Volunteer Vacations: Getaways That Give Back
There’s no better souvenir than the smile on the face of someone you’ve helped. One new trend in travel, VolunTourism—volunteering your time during vacation—offers a deeper understanding of your destination and its people and lets you make a positive impact. We’re not talking about the Peace Corp here—these adventures offer luxury amenities and relaxation while you are giving back. It’s an alternative to a chaise-lounge observation vacation that will find you returning home with all of the usual treasures, trinkets and photographs; but also with a sense of personal fulfillment earned from making a difference.
These days there are plenty of programs that combine a luxury vacation with volunteer activities. Even Conde Nast Traveler has their World Savers Awards. We have scoured the world to find some of the most upscale opportunities that combine leisure with giving back. When planning your next holiday, why not consider one of these programs?
Relief Riders International (RRI) provides the adventure of a lifetime along with life-saving assistance. They lead relief missions on horseback through Rajasthan, India, providing medical supplies and aid to remote villages. A maximum of 12 riders embark on a 15-day journey to five remote villages in rural Rajasthan.
The route includes areas of great natural beauty, ancient villages and old forts, and is rich in culture and wildlife. The itinerary offers opportunities to experience the region’s unique cultural life, with performances of traditional dance and drumming and a chance to sample the region’s culinary specialties along the way. Accommodations include a hotel stay in Delhi, three nights in forts, a night in a haveli, a traditional Rajput villa, and tented encampments while on the road. Riders will average 20 – 30 miles a day, about three to five hours a day of riding at a comfortable pace, stopping for three meals per day.
In addition to providing medical care, RRI’s goal is to create meaningful interactions between travelers and local residents. At each village, riders will help to set up the medical camps, work with the Red Cross team, distribute books and other educational materials to local schools, or help to give goats to families in need. Since their inaugural Relief Ride in 2004, RRI has performed 10 Relief missions, developed five humanitarian/medical programs, and treated over 16,000 people, including 10,200 children. They were awarded the 2010 United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award for Small Business, which recognizes positive work to make a difference in the world.
Since its inception, Elevate Destinations has been providing one-of-a-kind personal trips for savvy travelers, often with a philanthropic focus. Choose from among their exotic destinations or let them customize a trip for you. Combine a Belize Eco-Immersion Tour with volunteer opportunities where you will experience hiking through the rainforest, river rafting, and exploring ancient jungle caves. This all-inclusive week includes stays at both inland and coastal locations. There are ample opportunities to incorporate short-term volunteering as part of this adventure.
The trip begins with a charter flight from Belize airport to a 130,000-acre private nature reserve in northwestern Belize. You will stay at Chan Chich, premier eco-lodge for experiencing nature, wildlife and ecology tourism. Located in the plaza of an ancient Maya city, surrounded by rainforest, the lodge offers twelve individual thatched-roof cabanas and a two-bedroom Villa. Spend a few days taking part in the on-site nature, wildlife and community tours. Some of the activities include horseback riding, canoeing, and presentations by local research scientists working on large cat and bat research.
Next, stay at Kanantik Reef & Jungle Belize Resort, an eco-sensitive, all-inclusive resort in Southern Belize on 300-acres of private, tropical land with 1,300 feet of private beach. The lodge has 25 individual air-conditioned cabanas, a restaurant, bar and pool. There are a wide variety of land-based nature, cultural and wildlife tours, as well as sea-based activities such as snorkeling, diving and fishing. Enjoy the world’s second largest coral reef or travel inland to visit the Cockscomb Jaguar reserve, Maya archaeology sites or experience river-canoeing and bird-watching. There are over 500 species of birds, manatee and jaguar to observe.
Community service activities can include meeting members of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) working in the area on land and marine ecology projects; a visit to a primary school in the Garifuna to learn about the people’s history from a local community leader, visit the museum, see casva bread made, and hear a local dance troupe and donate to local charities; or visit Maya communities in the Toldeo district and learn about fair trade cocoa production and how it is helping local communities. No matter which trip you take, proceeds will be donated to a Non-government organization (NGO) in that country. Elevate Destinations also offers hands-on “Urgent Service Travel” programs which train volunteers to be effective in situations requiring immediate help such as Haiti and the Gulf Coast. Other programs provide opportunities to help in the community in which you are vacationing.
Imagine spending the night in your own luxurious suite next to a river in a game reserve. You might awaken to find a giraffe nosing around your room, as one guest did. At the Faru Faru Lodge at Singita Game Reserves, Tanzania you’ll find amazing scenery and amenities such as pools, sundecks and spas all designed to blend in with the surroundings. Go out with guides on game drives to observe animals up close and have all of your meals provided in luxury. Enjoy an upscale safari experience characterized by barefoot elegance in a laid-back rustic setting at this riverside lodge.
The two rim-flow swimming pools echo the watering hole that lies just below. The elevated viewing decks over the watering hole allow guests to view game without even leaving their lodge, and a Swahili-inspired ‘beach’ offers the opportunity for some serious rest and relaxation. Stone and canvas meet cutting-edge design and comfortable furnishings in eight open-style suites and one Villa Suite. The Villa Suite is made up of two identical double bedrooms and a large shared lounge/dining area. The bedrooms are en-suite with a bath and outdoor shower.
When you stay at one of Singita’s Game Reserves you support their efforts to make a difference in local communities and protect the environment and wildlife. The founders created the Grumeti Reserve, the 350,000-acre reserve where the three eco-lodges are located, in the path of the annual Wildebeest migration. They have been active in building schools, providing micro-finance, supporting agricultural initiatives, and training people in conservation and hospitality. Conservation at each of the lodges includes dedicated teams whose sole focus is to preserve the land and to protect and increase wildlife through environmental care and anti-poaching. Guides are selected on the basis of their passion and knowledge of the bush to ensure guests have rich, educational and enjoyable experiences.
Experience the trip of a lifetime aboard a luxurious small cruise ship headed to Antarctica and learn about climate change first-hand. Travel in style as you enjoy luxury accommodations, fine dining and dramatic scenery. Abercrombie and Kent have been creating adventure travel for over a century without sacrificing luxury. They have developed philanthropic travel programs and have operated more than 150 expeditions in 20 years of Antarctic cruising. A&K cruises are led by top geologists, ornithologists, historians, wildlife photographers and marine biologists who give enriching lectures and provide hands-on guidance both on board and on shore, ranging from the practical (how to master your digital camera) to the personal (a first-hand account of overwintering on a remote sub-Antarctic island). Zodiac drivers are certified field naturalists who provide knowledgeable commentary on sights and wildlife on the twice-daily excursions that take guests into the heart of Antarctica.
A very small number of privileged guests have the rare opportunity to visit the Palmer Research Station (conditions permitting) to directly contribute scientific equipment used for climate change research on reversing the effects of global warming. A&K guests present the scientists with vitally needed equipment. A tour is led by Dr. James McClintock, noted Antarctic researcher and long-standing favorite of A&K’s Antarctica programs.
Abercrombie & Kent is committed to providing the most fulfilling and rewarding travel experiences in the world, while assuring guests that their journey helps to preserve some of the world’s most extraordinary places for future generations. A&K’s contributions were recognized at the Conde Nast Traveler World Savers Congress and earned the World Travel & Tourism Council Green Award for Corporate Social Leadership and the ASTA/Smithsonian Environmental Award. Antarctica trips are December 2010 and December 2011.
LUXURY HOTELS THAT GIVE BACK
Not ready for a weeklong volunteer vacation? What would you say to a luxury stay at a five-star resort with a half-day of volunteering thrown in? Many of our favorite brands have voluntourism programs; here are two signature properties with unusual opportunities that won’t take too much of your leisure time.
Fairmont Hotels has programs that allow guests to participate in a range of community services if they are so inclined. At the Fairmont Royal Pavilion in Barbados you can “Swim with the Turtles in Paradise.” The beaches at The Fairmont Royal Pavilion are popular nesting grounds for rare Hawksbill sea turtles. Working with the Barbados Turtle Project, the Royal Pavilion has set up a Turtle Patrol team to protect these precious nesting grounds and guests are invited to help collect data on the hatchlings. You’ll get up close and personal, swimming with the turtles and observing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat (available May-September). Barbados is known for its clear blue waters and soft, pink-sand beaches—a Mecca for scuba divers, windsurfers, and sun-worshippers. Rum, once a mainstay, is still produced on the island, but today Barbados is most famous for its outstanding beaches, world-class service and legendary resorts.
Ritz-Carlton Give Back Getaways are focused on hunger and poverty relief, the wellbeing of children and environmental conservation. Their Give Back Getaways programs are authentic volunteer experiences, unique to each destination and half a day in length. If you’re longing for an exotic trip, choose the Reforestation Project in Tenerife, Spain.
Tenerife, considered to be the Hawaii of Europe, is a volcanic area with a rich environmental heritage and vibrant landscape that is being compromised by erosion, fires, pollution and deforestation. Stay at Abama Golf & Spa Resort and experience the awe-inspiring beauty of this luxury hotel’s idyllic Tenerife location. Surrounded by lush vegetation and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean, the Abama resort in Guía de Isora offers guests more hours of sunshine than any other part of Spain, as well as convenient access to a world-class spa, championship golf and award-winning cuisine created by Chef Martin Berasategui.
Volunteer activities help to restore and maintain this beautiful natural environment. Experience breathtaking scenery on the drive to the forest, where you will learn more about the environment and participate in tree planting.
If you plan on taking an adventurous trip away from civilization consider travel insurance and medical insurance. SOS covers companies and individuals traveling out of country by providing international healthcare and medical assistance.
Gear up and Be Prepared: For adventure travel, you may need to have specialized clothing, footwear and gear. Ensure in advance that you have what you need. Check your destination’s website for FAQs to help you provision and prepare for your adventure. On a trip to the jungles of Panama one friend neglected to bring the basics: long pants, flashlight, mosquito repellent, and hiking shoes. Instead, he had shorts, flip flops and books—not helpful when dealing with critters, foliage, and rain.