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)

At the Beach: 25th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day

What: The 25th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day. Now is your chance to be one of the tens of thousands of Californians that will gather along the beaches, shorelines, and inland waterways of the state to clear away the debris that has been deposited over the past year.

Last year, 73,461 Coastal Cleanup volunteers (a 20% jump from the previous record for volunteer turnout) collected over 1.6 million pounds of trash and recyclables. Covering over 2,800 miles of coast and inland shoreline in 45 counties around the state, the 2008 cleanup also had the largest geographic reach ever achieved.

When: Saturday, September 19th, from 9am to Noon in most locations.

Where: Cleanups will be held at over 750 sites on California beaches, bays, rivers, creeks, parks, roadsides, and highways. Contact your local coordinator for exact locations and other site-specific information, or, for further details, visit www.coast4u.org.

Why: “Coastal Cleanup Day is an opportunity for every Californian to feel their connection to our coast, no matter where they may live,” says Eben Schwartz, Outreach Manager for the California Coastal Commission. “By pushing the Cleanup into every corner of the state, we can clean up a lot of trash before it has a chance to reach our ocean, and in doing so, bind every Californian to one another through our collective stewardship.”

How: Pre-register with your local Coordinator, or show up at any drop-in site (find one close to you at the county contact pages).  Or you can call 1 (800) COAST-4U or visit www.coast4u.org for more information. You can further support Coastal Cleanup Day, by shopping at any Northern California Whole Foods market on Tuesday, September 22nd – 5% of all sales from that day will be donated to the Cleanup Program.

California Coastal Cleanup Day 2009 is supported by the California Coastal Commission, California State Parks Foundation, and the Ocean Conservancy. This event is made possible by the hard work of hundreds of local non-profits and government agencies throughout the state and tens of thousands of volunteers annually.

*content is from CA.gov and the California Coastal Commission site