There has been an explosive growth in what is often referred to as "volun-tourism" over the past several years, and with good reason. Combining travel with volunteering allows you to lend a helping hand to those in need while discovering a whole new place – the best of two fulfilling worlds. Wherever your interests lie – animals, youth outreach, human rights, community development, health care, education, preserving culture and heritage, literacy or conserving the environment, there will be an opportunity that best suits your skill set. You can start by figuring out where in the world you want to go and then finding a volunteer opportunity in that area, or first deciding on the type of volunteering you'd like to do and then finding out where it's offered.
Do your research: Read up on tour operators and volunteer organizations before you book to ensure they are reputable. Type the name of the company or organization into Google to see what comes up. If in doubt, move on. You can also consult travel forums like Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Travel to ask if anyone has any feedback about the trips you're thinking of going on.
Know what you're getting into: A lot of volunteer opportunities take place in more remote parts of the world, or in more rustic settings (i.e., definitely not the Hilton) so find out before you go where you'll be staying and under what conditions.
Take it seriously: Even though you're on a vacation, you have also signed up to help out. Take your new responsibilities seriously so you get the most out of the experience.
If you've always wanted to learn a new language, why not do it in a country where that language is spoken? You'll have a lot more fun and likely learn faster, not to mention have the opportunity to explore a new place. Where you go and how long you spend there depends on how much time you have and where in the world you'd like to be.
Step out of the hotel room and into someone else's home for anywhere from two weeks to a year (or more). House-sitting offers a unique opportunity to get to know another country in way that you can't do when you're in a hotel or resort. There are several websites where you can look for house-sitting opportunities around the world. Most of these sites have a nominal yearly fee and allow you to create a profile outlining what skills and experience you would bring to a house-sitting assignment. Important skills to highlight include being generally handy around the house (you can repair something if it breaks), whether or not you drive, if you can do some light gardening, if you like animals (often people looking for house-sitters also need someone to care for their pets).
Wherever you want to go, there are likely potential house-sitting opportunities available. You can usually search by country and/or amount of time you want to spend abroad.
All three sites allow you to peruse opportunities for free but you have to be a member to contact the owners. Before you agree to anything, make sure you know exactly what's expected of you, whether or not you're willing to take on certain responsibilities (for example, feeding farm animals or walking multiple dogs) and agree on any extra expenses (Internet, utilities, etc.).
Group adventure tours are a great way to see the world and often take you through multiple cities or even countries, depending on how long you book for and what type of trip you've chosen. The benefit of a trip like this is that once you've signed up and paid, everything is taken care of from food to lodging to transport between stops. All you have to do is show up and enjoy the experience. Some reputable companies to choose from, which offer small-group tours almost anywhere in the world include:
Before you go, think about whether you'll be traveling alone, as a couple or as a family. Most tour companies offer a wide variety of trips to accommodate various tastes, interests and levels of adventure.
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