Don’t just complain about the state of the world. Do something about it!
Sometimes the scariest thing these days is waking up in the morning to see what new horror is on the news. There’s one remedy: Go on vacation! But not just any vacation—one that makes a difference in the world. Here are some enticing possibilities.
Top Picks for You
Help Rescue Farm Animals
WHERE: Watkins Glen, Finger Lakes, New York
Frank the runaway bull escaped the slaughterhouse with the help of none other than Jon Stewart and is living happily ever after at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. You can visit him, as well as multicolored dyed chicks that escaped an Easter nightmare, pigs, turkeys, and other rescued farm animals, each with a special story (the nonprofit has another location in California and another slated to open in New Jersey in 2019). The best thing to do is spend the night for the chance to submerge yourself in farm issues and learn about the devastating effects of factory farming on animals. It’s enough to make you want to become a vegetarian.
INSIDER TIPIf you can’t make it to the farm, you can spy on several different views of really cute animals in the sheep barn, cow pasture, and elsewhere via live cam.
Collect Alms With Monks
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
Before dawn every day, no matter what the weather or temp, Thai monks in Bangkok’s temple district head out on their rounds in an ancient ritual. They aren’t allowed to ask for alms, but locals know the only way the monks will eat for the day is with a little help. And so they call the monks softly, giving them a spoonful of rice or curry in their tin alms bowls. In this rare experience, you join the monks on their morning rounds and then share the morning meal, taking note of their humility and unspoken bond between the laity and spiritual communities. It’s a serene escape from pressing world issues, a simple ritual that makes the world a better place.
Other opportunities with Withlocals: Withlocals connects travelers with locals, with options including enjoying a dinner cooked by Syrian refugees in Berlin (with proceeds going directly to resettled families); attending the Mepantigan Balinese Mud Games in Ubud; and undertaking a Bojo River Eco-Tour in Cebu, Philippines.
Study Killer Whale Behavior
WHERE: Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland
Few joys are greater than scanning the icy cobalt-blue waters with your binoculars, searching, searching … and then you spot the spout or flume, indicating the presence of orca whales. On this program, you will help scientists track and record the behavior of these incredible behemoths, as well as help collect small samples of skin and blubber to record their diet and other data. The hope is that by learning more about the population and feeding patterns, scientists can better understand potential threats and help protect them.
Other opportunities with Earthwatch: Study wildlife on the Mongolian steppe; investigate threats to bees and butterflies in Costa Rica; or help unearth ancient Angkor secrets in Cambodia.
Attack Human Rights Issues Head-on
WHERE: Accra, Ghana
Ghana has a stable government, but there are still societal issues here (as anywhere) that need addressing, including domestic violence, child labor, and the right to an education. Getting involved at a grassroots level, you will be monitoring associate facilities or activities and offering assistance, whether it’s sourcing funding, providing additional personnel, or simply making recommendations. Each case is different. They’re all important.
Other opportunities with Projects Abroad: Work with school children in dramatic arts in Romania, help small entrepreneurs start their businesses in Cambodia, or care for stray dogs or cats in Belize.
Assist Local Nurses and Doctors
WHERE: Cusco, Peru
International Volunteer HQ
You never know what your shift may bring when you’re volunteering with Cusco’s low-income clinics and hospitals, maybe watching the joyful birth of a baby or being caught up in the throes of a trauma clinic. You’ll observe doctors, talk with patients, and pitch in as you can. To partake in this program, you need to be qualified in a relevant medical field (whether it’s as a professional or student). Spanish is also a plus (and you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice!).
Other opportunities with International Volunteer HQ: Share everyday life with a family in a small rural Andean village; coordinate holiday parties for underprivileged kids in Cusco; or help reforest native plant species to the Amazon jungle.
Take Care of a Trail
WHERE: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
American Hiking Society
If you’re helping to repair trail tread and drainage systems and reconstructing staircases and boardwalks, you might as well do it in one of the world’s most gorgeous places. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area comprises a network of national parks, monuments, and historic sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. Your spirit will soar as you toil surrounded by ancient redwoods, rocky shorelines, and breathtaking Pacific Ocean vistas—and you’ll be helping the environment in the process.
Other opportunities with American Hiking Society: Trail stewardship in Vermont’s Groton State Forest and helping rebuild the island of hurricane-ravaged St. John in Virgin Islands National Park.
Visit the Elderly
WHERE: Quito, Ecuador
Brighten a senior’s day by helping to cook, read, go on a walk, or play a game. You will be meeting some of Quito’s most marginalized people residing in a senior center, many of whom have been abandoned by their families. Just by spending time with them, giving a piece of yourself, you will make a difference. Guaranteed. The program runs between one week to 12 weeks.
Help Kids Learn English
WHERE: Rabat, Morocco
Many kids from impoverished homes can’t afford to go to fancy schools to learn English or French, leaving them with less opportunity to break the poverty cycle. This program gives them that opportunity—and the chance to get ahead. You’ll work with a local teacher at first, then, as you get comfortable, move into your own lesson plans. A, B, C has never been so fun.
Feed the Homeless
WHERE: Paris, France
Serve the City Paris
Every city faces poverty, even the City of Light. So the next time you’re passing through Paris, volunteer to stand on a street corner and hand out meals to the less fortunate. Or distribute groceries. Or find another way to help. A good place to start, especially if you don’t speak French, is the Serve the City Paris, which keeps track of volunteer opportunities and humanitarian needs throughout the year. They can hook you up.
Work on a Kibbutz
WHERE: Farm 106, Israel
Help pick and prune olive trees on a kibbutz (a communal village of 400 people) in central Israel, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. You will learn how olives are grown and how some of the world’s most delicious olive oil is made (and get to sample it, of course). A simple mid-morning meal is shared in the grove, but you are obliged to cook your own dinners.
Other Opportunities with Wwoof: WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) offers experiences around the world to work on a farm or local business in exchange for accommodations and some food. You can tend vines on a vineyard in Turkey, work on a farm in Japan, and learn how to sustainably grow mushrooms in Canada.
Work With Children Affected by HIV/AIDS
WHERE: Arusha, Tanzania
A Broader View Volunteers
HIV/AIDS is a reality in many places around the world, including this city that serves as a jumping-off point for safaris. On this program, you will help a home in a rural community outside town that supports HIV/AIDS-afflicted children. You will also be involved with helping promote HIV education, health, and hygiene, as well as delivering food and medicine. You may also accompany kids for appointments at health clinics.