Volunteer Vacations; helping the world around you!

The personal benefits of a vacation are well known; they can reduce stress, rekindle a relationship, and rejuvenate your body and mind. But your vacation can also benefit the world around you. If you do a little deeper searching, one can find many 'volunteer vacations' across the country and world that offer many opportunities to study the environment, preserve the landscape, or help those in need. The key to a successful volunteer vacation is being realistic about your desires and abilities. Knowing what you want out of the trip will not only make it more enjoyable for you, but it will also eliminate the possibility of you being stuck in a tent for a week dreaming of a warm shower and running water.  Find areas and subject matters that are important to you: do you want to help injuired animals, preserve a favorite park, build a home or study the artic?  Whatever the choice, know that offering your time can be fun and enjoyable, all while making a difference in this world

1. Repair Trails in the Montana Wilderness

There's no more intimate way than to explore the wilderness of Montana than by helping to build and maintain trails there. You can volunteer for as little as one day or weekend, or spend a week backpacking in the Western Montana wilderness. Volunteers clear and maintain trails during the day and have plenty of time to bond with campmates at night, during meals cooked together chatting over the bonfires. Overnight trips require a refundable deposit and volunteers must bring their own gear — but the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation does not charge for its volunteer trips. Most meals are provided, too. And the best part, all ages are welcome.Check out upcoming trips at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation Website.

2. Study Climate Change in the Artic

By monitoring the ecosystem, you'll see that climate change is most visible at the Edge of the Arctic, as EarthWatch calls this expedition. Volunteers are stationed near Canada's Churchill river, near the geographical center of the North American continent. From the tundra to the forests, volunteers measure snowpack, monitor plant development and, during downtime, even learn how to build an igloo. (Your own accommodations will be a little warmer: Volunteers stay in modern dormitories.) Your research will be used by scientists to monitor ecosystem responses to global warming. There are trips scheduled for end of 2010 through 2011. The price is $3,050. Find out about more EarthWatch volunteer vacations.

3. Help Preserve Cheetahs in Namibia

Having been to Namibia, this one is dear to my heart. While I did not see a cheetah, I did see leopards, another endagered animal. To participate in this project, you won't have to keep up with the speedy cheetahs (which can dash at speeds over 70 miles per hour). You just help save them from local extinction in Namibia. EarthWatch volunteers are based in Eland's Joy, the headquarters of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. This area is the last stronghold of the wild cheetah, so it's the perfect place to conduct wildlife surveys, feed and care for captive cheetahs and spread the word about cheetah conservation to the local people. Learn more about volunteer expeditions at EarthWatch.org.

4. Sail the Sloop Clearwater

The Sloop Clearwater is more than a replica of a Dutch ferry; it's the flagship of the environmental movement on the Hudson River. Forty one years old, the sloop works to educate school children about water quality issues in the Hudson and beyond.  Volunteers can spend a week learning to sail, and helping the crew with everything from cooking meals to hoisting the sail to — of course, teaching children.Volunteers must be 16 years or older and be prepared for physical activity. The cost is $100, which covers all meals and admittedly cramped accommodations. For information about volunteering on board the sloop, and to download an application, visit clearwater.org.

5. Help Organic Farms Across the Country

Do you ever wonder where your organic food comes from? The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program gives you the opportunity to work at an organic farm in exchange for room and board. Don't worry if your farming experience is limited to visiting your local farmers' market; this program encourages the exchange of agricultural knowledge, so no previous farm experience is necessary. Once you've paid the annual fee for membership ($20), you can access a directory of more than 1,000 U.S. farms looking for volunteers — including farms in Alaska, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Typically, you'll be expected to work one half day in exchange for each night of room and board; most housing is indoors in your host family's farmhouse or in a nearby cabin. Join WWOOF or preview of some of the host farms on its Website.

Think to give back the next time your 2 weeks of vacation rolls around, our Mother Earth deserves it!

Learn more about Laura at Green with Envy Events

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