Vacations With a Purpose


After some of the world’s most devastating natural disasters, volunteers from around the country spent their vacation time traveling to help people living in the affected areas get back on their feet. Volunteers went in droves to Thailand and Indonesia when a deadly tsunami ripped through South Asia in 2004, to New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina flooded the city in 2005, and to Haiti after an earthquake hit in 2010.

While many feel compelled to help most during times of need, volunteer vacations don’t just happen after disasters strike. There are organizations throughout the United States that will help you plan an adventure where you can spend your time giving back all year long. Whether you want to help restore trails in national forests, build a home for someone in need, or make a difference in the lives of animals, there is a trip out there for you.

Habitat for Humanity provides opportunities to give back locally as well as nationally and internationally through the organization’s Global Village trips. Housing projects are listed in more than 40 countries and the United States, whether you want to build homes for those in need stateside or repair houses in struggling countries around the world. You will work alongside volunteers from many different backgrounds while experiencing first-hand the country’s culture, language and social practices. While the price of each trip varies, all volunteer vacations through Habitat’s Global Village program include a donation to the host community’s Habitat program, in-country transportation, food, accommodations and travel medical insurance. Airfare and additional recreational activities are not included in the cost of the trip. If you choose a Global Village experience, you should be in good health, as each trip requires manual labor.

Those that enjoy the great outdoors can give back to Mother Nature on a volunteer vacation through the American Hiking Society. Offering a series of trail projects across the United States, each weeklong trip gives participants an opportunity to rehabilitate trails on America’s public lands and help land managers maintain their properties. Each trip involves backpacking or day hiking, so good physical condition is a requirement for your safety. Accommodations will vary from campsites to cabins, depending on the project you choose. Each host organization will provide the tools necessary for the project as well as supervision for each group. Whether you’re traveling solo or in a group, helping to restore nature is a positive way to give back while meeting new people with similar interests.

There are many volunteer vacations available for animal lovers, but one that has been around for over 100 years is the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) hosted by the National Audobon Society. Volunteers have flocked to CBC circles across the country each year between December 14 and January 5 to help take a census of local birds. This data allows researchers to study the long-term health and status of bird populations in the United States. Even if you aren’t an experienced birder, your help is welcome, and all circles will have experienced birders onsite. Perfect for families, it is free to participate in each circle, but a donation to the CBC is requested. If you choose to travel to participate in other CBC circles outside of your area, you will be responsible for your own transportation, accommodations and meals as with any other vacation.

When it comes to volunteer vacations, there are programs for any interest. So do your research, find a project you’re passionate about, and start planning a meaningful vacation where you can make a difference in the lives of others.


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Written by Lyndsay Fogarty

Lyndsay Fogarty has had many roles at Central Florida Lifestyle, working her way from intern to contributing writer to managing editor. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication where she earned her degree in journalism. Along the way, she has learned that teamwork and dedication to your craft will get you far, and a positive outlook on the present will get you even farther.

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