Volunteer Vacations, are they for me? If you like experiencing life without all the tourist hype and love to get your hands dirty, then I would say yes they are.
It is perfectly possible to visit some of the most exotic, and beautiful places in the world without spending a fortune and enjoying a holiday that makes a difference as part of your frugal living plan.
By taking a working vacation, you help could be helping a very good cause or just helping the local economy and all on a shoestring budget.
By volunteer vacations, I don't mean a placement for months at a time, but a short break, from a weekend to two weeks, either short or long haul, where, for the cost of a little work, the overall expense is reduced, in some cases drastically.
There is the added advantage that you get a much richer experience of the place you are visiting than the tourist on an often overpriced package holiday may do.
You can still pick your destination, though your selection is a little bit more limited since you're choosing only from areas where working holidays are being offered. Still though, if you want to experience Australia, look for working holiday opportunities in Sydney or Brisbane. Chances are you can find a vacation opportunity that will cost you little more than the flight to Brisbane, and some programs may even help you with the flight.
Does this all sound a little risky? - Not at all these days, there are many specialist travel agents well experienced in providing volunteer vacations, with all the safety precautions taken into consideration and checked out before hand.
It does require a little thought and planning on your part, though. Obviously, there's no point in volunteering to dig ditches if you have a back problem, or volunteering to do something you really wouldn't enjoy. After all this is meant to be a holiday.
Also, it does help if you have a specific skill. But that doesn't necessarily mean eight years of medical school or a degree in horticulture, just being fluent in English is a sought after skill, for instance.
There are lots of websites out there that can find you the perfect frugal living vacation; here is a selection of some of the longer established organisations:
The Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org) specialise in environmental placements. They have teamed up with Travelocity (http://leisure.travelocity.com) to offer grants to qualifying volunteers, which could cut the price of your vacation even further.
Global Vision International(www.gviusa.com) is a very well organised site; it has sections for U.S., U.K., Irish and Australian volunteers.
They specialize in placements of one week or more, and at any one time have over 100 different projects to choose from.
These are mainly long haul. The support given to volunteers by GVI is excellent, and they are on hand to help 24 hours a day in the unlikely event that you run into any problems, however minor.
The volunteer has to organize their own airfares, insurance, and in some instances, transfers from the destination airport.
United Planet (www.unitedplanet.org) again specialise in long haul volunteering vacations. Again they have hundreds of projects to choose from. They also have a useful section on obtaining sponsorship, which can help cut the cost of your vacation even further. Their fees do not include airfares.
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com) have a volunteering option where it is possible to take a few days out of a leisure holiday to take part in a volunteering opportunity. They also have options of taking a few days out in the U.S. to help with different projects in a range of areas. This is useful for planning short breaks.
Depending where you live, there are any numbers of country-based charities offering vacations for volunteers, for example:
The American Hiking Association (www.americanhiking.org) offers opportunities to mend trails, provide visitor facilities - ideal for outdoor types.
The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) offers a range of activities in the U.K., from painting lighthouses, to stewarding in Stately Homes. If history is your bag, then these are excellent.
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