A handful of new volunteer vacation options combine upscale travel with the opportunity to do meaningful work. Here's a look at four such options — fabulous vacations that just happen to give back.
Enjoy the full Caribbean experience, as well as volunteer opportunities, on the island of Bonaire.
Coral reef rescue on a dive trip
What it is: Harbour Village, a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, hosts guests in beachfront suites and villas just feet from clear turquoise waters. The resort is also home to a five-star dive center and, most importantly, 10 coral "trees" containing salvaged or broken corals that guests can tend in the underwater nursery. Along with coral cleaning, guests transplant the revived corals in nearby areas to regrow in their natural environment.
What to know: The dive shop offers certification in conservation and coral restoration. Guests can spend as much time as they like working with the coral.
What it costs: One-week accommodations start below $3,000. Add the optional Club Dive Special to enjoy breakfast and diving.
Hands Up Holidays can match your skills with specific charitable needs in countries such as Nepal, Guatemala, and New Zealand.
Hands-on work matched to your skills
What it is: Hands Up Holidays works on a philanthropic model (the travelers mainly provide financial support), but there's still opportunity for hands-on volunteering. Travelers with specific skills can be paired with work that makes the best use of their abilities: Someone with marketing experience can assist a charity with its marketing plan, or a businessperson can advise a microloan recipient, establishing relationships that often continue after the traveler has returned home. Other trips might combine building homes for the needy in Guatemala with hiking a volcano, a private boat tour, and nights in a five-star hotel.
What to know: Trips can be any length, but volunteering typically takes up three to five days. Sustainable hotels are used whenever possible.
What it costs: Trips are all tailor-made, so prices vary, but a 14-day trip to Nepal can start at $4,875 per person, while a 15-day trip to New Zealand starts at $15,595 per person, excluding international flights.
Elevate Destinations organizes volunteer vacations with experiences such as aiding children in Tanzania and Malawi.
Fun family voluntourism
What it is: Elevate Destinations organizes travel with an emphasis on eco-luxury hotels and incorporating volunteer experiences into a fun vacation (it's especially good at arranging family travel). Volunteers have worked in a nursery for children in Malawi, done agricultural labor in the fields of a rural Peruvian village, and taught orphans in Tanzania, all through partnerships with on-the-ground nongovernmental organizations, typically run by locals.
What to know: Travelers usually volunteer two or three days out of a seven- to 12-day trip. Safari vacations might be a week of volunteering followed by a week on safari.
What it costs: Costs start at $4,500 per person.
Earthwatch Institute pairs volunteers with important ecological research projects across the world.
Biology and ecology research in out-of-the-way places
What it is: Earthwatch Institute offers opportunities far from the usual tourist sights. Pairing volunteers with scientists, the organization runs trips around the world to contribute to important research. One trip involves documenting the effects of sea otters in Alaskan sea grass meadows, another tracks Asian wild dogs in Thailand, a third stakes out water holes in Malawi to count the number of rhinos and hyenas that come to drink.
What to know: Trips last one to two weeks; volunteers will often add a few days of sightseeing to their trips.
What it costs: Contribution costs, which may be tax-deductible in the U.S., range from about $1,450 to $3,895, which includes accommodations, food, and local transport.