Ethical volunteering (Diane Priestly)
Article Words : Team Wanderlust | 06 March

The Wanderlust guide to the best of volunteering

How to put something back into the places you visit by volunteering or conservation work

Volunteering comes in many guises: it could be developmental volunteering, where you work with local communities – maybe teaching, building schools, running clinics or generally using your time and skills to benefit the people of a particular region.

Conservation volunteering is another option, helping to protect a species or environment. This could range from studying meerkats in the Kalahari to recording the coral growth on a Thai reef or counting tiger pugmarks in the forests of India. You may need biology or research skills, or you could just offer your enthusiasm to help with data collection or trail maintenance.

No matter what type of volunteering project you choose, our experts are on hand to ensure that it is as fulfilling and rewarding as it can be.

Kid chasing bubbles (Mark Sowden)

Looking for inspiration?

Fancy a stint volunteering on your career break? Or are you keen to help out on a conservation project? Perhaps you want to take the whole family? There are so many worthwhile projects you can contribute to ­– and in so many different parts of the world ­– that the most difficult decision is where to start. May we suggest our Complete Guide to Volunteering?

Whatever you choose to do, Thidara Udomoritkul guarantees one thing: volunteering is a sure-fire way to fast-track a truly cultural experience.

More information

The complete guide to volunteering – Wanderlust Team

Volunteer on your career break – Charlotte Hindle

Conservation holidays – William Gray

Family travel: volunteering travel – William Gray

How to fast track a truly cultural experience – Thidara Udomritkul

Sun Bear (

Sun Bear (

Inspiring examples

Still not sure what kind of volunteer or conservation project you want to get involved in? Fear not. Here’s a selection of first-hand accounts about real-life projects that will give you a real sense of what is involved and what you can reasonably hope to achieve.

Ed Stocker taught English on the Book Bus in Ecuador, a British-run project operating a mobile library that travels around the country getting kids excited about reading through drama, games and drawing. Suzie March was inspired to help after visiting a Moon Bear rescue centre in Chengdu. And Mark Sowden ended up sore but satisfied after volunteering on an ActionAid project in Nepal, building houses for former bonded labourers.

Feeling a little more audacious? Then you’ll want to read how Rosie Ponting helped to organise a music festival in Malawi!

More information

Volunteering: Teaching English on the Book Bus in Ecuador – Ed Stocker

How you can rescue a Moon Bear – Suzie March

Who's the boss? Building houses for former bonded labourers – Mark Sowden

How I helped organise an African music festival – Rosie Ponting

Sustainable fishing project (Wanderlust magazine)

How to be an ethical volunteer

Ideally, volunteering while you travel is as rewarding for those helped as for the one helping. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some projects, however well-intentioned, end up doing more harm than good. And then there are the  unscrupulous companies that have sprung up to take advantage of the altruism of travellers to line their own pockets.

Whether you believe voluntourism is a good thing or bad, make sure you read Joe Bindloss’s guide to being an ethical volunteer before you decide what kind of project you want to get involved in.

More information

Voluntourism: Help or hindrance? – Dan Linstead

Is voluntourism doing any good? Yes! – Adrian Yalland

Is volunteerism doing any good? No! – Dr Kate Simpson

How to be an ethical volunteer – Joe Bindloss

Helping in Malawi (Duncan Yearly)

Practical advice

OK. You’ve decided where you want to go and the kind of project you want to help. It’s time to tackle some of the more practical aspects of your big volunteering trip.

Increasingly, many volunteers are expected to raise money – either to pay for their trip or to contribute to a related charity. Fundraising doesn’t come naturally to many, and with that in mind The Adventurists offer 6 gold-plated tips for raising money for worthy causes.

Then there is the question of what to pack. Francesa Camporeale reveals the 7 things you must stow in your pack.

As with anything, forewarned is forearmed. Diane Priestly shares the things they don’t tell you about volunteering. And Dan Linstead gives sage advice on how to best deal with the culture shock of pitching up somewhere and offering to help.

More information

Volunteering adviceWanderlust Team

6 tips for raising money for your charity adventure – The Adventurists

7 things to pack a volunteering trip – Francesca Camporeale

What they don't tell you about volunteering – Diane Priestly

Volunteering: dealing with culture shock – Dan Linstead

Book bus Ecuador (Ed Stocker)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Volunteer and Conservation Guide is the place to start. Our list of Volunteer and Conservation Recommendations is also worth checking out if you're still having trouble deciding where to go.

If you have a particular question about volunteering, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about volunteering. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Volunteer and Conservation travel guideWanderlust Team

Volunteer and Conservation travel recommendationsWanderlust Team

Conservation volunteering: Know before you go – Alex Kendall

MyWanderlust Forum

Forum posts about volunteering and conservation

Sunset in Malawi (Rosie Ponting)

Ready to go?

Here's a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. You may also want to check out our article on 6 volunteering trips in the UK and Laura Hartstone’s about the trips offered by the Peak Foundation.

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