Although folks are doing a lot of streamlining these days, the concept of combining travel, personal interest and volunteer service is not new. Hundreds of years ago, long before the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961, missionaries, sailors, and healers journeyed to far off lands for the purpose of helping others. Since then, what we now know as “voluntourism” has become one of the fastest growing forms of travel in the world.
It’s no surprise, then, that more and more people are combining their interest in service and travel with their passion for the environment. In fact, according to a recent survey of U.S. based volunteer travel providers, conservation is one of the most popular international volunteer travel activities, ranking just behind community development and teaching.
To begin our journey into the world of eco-voluntourism, we checked in with David Clemmons, founder of VolunTourism.org, an organization dedicated to serving all members of the volunteer travel community: travelers, members of the tourism industry, and non-profit organizations. According to David, “There are many different approaches to Eco-VolunTourism.* Some are expedition-based. Some expand capacity at a local level. Some incorporate local communities in the revenue-generation of travel and tourism through traditional building practices, which are inherently ecologically sustainable. Still others connect individuals to voluntary service through an ecologically friendly accommodation.”
With David’s comments in mind, we share three different perspectives on eco-voluntourism. We chat with Rich Tobin, a former U.S. park ranger who combined his 30 years of park management expertise with his passion for the world’s great natural and cultural places to create Conservation Volunteers International Program (Conservation VIP). We also talk with Sarah Kennedy of the non-profit Sustainable Harvest International and Jeff Pzena from the eco-friendly Cotton Tree Lodge in Belize. Jeff and Sarah partner to offer incredible eco-voluntourism opportunities in Central America – including one trip that is a dream come true for any chocolate-loving do-gooder.
Lacking the time and funds to travel to far off places, Leaf Litter’s editor, Amy Nelson, creates her own, low-budget, local eco-voluntourism experience.
It would be foolish to explore the topic of eco-voluntourism without shining our Non-Profit Spotlight on Earthwatch Institute, which bills itself “the world’s largest environmental volunteer nonprofit organization.”
If you are considering an eco-voluntourism trip for your next vacation, you’ll want to check out our list of resources.
Finally, we offer a glimpse into the latest news at Biohabitats.
*David’s organization prefers this spelling of the word. An interesting and brief history of the term “voluntourism” can be found on the VolunTourism.org web site.