Taking a little time out from your time off can make a big difference. Voluntourism might sound worthy, but join one of these trips for a holiday that’s as much about good times as good works.
Once the preserve of university students and religious groups, voluntourism has gone mainstream, with many professionals and retirees wanting to lend a hand around the globe. Unfortunately, as the number of these trips has increased, so have reports of mixed experiences, so you need to choose your project with care. (Read an insight by a voluntourist.) The trips featured below, however, promise to be as beneficial to the local communities as they are fun for the volunteers.
Building Character, Cambodia
Take a dream trip and spend a small part of it helping achieve someone else’s dream – their own home. Go on the Cambodian Explorer (S$4,450, excluding international flights; +44 (0) 20 7193 1062, http://www.handsupholidays.com), and over 12 days you’ll stay in luxury hotels and visit Angkor Wat, the Royal Palace and many of the country’s other top sights. In the middle, you’ll spend four days helping to build a house. The family that will move in will have been living in a squatter colony, far from access to healthcare, sanitation and employment, so home ownership could truly transform their lives. Volunteers don’t need building experience, and while on site, you might be mixing concrete, building walls or digging out the foundations. Then it’s back to the tourist trail, but with a new perspective that’ll give you a much deeper understanding of sights, such as the Killing Fields, and their role in the country’s development.
Blast from the past, Italy
Channel your inner Agathie Christie and get your hands dirty on an archaeological excavation. On the five-day trip, Discovering Italy’s Ancient Etruscan and Roman Coast (from S$2,310 excluding flights; +1 978 461 0081, http://www.earthwatch.org), you’ll work to clean, catalogue and preserve 2,000-year-old finds from a Roman villa and an Etruscan burial ground. The setting couldn’t be more idyllic: the dig takes place on the Tuscan coast, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, with Pisa, Florence and Siena all nearby. Guests on past excavations here have discovered frescoes, coins and even signs of an ancient spa. You’ll sleep in simple apartments in the local village, making this trip ideal for couples or those who don’t fancy sleeping in bunk beds, and enjoy talks by the professors leading the excavation.
Whale of a time, Maldives
Two weeks in the Indian Ocean with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (S$2,450 excluding international flights; +44 (0) 7939 966539, ) feels less like volunteering and more like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll sail along Mamigilli Reef in the South Ari Atoll from dawn until dusk on most days, peering into the water to look for enormous (and harmless) whale sharks, the world’s largest fish species, commonly up to 12 metres in length. Once spotted, it’s straight in to snorkel alongside the creatures (being able to swim is a prerequisite), photographing and measuring them. Nights are spent in basic rooms on the dhoni research boat or in dorm-style bunks on Mandhoo Island, adjacent to the six-star Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which sponsors the programme and allows volunteers to use its facilities. Some relaxing beach-time is factored in, as well as visits to local communities to promote the work of the programme, whose goal is to protect the species by reducing harmful practices, such as shark-finning and pollution.
Tumbling right to the ocean edge, Australia’s Daintree Rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef on the long, quiet, sandy beaches of Cape Tribulation. Within this dramatic setting is one of the world’s most diverse concentrations of flora and fauna. On a five-day trip from Cairns (S$1,095, excluding international flights; +61 (0) 3 5330 2600, http://www.naturewise.com.au), staying in dorm-style accommodation, you’ll help botanists identify and catalogue bizarre and endemic flowers, ferns and trees on forest walks. As a bonus, when deep in the jungle, you’ll come across animals like the rare Southern Cassowary (kind of like a colourful ostrich) and Bennett’s tree-kangaroo (it hangs out on branches) – although thankfully not the fearsome crocodile until your guided boat trip on the final day.
Social skills, India
On this unusual holiday, you definitely won’t be bunking with Gap Years or grannies: it’s open only to professionals and business leaders, primarily those working at management level. Journeys for Change are seven- to 10-day trips (S$5,735, allinclusive, excluding international flights; +91 (0) 98 676 80477, http://www.JourneysforChange.org) that take place in India. Instead of guests providing short-term help, as with most voluntourism projects, the goal is to establish long-term relationships and to benefit the volunteers (and their businesses), as well as the projects they visit. The way it works is that guests visit social enterprises and NGOs across a range of sectors, from education and healthcare to environment and microfinance initiatives. You’ll meet with the founders and managers of these projects and learn ideas from them that you can apply to your own business. When you return, you can choose to get involved with one of the projects by providing business support, or simply use what you’ve learned to have a positive social impact in your own business and community.
Words: Jill Starley-Grainger