What’s better than traveling? How about making a difference while traveling! Each year, thousands of people of all ages trek near and far to take part in what has become known as voluntourism — that is, volunteering while visiting a new city or country. These voluntourists help serve local populations through projects relating to childcare, building construction, education, conservation, and even archaeology! But with so many voluntourism opportunities worldwide, and so many companies promising to connect eager participants with worthy organizations, it can be a challenge to find exactly the right program for you.
That’s where Best Choice Reviews comes in. We scoured hundreds of projects offered by a variety of voluntourism companies throughout North America and Europe to find the best voluntourism projects. We considered myriad factors, including the reputation of the organizing company, total costs involved, time spent volunteering vs. free time allowed for sightseeing, and commitment length, among other things. Ultimately, we were able to narrow our list down to these 30 great voluntourism adventures for 2020.
1. Become a WWOOFer and Work on an Organic Farm
If working on a farm appeals to you, check out the opportunities listed on the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) website. The website links potential WWOOFers with owners of organic farms around the world. Joining an adventure is as simple as choosing your desired location and length of experience. On most farms, owners work right alongside their workers. This means WWOOFing can be great for someone looking to immerse themselves into another culture or language, or who want to glean first-hand knowledge about what it takes to run an organic farm. WWOOFers usually receive free room and board while they are working, and in some cases, also receive a stipend.
2. Dig Your Way Through an Archaeology Project
Romania and Peru
Projects Abroad is a successful volunteer program that has placed more than 100,000 travelers in unique voluntourism adventures around the world. They currently offer two different archaeology adventures: one in Peru and one in the Eastern European country of Romania. Both adventures can be arranged in time increments from one to two weeks, and offer voluntourists the chance to work with experienced archaeologists to uncover and preserve ancient sites. Interestingly, Projects Abroad also offers the same two adventures exclusively for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18.
3. Rebuild Schools Damaged by Earthquakes
In April 2015, a series of devastating earthquakes wreaked havoc on the tiny country of Nepal. Thousands of buildings were destroyed, including myriad schools. Projects Abroad offers voluntourists the opportunity to go to Kathmandu to help rebuild the schools which provide students with a safe place to learn. Adventures can be arranged from one week all the way up to a year.
4. Help at an Animal Shelter in South America
Animal lovers are sure to be interested in this unique voluntourism adventure offered by Projects Abroad! Because few communities in Argentina have basic animal rights laws in place, the country’s shelters are often full and understaffed, while thousands of other dogs and cats wander the cities as strays. Projects Abroad volunteers work closely with local shelters and veterinarians to care for animals who have experienced abandonment, illness, injury, neglect, and cruelty. Volunteers can commit to projects lasting one week to one year. They live in the town of Cordoba with a local host family.
5. Volunteer at an Equine Therapy Center in Africa
Projects Abroad offers a one-of-a-kind voluntourism adventure that allows volunteers to immerse themselves in South African culture while working with horses. Volunteers team up with a local equine therapy center to help care for horses and run riding sessions for children with social, mental, or physical deficiencies. As part of their rehabilitation process, these children spend time in instructed riding classes to help improve their self esteem, mobility, and overall independence. Commitment times for volunteers vary, but start at a minimum of four weeks. Volunteers live with host families in and around Cape Town.
6. Teach English to Children in China
Voluntourism adventures like this one provide volunteers with a bevy of benefits. Volunteers provide children in and around Shanghai, China a strong educational foundation by teaching them English. Volunteers themselves gain valuable experience working with children in a classroom environment. Volunteers are assigned to a Chinese kindergarten, grammar school, or special needs center. Days are spent teaching English and developing fun educational games and activities. Shared accommodations are provided for all volunteers, and free time can be spent enjoying the surrounding region.
7. Spend Time With Children
Africa, Asia, Europe, South America
If spending time with children is what you envision your voluntourism experience to entail, then this adventure offered by Projects Abroad may be just what you’re looking for. Volunteers spend their days working in a kindergarten or daycare center for children from disadvantaged areas. Days are spent caring for young children, organizing games, and generally supporting the safe care of children. Volunteers can choose to take on this childcare project in a variety of countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
8. Help Protect Lions and Giraffes in Kenya
Thanks to Projects Abroad, aspiring conservationists can travel to Kenya to work closely with the Soysambu Conservancy, an organization committed to closely monitoring endangered lions and Rothschilds giraffes in order to save the species. Volunteers stay in shared accommodations in the conservancy itself, and spend their days working with experienced scientists and conservationists. Tasks include:
- monitoring herds
- removing potentially dangerous plants from the landscape
- building watering holes for the local wildlife.
9. Do Conservation Work in the Galapagos Islands
If we caught your attention with conservation, then consider this voluntourism adventure also offered by Projects Abroad. Volunteers spend time working closely with scientists and conservationists at Galapagos National Park in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. These islands are world famous for their incredible biodiversity, which has become threatened in recent years due to invasive species and human impact. Volunteers will spend their days conducting wildlife surveys, caring for Giant Tortoises and sea lions, planting trees, and more. Projects Abroad remains the only volunteer organization allowed to work within the park, making this conservation-themed voluntourism adventure quite the experience.
10. Help Protect Marine Life in Thailand
It’s one thing to scuba dive in beautiful Thailand. It’s another thing altogether to scuba dive in Thailand while helping local conservation efforts. Projects Abroad’s Marine Conservation Project allows budding marine conservationists to work closely with those dedicated to preserving Thailand’s fragile marine ecosystem. Volunteers spend the first week of their adventure learning to scuba dive and earning their PADI diving certificate. Subsequent weeks are spent conducting underwater surveys, taking part in coral propagation initiatives, and planting forests of mangrove. Volunteers work mostly in Ao Nang, where they live with other volunteers in comfortable bungalows. Free time can be spent enjoying the region’s stunning beaches, trekking to nearby islands, and experiencing all that Thailand has to offer.
11. Help Protect and Study Lemurs in Madagascar
Madagascar remains one of the world’s few natural paradises. Indeed, 90% of the country’s animal species and 89% of its plant species are endemic to Madagascar, meaning they’re not naturally found anywhere else in the world. One such species is the lemur, and the lemurs and their environment need protecting. This is where the voluntourists of Projects Abroad’s Rainforest Conservation program come in. Volunteers work with local conservationists to remove trash from areas populated by lemurs and other wildlife, collect data, and organize community initiatives focused on sustainable living. Voluntourists will stay near the project headquarters in the small town of Andasibe.
12. Play a Vital Role in the Conservation of Sharks
Sharks are one of the most endangered species on Earth, but voluntourists can travel to Fiji with Projects Abroad to help save them. This project teams up with conservationists and marine biologists from Project AWARE and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). This allows those wanting to help save sharks to do so in a safe manner. Volunteers begin their project commitment by becoming certified in scuba diving. They then take on such tasks as feeding, identifying, and tagging sharks. Accommodations are based near Fiji’s Pacific Harbour and are shared with other shark-loving volunteers.
13. Volunteer With Buddhist Novice Monks in Laos
Laos is an Asian country much loved by travelers. It is known for its beautiful scenery and traditional culture that is both authentic and welcoming. Voluntourists interested in spending time in Laos can take part this unique adventure offered by GVI. Volunteers will travel to Luang Prabang, Laos’ ancient capital, where they will help teach English to Buddhist novice monks. During free time, volunteers can explore the many sights and experiences the local region has to offer.
14. Help Protect and Conserve Loggerhead Turtles
Budding conservationists and animal lovers can head to the western Peloponnese in Greece to help with the protection of the loggerhead turtles which make their home in the Bay of Kyparissia. GVI has teamed up with local conservation groups to aid in the conservation efforts. Voluntourists’ tasks include surveying the beaches for nest activity, then protecting found nests from predators and rising ocean tides. Educational workshops are also available.
15. Help Provide Much-Needed Healthcare in Nepal
GVI offers this voluntourism adventure through which volunteers can participate in much-needed health initiatives in Nepal. Volunteers will work in the town of Pokhara, where they’ll help facilitate daily hygiene practices and first aid workshops to the local community. When they’re not gaining first-hand experience in global public health, volunteers will find themselves immersed in Nepali culture and the country’s vast natural beauty.
16. Collect Data on Coral Reef Health
Voluntourists interested in the effects climate change has had on nature would do well to consider GVI’s Climate Change and Coral Bleaching in Seychelles voluntourism adventure. Participants will begin by earning their PADI Advanced Open Water and PADI Coral Reef Research Diver Speciality. Once that is done, they’ll contribute to coral rehabilitation and reef recovery research alongside an international team of researchers. On weekends, volunteers are free to enjoy the islands’ stunning beaches and warm, welcoming culture.
17. Volunteer With Children in the Mexican Caribbean
Through this voluntourism adventure offered by GVI, volunteers can travel to the Riviera Maya. Once there, they’ll work at a children’s center managed by the internationally recognized group Save the Children. Volunteers can practice their conversational Spanish while teaching local children the basics of reading and writing. During free time, volunteers are free to enjoy the local beaches, soak up the culture, and explore nearby sites.
18. Help Out on an Organic Farm in the Middle East
Thanks to Volunteer World, voluntourists interested in spending time in Egypt can do so by committing to working on an organic farm. Volunteer World has teamed up with Habiba Organic Farm, a family-owned farm located in a safe coastal area near the cities of Taba and Dahab. Helpers are most needed during the busy autumn tomato planting season, and work days typically consist of tasks like helping local farmers research organic farming methods, constructing and maintaining farm buildings, and sifting soil for the Sinai Palm Foundation. In the afternoons, volunteers can visit Dahab’s vibrant Sheikh Salim Market. Other free times can be spent in Cairo, St. Catherine, or the world-class snorkeling region that is Sharm el Sheikh.
19. Teach Sports to Kids in Rome
The wonderful thing about voluntourism is that there is something for good-hearted people with all sorts of interests, even sports! Volunteer HQ offers a one-of-a-kind voluntourism adventure in which sports-loving individuals can travel to Italy to teach soccer, rugby, or basketball to refugees and those with special needs. Volunteers must commit to a minimum of four weeks, during which time they’ll live and work in Italy’s capital city of Rome.
20. Business and Community Development in Jamaica
- Business-minded voluntourists are sure to fall in love with this unique opportunity offered by Volunteer HQ. Head to Jamaica where you’ll team up with local NGOs, charities, and businesses as a business mentor. Then use your business knowledge to help a local organization grow and succeed by offering guidance on topics like:
- business planning
- social media
- IT skills
- website design
- and much more
Volunteer HQ recommends this particular voluntourism adventure to self-driven individuals who have a business-related degree and/or applicable business experience.
21. Help Run an After-School Program in Cape Town
Keeping kids ages 10-16 off the streets and out of trouble is the primary goal of the Surf, Swim, and Skate project based in Cape Town, South Africa. Volunteers who sign up through Volunteer HQ will spend time living and working in the beautiful city of Cape Town. They’ll help out in this fun and popular after-school program by mentoring young children. They teach swimming, skating, or give surfing lessons. Volunteers also organize various other activities. This program is an incentive for its children, as only those who remain in school are allowed to participate in these fun activities. Volunteers who want to learn to surf also have the opportunity of taking a weekly surf lesson.
22. Identify Rainforest Reptiles
Costa Rica is known worldwide for its lush rainforests and the myriad reptilian species which call it home. On this voluntourism adventure offered by GVI, voluntourists can experience this rainforest on a whole new level. They’ll head to Tortuguero National Park, where they’ll work with local conservationists. Tasks include conducting nighttime beach surveys and recording evidence of sea turtles, monitoring camera traps in search of jaguars, and observing and identifying various amphibians and reptiles in their natural habitats.
23. Help with Childcare in Cartagena
Life in Colombia is improving, thanks in small part to the various childcare initiatives popping up around the country and serving children ages newborn to 18. To help ease the workload of the busy local workers, Volunteer HQ runs a voluntourism program meant to assist these caregivers. Volunteers live and work in the beautiful city of Cartagena. They spend their days in various childcare centers (including one center specifically for children with cancer). They provide care and attention to children through lessons, story times, games, and even meals.
24. Prepare for Carnaval!
Experiencing Carnaval in Brazil is on many people’s bucket lists, but this voluntourism adventure offered by Volunteer HQ allows voluntourists to experience Carnaval from an entirely new perspective. Head to Brazil before Carnaval (which takes place 46 days before Easter). You’ll help with such preparations as making costumes, building floats, and choreographing dances and music, among other things. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert at dancing or sewing to take part. During their free time, volunteers can learn Portuguese and explore the local area. This program is available to volunteers October through February.
25. Help with Environmental Sustainability in New Orleans
In many ways, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and dealing with the overwhelming task of environmental sustainability. Voluntourists interested in issues relating to climate change, the environment, and urban sustainability are sure to find value in this project offered by Volunteer HQ. As a volunteer, you’ll live and work in the heart of New Orleans, where days will be spent:
- working in community gardens and parks
- restoring wetlands
- working with local organizations on disaster management plans
Volunteers are also left with plenty of free time to enjoy the city and surrounding areas.
26. Participate in Rhino Poaching Awareness Efforts
South Africa is home to myriad threatened species, including the critical black rhinoceros and the near threatened white rhinoceros. On this voluntourism adventure offered by GVI, volunteers will join an international team of conservationists working in the Karongwe private nature reserve, situated just an hour away from Kruger National Park. From here, volunteers will:
- learn about the many animals living in this region of South Africa
- discover how to track animal movements
- master radio telemetry techniques
- attend lectures about the impact poaching has had on the country.
27. Teach Women Ages 20-50 in Kerala
We’ve included a number of child-centered teaching opportunities on our list of voluntourism adventures, but this one is a little bit different. Instead of teaching children, this Volunteer HQ program requires the teaching of women primarily aged 20-50. Volunteers in the Women’s Education Project will head to Kerala in India. They’ll work with women who are eager to learn English and develop basic skills. With the help of volunteers, these women are often able to promote their skills in things like tailoring and jewelry to make a small income and provide for a better future.
28. Help with Food Outreach in Brussels
Belgium has wholeheartedly taken on the task of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, and voluntourists interested in aiding this venture can help out in the area of food outreach. Volunteer HQ’s Food Outreach project connects those willing to help with various soup kitchens and community centers in the areas in and around Brussels. The main tasks of a volunteer include:
- distributing and serving meals
- cooking and cleaning
- packing meals
Volunteers also get to interact with those receiving the meals, offering support and friendship.
29. Assist at a Cat Shelter in Rome
Stay in Italy and work with cats? Sign us up! The Animal Care project at Volunteer HQ offers volunteers the opportunity to head to Rome, where they can work with local rescues and shelters to help protect the city’s hundreds of stray cats. Tasks will include assisting with medical treatments and playing with cats that have been abandoned to the streets. Volunteers will also help with taking care of the shelter itself, promoting pet adoptions, and helping with fundraising via social media.
30. Promote Economic Development in Fiji
GVI offers this voluntourism adventure in which participants are given the chance to work in traditional villages in Fiji. They’ll work alongside local partners and community members as they help to grow the economic viability of the region. Examples of tasks include:
- developing vegetable garden projects
- working with locals to create handicrafts
- teaching local groups about marketing efforts, among other things.
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