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Ever thought of taking a break from taking a break? When you next have time off, instead of heading someplace sunny and fun to sit by the pool, why not radio tag lynx and wolves in the Carpathians? Or help maintain America’s hiking trails? One of travel’s most promising trends is the volunteer vacation — or “voluntourism” — a chance to get away and also contribute to some wonderful ongoing community efforts.

As with any meaningful personal project, it’s important to do your research and choose wisely before embarking on a volunteer vacation. There can be problems with this type of “helping,” especially in the developing world. Fortunately, with a little research, it’s not too difficult to ascertain which companies offering volunteer projects abroad are reliably producing the outcomes their advertising promises. You’ll have to look around to find the right fit for you, but here are a few of the most enticing opportunities we dug up.

Hiking Trail Stewardship

The American Hiking Society                                       

We’ll stay close to home with our first option: the American Hiking Society, which operates wide-ranging volunteer programs for people willing to make various levels of commitment. The AHS website lists numerous ways interested individuals can become involved, be it hosting a trail crew, serving on a maintenance team, or even leading a stewardship group. The crews vary in number from six to 15 volunteers and are managed by a crew leader. As on trips through Sweden’s King’s Trail, groups hike between basic accommodations. Trails are maintained or built as the group progresses and a 2016 review of the program’s achievements reflected almost 300 miles of trail built and maintained as well as more than half a million dollars in volunteer time.

Photo credit: Janne Ehrukainen (@jannealeksiehru)

Tracking Wild Animals                                     

Biosphere Expeditions

Biosphere Expeditions is a non-profit that seeks to advance wildlife conservation in far-flung locales like Slovakia, Oman, and Kyrgyzstan. Projects range from coral reef conservation, to tracking lynx, wolves, and bears, and even spotting snow leopards. There are no special skills required, and programs like these side step many of the problematic aspects of voluntourism.

There are two Slovakian trips planned for early- to mid-February, and they will convene in Bratislava before heading for a thinly inhabited section of the Carpathian Mountains. The teams are international and are based in cozy chalets where they assist local scientists tracking and tagging large carnivores in snowy conditions. Lynx, bears and wolves oh my! Sounds like paradise to you? Grab your performance sweaters and meet us in Bratislava.

Advancing Research Abroad

Earthwatch Institute

Billing its clients as “citizen scientists” Earthwatch runs programs across the globe. Experience shoppers can peruse offerings by date, location, participant age (teen or adult), or research type. The discipline options are: archeology & culture, oceans, climate change, and wildlife & ecosystems. Each field focus includes projects that will captivate a variety of travel audiences. The participating studies are evaluated for safety and relevance before being accepted and are re-visited annually to ensure their work continues to be meaningful. (Case studies are available online.) Earthwatch programs include everything from re-wilding the Scottish Highlands to studying orcas off the coast of Iceland and more.

Have you tried mixing volunteering with travel? What were your most meaningful experiences? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: @reloutandabout

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