Volunteer and conservation


Overview

Volunteer and conservation travel guide, including info on voluntourism, how to give back on your travels, how to get started with travel volunteering and more

A growing number of travellers are looking to contribute to the communities and areas they visit by doing some volunteering.

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.

For instance, you could use your nursing qualifications to work at a hospital in Malawi, transport your admin experience to an aid office in Indonesia, or lend your muscle to rebuild homes after a catastrophic earthquake.

Conservation volunteering is another option, involving you 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.

The main thing to remember when considering a volunteer placement is: do your research. Whether you chose to go on a pre-arranged trip with a volunteer agency or whether you find a placement independently, ask lots of questions so that you are satisfied the project you will be working on is legitimate and actually helpful to the local place and people.

Placements vary massively in time scale – you might tag three days of litter collection onto a trek in Morocco or devote two years to running a school in Peru.

They also vary in cost – some will be expensive ventures, others may pay you a small fee. But such variety in duration, theme, location and remuneration means that there’s a perfect volunteering experience out there for everyone.

Further Reading

Top 10 volunteering trips

Here are a few ideas – including specific projects as well as bigger themes – to help inspire your volunteering 'career'

  1. Conserve the rare giant tortoises, Seychelles – it's work, honest... A placement on the idyllic Indian Ocean island is perfect for wildlife-buffs (and sunseekers), though consider how you will feel living so remotely for a long period.
  2. National Trust, UK – volunteer in the UK at one of the NT's network of historic houses and gardens, a great way to get into volunteering to see if it's for you.
  3. Ko Chang, Thailand – snorkel and dive to help the coral and reef-life of Asia. Tasks might include laying underwater transects and recording data – good for those who are keen to volunteer but have little scientific research experience.
  4. Special litter collection trips – some placements need no skill, just man-power. Tour operators often run special itineraries that combine sightseeing and rubbish collection: perhaps involving picking up litter on the banks of the Nile, Egypt, or clean-up treks to Everest Base Camp, Nepal. 
  5. The Gambia – if you don't have time to volunteer, visit and donate to reserves already doing good work; one example is the inspirational chimpanzee reserve in the remote interior of the Gambia.
  6. Disaster relief – if you want to help more spontaneously, and have some flexibility, look out for agencies that coordinate relief efforts in the aftermath of natural disasters.
  7. Voluntary Services Overseas – a VSO placement is generally two years, and allows you to use your skills to benefit a community in the long term. It's a big commitment, but means you really make a difference on the ground.
  8. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia – go out on an anti-poaching walking safari with the local rangers to see the work they do to safeguard the local wildlife.
  9. Take a TEFL – get a Teach English as a Foreign Language qualification and then head abroad to work in a local school or community; opportunities abound, from Central America to Japan, and you may get paid for your work.
  10. Find your own – in the course of travelling you may find a local project or charity that you'd like to get involved with. There is no harm in asking around on the ground if you feel inspired to help – just do some research first to make sure it is legit.