Rainforest protector, Peru
The Crees ecotourism project works in the Peruvian Amazon to restore biodiversity to land damaged by farming. It has more than 650 hectares under protection through replanting and working with communities on sustainable farming, but has bigger ambitions. The work is funded through paying guests and a volunteer programme. Volunteers monitor wildlife by day and night, and help in community vegetable gardens. Expect communal dinners, with a chance to practise your Spanishover a beer. Dry season (April-October) is popular, but the programme runs year round.
• From $1,800 for two weeks, including accommodation, food and transfers, crees-manu.org
Marine conservation, Madagascar
Ranobe Bay, south-west Madagascar, is a beautiful lagoon protected by one of the world’s largest coral reefs, but the marine habitat is under threat. Poor semi-nomadic fishing communities are desperate to make a living, but this leads to reef damage, and drops in fish and turtle populations. From its beachfront base, Reef Doctor works with neighbouring villages to try to restore and protect the reef and plant life, educate children and help alleviate poverty. Volunteers are taught to scuba dive so they can help out with marine surveys, and also get involved in community projects. In their free time, volunteers can explore the coast and the famous spiny forest, home to lemurs and numerous other endemic species. Projects range from three weeks to three months.
• From £900 for three weeks, including scuba training and accommodation, reefdoctor.org
As well as providing super-cute footage of baby orangutans playing, Channel 4’s Jungle School series, following the lives of staff and animals at arehabilitation centre run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, is a poignant reminder of the species’ fight for survival. More than 150,000 Borneo orangutanshave disappeared in the past 15 years, thanks mainly to hunting and habitat destruction. A new volunteer programme set up by an Australian outpost of the BOFS offers 14 days helping at its Samboja Lodge.
• From £650 including food and accommodation (flights extra, volunteers must also donate or raise a minimum of £650), orangutans.com.au, available November-March
Sea turtles, Greece
Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, relies on volunteers at key summer nesting sites for loggerhead and green turtles (in Zakynthos, Peloponnese and Crete) and at its rescue centre in Athens. Volunteers are required for dawn and night patrols, help with public awareness, and maintenance. Families can apply for shorter stints (3-7 days) with daytime activities.
• €400 for the first month, €300 for the second, €200 for the third, including training and campsite accommodation but not food, archelon.gr
Rescued elephants, Laos
Caring for elephants saved from logging and tourism, a sanctuary in northern Laos offers seven-day programmes where volunteers help with maintaining the centre and the 30-strong herd that lives in its 106 hectares of protected forest. Work includes cleaning, gardening, painting, and even making paper from elephant dung. Work directly with elephants is done only by its trained employees.
• $420 for a week including dorm accommodation, food and transfers from Luang Prabang, elephantconservationcenter.com
Scottish estate retreat
Scotland has much to attract backpackers: dramatic scenery, long-distance trails, adventure activities, remote islands, wildlife and great cities, not to mention free accommodation – if you wild camp or stay in a bothy. It also has volunteering opportunities at the Chisholme Institute. Based in an 18th-century house on a 200-acre estate south of Edinburgh, the institute runs self-discovery retreats, from weekends to a 40-day intensive course, and invites volunteers to help run the centre. Apply though the Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms scheme to work in the organic garden and stay for free; or, if you’re happy to pay a fee (£90 a week, £60 students or unwaged), apply to the institute to help with indoor tasks. This group of volunteers can also join in with meditation and study sessions.
National Trust work
The conservation stalwart runs more than 170 working holidays, from two days to a week, involving jobs from gardening and conservation to archaeology and archiving. In return you get to work in a beautiful setting and have a peek behind the scenes at its sites. Family breaks allow downtime for fun activities.
• Short breaks from £90, nationaltrust.org
Use your skills
VSO offers opportunities to those with a degree or equivalent and three years’ experience in fields such as medicine, education and engineering. Volunteers get accommodation, a basic wage, training and at least three weeks’ leave. It also runs a programme for 18-35-year-olds. In some cases VSO will pay for flights, visa and immunisations. The UN also takes 2,000 professionals a year(minimum age 25) for six to 12-month placements. Candidates have to register their details in its talent pool and the profiles are then matched to assignments by partner agencies.
• vsointernational.org, unv.org
Work with refugees
Charity Help Refugees funds grass-roots projects across Europe and the Middle East, and needs both unskilled and skilled workers for its projects in Calais, Greece and Serbia. It estimates that volunteers will need €25 a day to cover accommodation and other costs (long-term volunteers may get a free place to stay).
Free hostel stays
Working in a hostel is a great way to meet people and get free bed and board, and sometimes a small wage. It is often easier to find a hostel that’s looking for staff once you’re travelling, and tasks can include reception or kitchen work, cleaning and light admin. Some opportunities are also listed on sites such as hosteljobs.net, hosteltraveljobs.com and workaway.com.
Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms links volunteers with organic farmers from Albania to Zimbabwe. In return for help with daily tasks, volunteers get accommodation and food for as long as they and the host are happy. The scheme is also open to families, who are advised to find farms where the owners have children too. Wwoofers have to organise their own transport and any personal expenses.
Earn while you travel
Teaching English (Tefl) is a good way for travellers to earn while seeing the world.A very basic Tefl qualification can be done online (from around £170, more at tefl.org.uk) – though the one-month industry-standard CELTA course is more useful but costs considerably more. Bar and restaurant work is easy to find, once you’re travelling, on backpacker routes or in major cities. Freelance translating is an option for those who speak more than one language, working online or in person: try forums such as Proz and Translatorscafé. Writers and designers can work anywhere with wifi and a computer. Freelancer.com and Upwork.com list opportunities. It’s worth building a profile before you leave. Remember that if you spend more than 183 days in one country, including the UK, you will probably owe that country tax. For more, see gov.uk/tax-foreign-income.
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