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A Real Working Vacation

Ah, vacation. Sugary beaches. Fruity drinks. Hammers and shovels . . .


More people are taking volunteer vacations, trading sweat equity for an unforgettable travel experience. They're building schools. Saving the environment. Protecting wildlife. Volunteers often work with locals, experiencing a culture firsthand. Want to get in on the action? Here's how.

Amizade Volunteer Programs

  • Internet
  • Goal — Help local communities while building cross-cultural friendships.
  • Sample Missions — Renovate a ranch in Yellowstone, build a school
    in Brazil, or help Australian aborigines plant an organic garden.
  • The Digs — Tent camping or dormitories.
  • Cool Perks — Outings—such as museum visits and history tours—are built into your expedition.

Baldan Baraivan Restoration Project

  • Internet
  • Goal — Restore an ancient Buddhist monastery in Mongolia.
  • Sample Missions — Help locals rebuild the monastery’s main temple.
  • The Digs — Traditional nomadic Mongolian homes, called gers.
  • Cool Perks — Live with the locals, sample Mongolian meals, and attend religious ceremonies.

Earthwatch Institute

  • Internet
  • Goal — Preserve natural resources and cultural heritage.
  • Sample Missions — Save snow leopards in Nepal, monitor global warming in Canada, or dig up a dinosaur in Wyoming.
  • The Digs — Range from college dorms to castles.
  • Cool Perks — Live out your National Geographic fantasies by working with scientists in remote areas most tourists never see.

Global Citizens Network

  • Internet
  • Goal — Promote peace, justice, and understanding of other cultures.
  • Sample Missions — Build a health clinic in Kenya, run a recycling center in Nepal, or work with Navajo in New Mexico to improve a local park.
  • The Digs — A community center or a family’s home.
  • Cool Perks — Get lessons in the native language and learn about the local culture from experienced project guides.

Habitat for Humanity

  • Internet
  • Goal — Build affordable housing for families in need.
  • Sample Missions — Build a home for a family anywhere from Pennsylvania to Papua New Guinea.
  • The Digs — Guest houses or modest hotels.
  • Cool Perks — Pick up construction skills and work alongside the family whose home you’re building.

Oceanic Society

  • Internet
  • Goal — Preserve marine wildlife in its natural habitat.
  • Sample Missions — Protect otters in Suriname or help save bottle-nosed dolphins off Belize’s coral reef.
  • The Digs — From primitive camps to beachfront cabanas.
  • Cool Perks — Work with field biologists conducting research that will benefit Mother Earth. Spend time off hiking, swimming, or snorkeling.

Sierra Club

  • Internet
  • Goal — Protect wilderness areas.
  • Sample Missions — Restore native vegetation at the Grand Canyon; repair trails on California’s Channel Islands.
  • The Digs — Research station dorms to condos.
  • Cool Perks — Learn about local environmental issues and go on guided minitrips.


This article was first published in March 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.