Q: My husband and I would like to find a "working" vacation spot. We have heard of lighthouses that allow vacationers to sign up to work for a couple of weeks doing various tasks around the lighthouse. Do you know of such opportunities, or any other volunteer- work vacation options? We enjoy places that are green. We walk several miles a day and are both quite active (kayaking, snowshoeing, etc.). He is sailing solo in July in the 2008 TransPac from San Francisco to Kauai, Hawaii. So as you can see, no couch potatoes reside at our house. Thanks for any direction you can provide.
-Jeanne, MiWuk Village, Calif.
A: Hi Jeanne,
There are plenty of vacation options if you're interested in lighthouse volunteer vacations. One to check out is Browns Point Lighthouse (http://www.pointsnortheast.com) in Tacoma, Washington. Guests volunteer as lighthouse keepers for a week and are responsible for tasks including giving tours of the lighthouse. This vacation is designed for at least two people but up to six, so you and your husband can enjoy the vacation by yourselves or with some friends.
Also, check out Global Volunteers (http://www.globalvolunteers.org). You might be interested in helping build homes and community projects, which include help with light construction projects, landscaping, and assistance to beautify public spaces and helping install playgrounds. You can assist with projects around the United States or even travel to far off Ghana, Tanzania, or Australia.
Another category of travel vacations that needs a lot of volunteers is wildlife conservation. AVIVA in South Africa (http://www.aviva-sa.com/) has a number of hands-on vacations in which you help the local animals in the area. They also provide tours and expeditions of the area in which you are volunteering to add a 'vacation' component to your volunteer vacation. From protecting Africa’s Cape Buffalo to helping with whale and dolphin research at Plettenberg Bay to even building a sustainable village in Sicambeni, each program will give you a unique experience in South Africa.
The Earthwatch Institute
The Earthwatch Institute has green volunteer opportunities for anyone ages 10 through 90. One of their programs, “The Bahamian Reef Survey”, needs people to help surveying coral reef health on a remote Bahamian island. The eight-day vacation houses its volunteers on an old U.S. Naval Base and even takes the participants out to eat local cuisine.
Another organization, Globe Aware (http://www.globeaware.org/), allows you to volunteer in foreign nations—even if you do not speak the language. The programs last a week, although you are allowed to extend. Opportunities include the Cambodian program, which is located Siem Reap, the gateway to the Angkor Wat temples. Since so many of the residents have been affected by land mines, the volunteer program includes activities such as building wheelchairs from recycled parts and other social volunteer opportunities. However, the benefit to this travel vacation is that it is situated in an area that most people would like to visit, and it gives you time to look around and explore for yourself.
If you're looking for even more volunteer vacation ideas, I've got a complete list of providers in my book, “The Complete Travel Detective Bible.”