120 foot rock formation that stretches out of the ocean – left over from when the entire atoll was an active volcanic site.  Today, the atoll is home to a diverse group of wildlife, including a 18 species of seabirds, including a number of varieties of Albatross’, Booby’s and Noddy’s and Petrel’s – some of these species next exclusively on the French Frigate Shoals.  The endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles also spend time at the atoll.  Interested in going to Tern Island?  Because only specially permitted biologists and researchers are allowed on the island, you can volunteer through the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  Volunteer opportunities start with a 4 month minimum – it is costly to get out to the remote destination – these people are saving species people, they don’t have the time or the resources to schlep fickle volunteers back and forth.  Once there, volunteers have the opportunity to preform a variety of work – everything from surveying the nesting seabirds, to cleaning barracks, lubing tractors, washing solar panels, etc.  The population of the island ranges between 4 and 8 people at any one time, so you are sure to make some lasting friends.  Still deciding if 4 months on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the ocean is for you?  Check out this blog written by one of the more full time staff members on Tern Island.

Cross Cultural Solutions

Founded in 1995, Cross-Cultural Solutions is an international not-for-profit organization with no political or religious affiliations, that provides travelers the opportunity to put their skills, knowledge and passions to good use.  Each year CCS invites over 4,000 volunteers to one of the 4 continents they have established programs in – 12 countries in all, including Ghana, Morocco, India, Russia and Guatemala.  Once there, volunteers are immersed in the culture, staying in one of the Home Base houses that is fully staffed by CCS local employees.  Volunteer work includes teaching conversational English, basic math and computer skills, working with women to make crafts that they can sell at their local markets to support their families, caring for babies, the sick and the elderly and providing healthcare when necessary, and preforming community development work.  The CCS staff members act as the liaison between the volunteers and the local programs.  These staff members are always from the region where you are volunteering, so they are a valuable resource that can assist in learning about the culture, the language and the activities available to you during your free time.  Volunteers can sign up for the 1 week Intern Abroad program, the 2 – 12 week Volunteer Abroad program or one of the Insight or Teen Abroad programs.  Prices start at about $2,000 for one week placements (which includes, board, meals, materials, calls to and from home, travel medical insurance, among other things) but vary depending on season, location and the length of your stay.


With a huge variety of volunteer opportunities, i-to-i is a has been organizing volunteers and sending them to Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America since  1996.  The organization refers to themselves as, “the original volunteer travel company.”  With over 20,000 satisfied volunteers under their belt, many of whom are now working at i-to-i, volunteer vacationers are sure to get the experience they have been searching for – a life-altering experience and total immersion into another culture – all while helping to make a difference in peoples lives.  Whether you would like to volunteer with wildlife, teach English as a second language, work with children, coach sports or promote conservation abroad, i-to-i has a program for you.   So if you’re looking for a way to spend your gap year, or if you just want to escape the daily grind and have a rewarding experience at the same time, check out i-to-i’s extensive possibilities – there is sure to be something perfect for you!

Peace Corps

“Since 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries, more than Nearly 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 countries all over the globe. They’ve been teachers and mentors to countless children. They’ve helped farmers grow crops, worked with small businesses to market products, and shown women how to care for their babies. More recently, they’ve helped schools develop computer skills and educated entire communities about the threat of HIV/AIDS.  The type of work a Volunteer does is ultimately determined by the needs of a host country and the potential of a Volunteer to contribute to those needs and to the Peace Corps’ mission. There are a wide variety of Volunteer positions to fill throughout the world; however, nearly all Volunteers fall under one of the following general categories:  education, youth and community development, health, business and information & communication technology, agriculture, environment, HIV/AIDS, or food security.”  If you want to hear what life in the Peace Corps is really like, follow along with the volunteer’s journeys as they journal about their experiences!  (image from “the wind beneath my chicken wings” blog – text from official Peach Corps page)

Travel Tools – TripIt Review

How handy this would have been as my friends and I were planning our Senior Trip!  There were 10 of us girls who were all trying to coordinate what was, for most, the first out-of-country trip we had ever been on.  And since we were going to be only days out of High School at the time of the vacation, and en route to the wilds of the Costa Rican rainforest, needless to say, most of the parents were a little overbearing when it came to the details of our itinerary.

Countless back and forth emails ensued whenever we would add an activity to our itinerary, and panicked moms would break out the trusty phone tree to re-confirm that everyone was on the same page.

Sound familiar?

10 years later…enter TripIt.

This free online-based travel tool allows you send it all of your itinerary emails – flights confirmations, rental car reservations, hotel information, train/bus confirmations and even restaurant reservations – and then TripIt compiles all of it into an easy to read/edit/share online itinerary of your entire trip.  To get started, send or forward your confirmation emails and receipts to plans@tripit.com.  If you are a new user and your email is not yet registered with TripIt, they will create a username and password for you.

From there the helpful TripIt fairies gather additional information that may be useful (weather information, maps, further flight details,  etc.) and compiles everything into a chronological and comprehensive itinerary that you can then go back through and add your own notes to.   Once your itinerary is set, you can invite others to view it or it can be forwarded to friends, family, business associates…even panicky moms.

Certain information may not be recognized by TripIt, but it is saved and you can go back and manually add it in the right day and time.  You can also update, add or delete information at any time – and those you have invited to see your travel details will see these updates too.

If some unforeseen event occurs, such as a weather delay on your flight or your rental car running late due to traffic, TripIt’s schedule will be thrown off, but you can easily reconcile the dates and times once you are back on track.

An as the company is still new (it was launched in September of 2007) they are still working out the kinks.  But the San Francisco based company is open to suggestions from TripIt users (go ahead – send em to feedback@tripit.com) and is constantly updating their service and adding new features.

Blackberry and iPhone apps (both free!) have been released, which only increase the handiness, portability and convenience of TripIt.

Overall, this is a great tool that frequent travelers should take advantage of.

5 of the World’s Most Amazing & Adventurous Accommodations

Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor:
For the animal lover it doesn’t get much better than Giraffe Manor in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.  The luxury boutique hotel is surrounded by 140 acres of land where the  ”resident herd” of giraffes call home.  These friendly giants feel so welcome at the Manor that they routinely peek their heads through windows and the front door to get fed, pose for pictures and say hi to guests and staff. Giraffe Manor also has well appointed rooms, a friendly staff and a renowned kitchen.

Exploranter Overland Hotel

Exploranter Overland Hotel

Explorer Overland Hotel:
If you are the kind of traveler that enjoys being on-the-go, the Exploranter Overland Hotel is the perfect hotel for you.  This hotel on wheels, a converted 25-ton truck  that pulls behind it a trailer that can sleep 24 guests comfortably, while it tours the back country of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, stopping at pre-arranged or customized locations.  The hotel has everything you could possibly need to accommodate you and your travel companions…including bringing on chefs from different stops along your journey to prepare local specialties .  And if there is something you want that can’t fit on the truck – er hotel – the Overland Hotel staff can help make it happen for you.  Everything from spelunking and horseback riding, to winery tours and hot air balloon rides and more can be arranged.

Kakslauttanen Glass Igloo

Kakslauttanen Glass Igloo

The hotel is located near the Urho Kekkonen National Park in Lapland, the most northern part of Scandinavia spreading to the area of the four different countries: Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden.  Lapland’s extreme climate is what makes a stay at the Kakslauttanen so unique…that and the opportunity to stay in a snow or glass igloo!  The snow igloos have lights inside ice that, when illuminated, create a quiet, serene setting for a cozy night tucked warm into a down sleeping bag.  The glass igloos stay as warm as a regular room, yet give guests the unique opportunity to look up at the Aurora Borealis (August – April) or stay warm inside while watching a romantic snowstorm fall around you.  After staying in either of the igloos, guests are welcome to enjoy the sauna in the morning, followed by a dip in a hole in the ice covering a nearby river – talk about a jump-start to your day!

Huilo Huilo Magic Mountain Lodge:
Nestled in the Huilo Huilo Nature Reserve in Southern Chile, the Magic Mountain Lodge was designed to exist harmoniously in the Patagonian Andes mountain setting and constructed using indigenous materials and other items made by local artisans.  The lodges unique architecture is set around 55 rooms located on 7 floors, each of which has a window that peeks out of the “mountain” lodge and overlooks the forested surroundings.  Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the valleys and mountain ranges covered by the Temperate Rainforest that are a part of an ecosystem that conservationists are trying to preserve.  A variety of outdoor activities and excursions are available, including a hikes to a local volcano, waterfall or through the rainforest where you can observe wildlife.

Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge

Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge

Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge:
Looking for an overnight experience that falls somewhere between camping and staying in a hostel?   The Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge, billed as Sweden’s most primitive hotel, has forest huts and advertises such swanky acommodations as, “two hard beds,” “cosy sheep-skin rugs,” “primitive kitchen facilities,” and “firewood for self-cutting” that you can then use in the hut’s “wood heater.”  If you can get past the fact that you’ll be paying to fetch your own water from a nearby spring, the Kolarbyn does have some cool wildlife safari’s; sign up for the Wolf Howling Tour, Wolf Safari by Horse, Moose Safari, Lynx Adventure, or the Beaver Watching Tour.

Travel Deal: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Now offering up to 30% for bookings made by 12/31/09!!! Some restrictions apply.

This beautiful villa is perfect for those seeking to get away from it all. When you arrive at Villa Paradise, you suddenly realize that your body has changed, your senses expand, they unfold, they welcome you to pleasure in ways you have never even imagined.

The HDnetR original series, “Get Out” with Lindsey Clubine, recently taped an episode of the show at Villa Paradise and described it as “One of the best beach front Villas in the Riviera Maya!”

Paradise Beach, Playa Paraiso was voted the best and most beautiful beach in the world by the Discovery® Travel Channel. You feel the warm, glimmering sand under your feet and the sun extending its golden caresses onto your skin while the gentle breeze of the ocean toys with your hair… You listen to the sounds of waves breaking over waters dressed in tempting shades of blue and turquoise… Everything is already a part of you.

Villa Paradise is a fully furnished and equipped 5-bedroom, 3.5 bath luxury vacation villa which boasts in excess of 4,000 sq. ft. living area and a premier view of the Caribbean Sea.

The Villa is located along the coast of the Caribbean Sea in the heart of the Mayan Riviera on the beautiful beach of “Playa Paraiso.”

Villa Paradise is just 25 minutes south of the Cancun International Airport, a quick 5 minute drive to Puerto Morelos and a 10-15 minute drive to Playa del Carmen in a quaint resort-type residential neighborhood in Playa Paraiso, which boasts one of the most beautiful beaches of the world.

You will enjoy the tranquility and relaxation you’ll experience in Playa Paraiso, but if you’re looking for activities, there is plenty to do in the area. Playa del Carmen and Cancun both offer many opportunities for dining, shopping, and nightlife.

Travel Deal: Cabrera, Dominican Republic, Caribbean Islands

Need to get away to the sunshine? Escape to Affordable Luxury! Save 50% right now! (to take advantage of this offer, please leave a comment and we will get in contact with you)

Experience a luxurious getaway in one of the hottest destinations.  This is “The best island romantic villa!”  An exotic location with welcoming weather and a real seaside stress reliever…escape those winter time blues!

Welcome to the beauty, serenity and peaceful elegance of Casa Bella Villa. This Dominican Republic luxury vacation villa rental offers 3 bedrooms, all en suite and air conditioned, located right on the beachfront in the exclusive gated community of Orchid Bay Estates.

The beautiful white sand beach is literally steps away from the vacation villa where you can swim, snorkel or build those sand castles from your dreams.

Casa Bella Villa comes with a full staff (private chef, maid, host, gardener, guard) to take care of your every need.
Casa Bella sits right on a private beach. Come and experience a travel adventure at an exclusive exotic location!
True oceanfront/beach property
Swim everyday in clear blue carribean sea.


  • outdoor pool table
  • basketball hoop
  • Wii game
  • Dsl wireless internet
  • No chlorine/ swimming pool
  • and much more!

Come and experience villa rental like you never had before.

Everything is provided.  No worries of what to eat or having to do household chores.  Your stress-free vacation awaits!

***Recession-Busting to Winter Travel Deal for Casa Bella Villa–Save 50% or More***

Leave us a comment for info on special package rates for winter.  Package rates can start as low as $400 per night or $2,800 per week. (limit time only, some restrictions apply)

Dubai Star Oil Spill in San Francisco Bay – How YOU Can Help!

Kill the Spill (KTS) crew and Surfrider Foundation San Francisco, need your old Nylons and stockings!

Help! Donate Your Old NYLONS & STOCKINGS This Week (Oct 31 – Nov 8)!

Spread the word! We need  *NYLONS & STOCKINGS* donated ASAP for the oil boom to sop up and contain the oil.  Per KTS and Surfrider SF,  the non-profit, Matter of Trust, and volunteer teams are stuffing numerous hair booms this weekend.  Please send them in clean or washed. It’s ok if the stockings have runs in them, as according to Matter of Trust’s Lisa Gautier, they will double them up.  Please send to your nylons this week through November 8, 2009 to:

Matter of  Trust
99 St. Germain Avenue  (at Glenbrook Ave, in Twin Peaks) | map
San Francisco CA 94114.  Tel: 415 242-6041

Also, they are desperately seeking temporary, donated warehouse space in San Francisco, CA. If you know of any please email Lisa Gautier at  lisa@matteroftrust.org]

If  you spot any oiled wildlife, please contact Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1.877.UCD.OWCN (1-877-823-6926). Up-to-date info about their current response to this spill can be found here.

Travel Deal: Flying Toucans in Dominical, Costa Rica

Very popular, check availability calendar

The sights and sounds of wildlife, open-air tropical living and unforgettable views have all been captured in one special place… Flying Toucans .

This luxurious Costa Rican Villa is situated on a picturesque point on the southern Pacific coast. With unobstructed views, and lots of surrounding jungle, you have all the privacy needed to enjoy your home in peace… with the exception of some noisy visitors. Yes, the Howler monkeys and the toucans can sound off at any time without first introducing themselves.

Superbly located in Costa Rica’s Maritime Zone (within 200 meters of the shore), Flying Toucans is one of just a few private luxury home rentals in the area that is on the ocean side of the main coastal road. This unique location combines breathtaking views of jungle-clad mountains, palmtree-studded beaches, and the tranquil Pacific ocean with quick and convenient access all year long. If you like beaches, you are in luck as we have an abundance nearby. From your villa, take a short hike down to the point and discover two secluded beaches (one with its own 35′ waterfall) or jump in your car and within minutes be exploring miles of footstep-free sand.

The living and dining rooms offer the romance of open-air tropical living, blending the comforts of home with the nearness of wildlife. The living room is a great central location to gather and enjoy all that Flying Toucans has to offer. Plenty of seating for everyone. Don’t be surprised if a hummingbird or butterfly cruises through making a cameo appearance. The “formal” dining area, adjoining the living room, accommodates six.

The large fully-equipped kitchen, with its’ beautiful custom cabinetry, and casual eating area for up to six is integrated with the living room and the views beyond. Whip up a smoothie or a six course meal…your choice. There is a half bath downstairs as well as a laundry room with full-sized washer and dryer.

Once in, you’ll never want to get out of the infinity-edge pool. Within steps of the villa, it blends into the dazzling coastline and the popular Uvita “Whale’s Tail”, a unique place to walk and explore. It overlooks Ballena (which means “whale”) National Marine Park so keep your eyes open for Humpback whales and Bottle-nose dolphins.

Two well-furnished master suites are located upstairs. Each of the suites incorporates the use of precious hardwoods for the doors and vaulted ceilings. Relax in the comfort of a/c or open the windows and let the ocean breezes in. Too comfortable to get out of bed? Fine, enjoy the views from your pillow… now if you could just get someone to bring you breakfast!

Spacious bathrooms feature tumbled Columbian limestone showers and stone countertops and an openness that continues to let the outdoors in while providing all the privacy needed. (It is not unusual to have toucans or monkeys just a stone’s throw away while you are in the shower.:)

You will love taking advantage of the large terrace upstairs. It’s perfect for wildlife viewing, whale watching, stargazing, photograghy, sunrises and sunsets, or just dozing off in the comfy hammock. Surrounding the villa are exotic heliconias, a variety of fragrant gingers, exotic palms, birds-of-paradise, cola de lion, etc… not only for your enjoyment but to attract our fine feathered friends.

Hope to see you here soon. Flying Toucans … it’s UNFORGETTABLE!!!