Change Your View and Other Lives Too With Volunteer Vacations

482902_10200536274353607_1093409579_nYour next getaway could change more than your view. More travelers are finding a way to help others while exploring experiences and cultures through volunteer vacations. Social impact travel is growing in popularity for individuals seeking unique experiences and real connections with locals as they explore new communities. This type of vacation may be described as a cultural exchange, service adventure or educational tourism.

Volunteer vacations can also strengthen family bonds while working together to help others. Volunteer get away programs may offer opportunities to spend meaningful time as a team while learning new skills.

Travel adventures for a cause can involve some tropical paradises or exotic scenery, but require more planning than your typical vacation advises travel expert and author of Voluntourist, Ken Budd: “Taking a volunteer trip isn’t like spontaneously going to the beach. It requires a lot of homework and research. You want to find organizations that are meeting a legitimate need, and projects that need volunteer labor; not projects created to give volunteers something to do.”

Fall_Park_sheltephoto-1465940617394-6c04e5525665Finding a great volunteer vacation opportunity starts with being realistic about your desire and abilities for the adventure. Taking a good look at what you’d like to get out of the trip will decrease your chances of disappointment.

Think about what areas and subjects are important to you: Do you want to study climate change in Alaska, volcanic activity on a tropical island or preserve the campground where you vacationed as a child? Budd suggests you ask questions about a volunteer vacation adventure before packing your bags.

  • What is the volunteer work?

 

  • Who will benefit?

 

  • Who runs the volunteer programs?

 

  • Where does the money from program fees go?

 

  • May I contact previous volunteers about their experiences?

 

hotel.jpgMany volunteer vacation organizations will ask you to submit to a background check, particularly if you’re working with children. Others will want you to provide references or to write an essay on why you want to volunteer. When organizations don’t require some kind of registration that should be a warning sign.

There are many volunteer vacation opportunities close to home.  For example, public conservation trips combine service and vacation locations. These popular options combine living in national or state parks with service projects.Fall_lake_photo-1444492827838-96343b09c9af

The National Park Service offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals or groups to work behind the scenes or in front line positions at park locations throughout the United States, including the territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean. There are artist-in-residence programs at some parks for visual artists, writers, musicians, and other creative media.

Some volunteer adventures travel on the rails as Amtrak and the National Park Service are partners in an initiative to educate travelers on the heritage and natural resources of a specific region while traveling by rail. In 2017, there were 600 Trails & Rails volunteer guides who gave 43,000 hours of time to the program.

banner on VC2-croppedWildlife refuges are another popular option to volunteer and get away within the United States. Volunteer opportunities may be found at more than 500 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges and hatcheries. Volunteer conservation opportunities may include activities like wildlife photography, trail work, counting butterflies, banding birds, maintaining gardens and sprucing up buildings.

Volunteer vacationers often get access to parts of wildlife preserves and parks not open to the public. There is always have free time to enjoy the beautiful public lands they’re helping.

Whether your volunteer tourism takes you across your nation or around the world, it can change more than your view and teach you a lot about people and the places they call home.

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Bee a Nature Hero: 3 Easy Ways to Help Pollinators + Free Online Garden Resources

Bees and other pollinators are in trouble. Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

Have you spotted many butterflies this year? What about bees? Unfortunately, these pollinators are in trouble. Pollinators move from plant to plant while searching for protein-rich pollen or high-energy nectar to eat. As they go, they are dusted by pollen and move it to the next flower, fertilizing the plant and allowing it to reproduce and form seeds, berries, fruits and other plant foods that form the foundation of the food chain. Pollination is vital to the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink.Bees  are on the decline

Bees are the most obvious and recognized pollinators in nature. It came as a surprise to me that over 100,000 invertebrates also pollinate. These include butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles and even flies! Hummingbirds are among a thousand birds, mammals and reptiles also helping pollinate.

Vital pollinators on the decline

You can be a pollinator hero in many ways. Here are three easy ways to start.

  1. First, and perhaps the most obvious is through plants. Whether you’re a gardening novice with a small balcony or gardening veteran with a few acres; you may be able to help wildlife in your area. It is easy to plant varieties that will attract pollinators. For example, start with native plants. Native plants form the foundation of habitat for pollinators by providing them with pollen and nectar for food, cover from the elements and predators, and places where their young can grow. The best way to attract beautiful butterflies, busy bees, speedy hummingbirds and other pollinators is to fill your yard with native plants. There are some free resources to help at the end of this post.DB85E1D0CC
  2. Avoiding pesticides is not only good for your family and pets, it is the second great way to help pollinators.  Using insecticides will kill many pollinators. Herbicides will kill important native plants such as milkweed that pollinators rely upon as a food source and a place to raise young. Make the commitment to avoid using chemicals and to maintain your garden in a natural, organic way. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has ten times more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are creating a healthier place for your family and community.10494643_10207078779912157_3907921197852980798_n
  3. The third easy step is to help protect our grasslands to aid pollinators. America’s native grasslands are critically important for pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies. Our grasslands are filled with native plants that offer nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a wide variety of pollinators. They also provide milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars. Today, more than 90 percent of native grasslands have been converted to cropland and development. Grasslands are disappearing faster than any other ecosystem in North America, and that’s a big problem for pollinators. Planting milkweed to attract butterflies will give you enjoyment as you help pollinators.

Businesses and community groups can get involved in this effort to help pollinators. One non-profit in Saint Louis is working to provide a living landscape for birds and other wild animals. The Animal Protective Association of Missouri or APA Adoption Center is part of the growing trend to garden for wildlife in landscaping as a way to care for wildlife as well as the pets brought to the facility.

The Missouri Botanical Gardens offers many free resources online to help with native gardens. You can find them by clicking on A Guide to Native Landscaping in Missouri 11078212_10204083286547347_1748544961633585133_n
A national native online plant guide can be accessed by clicking on American Beauty Native Plants. 

The National Federation for Wildlife or NWF offers many free resources for gardening to benefit pollinators and wildlife. The NWF is joining with dozens of conservation and gardening organizations as well as seed groups to form the National Pollinator Garden Network. Spreading the word through social media and helping educate others is a great way to be a pollinator hero too.

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Volunteer Trips Make a Difference Abroad and at Home

Your next getaway could change more than your view.  More travelers are finding a way to help others while exploring new communities and cultures through volunteer vacations.

 

Growing in popularity, volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds while you volunteer to help others. On family volunteer vacations parents and grandparents have an opportunity to spend meaningful time with youngsters, with the opportunity to pass along values. Younger family members develop compassion for others and also master new hands-on skills.

Volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds.

Volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds.

 

Travel adventures for a cause can involve some tropical paradises or breath taking scenery, but require more planning than your typical vacation advises travel expert and author of Voluntourist, Ken Budd: “Taking a volunteer trip isn’t like spontaneously going to the beach. It requires a lot of homework and research. You want to find organizations that are meeting a legitimate need, and projects that need volunteer labor; not projects created to give volunteers something to do.”

 

Finding a great volunteer vacation opportunity starts with being realistic about your desire and abilities for the adventure. Taking a good look at what you’d like to get out of the trip will decrease your chances of disappointment. Think about what areas and subjects are important to you: Do you want to study climate change in Alaska or preserve the campground where you vacationed as a child?  Budd suggests you ask questions about a volunteer vacation adventure before packing your bags. 

 

·        What is the volunteer work?

 

·        Who will benefit?

 

·        Who runs the volunteer programs?

 

·        Where does the money from program fees go?

 

·        May I contact previous volunteers about their experiences?

 

Many volunteer vacation organizations will ask you to submit to a background check, particularly if you’re working with children. Others will want you to provide references or to write an essay on why you want to volunteer. When organizations don’t take those steps that should be a warning sign.

 Not all volunteer opportunities abroad are legitimate explains Budd:  Over the last year or so, the media has reported on a terrible situation in Cambodia, where orphanages basically trap kids in squalor to attract donors and volunteers.  So seriously scrutinize the organizations,” he advises.

There are many volunteer vacation opportunities close to home.  For example, volunteer conservation trips. These popular vacations combine camping in national or state parks with service projects to help beautify the land and make the parks more safe and accessible.

 This year, there are more volunteer vacation offerings than ever before, from building trails in the Grand Canyon to clearing debris washed up on remote Alaskan beaches following the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Volunteer conservation trips may include activities like trail work, clearing fallen trees and branches, picking up litter and debris, removing invasive plants, maintaining gardens, and sprucing up fences and buildings.

 Volunteer vacationers often get access to parts of parks and forests not open to the public. And they always have free time to enjoy the beautiful parks they’re helping.

A lot of organizations offer multi-generational volunteer opportunities perfect for families who or large groups who want to get away and contribute together.  Budd says many volunteer vacation organizations find experienced, older volunteers to be a great asset:

“I’ve found that most volunteer organizations value people who have a lot of life experience. Older volunteers tend to be patient and they won’t get rattled when something goes wrong.”

The author has trekked and volunteered around the world and recalls many great experiences with older volunteer vacationers: “I encountered a lot of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s when I was volunteering. In China, we had about 11 volunteers and only three were under the age of 50. The majority were in their 60s: they taught English to university students, which was really quite helpful. The students knew English, but they needed practice speaking it.”

Budd recalls another senior volunteer who became a world traveler while helping others: “I was in Costa Rica, I met an 80-year-old woman who volunteered there for three months. She was a widower, and it was only the second time in her life that she’d been outside of the United States. She enjoyed it so much that she wound up volunteering for three months in Thailand!”

There are many volunteer vacation options near home and abroad.

There are many volunteer vacation options near home and abroad.