Eight volunteering holidays, from teaching English to monks in Laos to tall-ship adventures

Volunteering overseas combines travel with doing good, and trips range from Europe and the UK to Brazil or a Berber village in Morocco. Cathy Winston picks eight voluntourism trips 

If you’d like to achieve more than a tan from your next holiday, volunteering holidays, or ‘voluntourism’ aren’t just for gap-year students with too much time on their hands. Older travellers, making the most of our years of experience and skills, are in demand.

1. Help a blind person to see the world
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You can volunteer as a ski buddy for a blind person

From skiing in the French Alps to discovering ancient Athens and walking Italy’s Cinque Terre mountains, the unique trips from Traveleyes International mean you get a great holiday while enabling someone else to enjoy an experience they couldn’t otherwise.

Sighted travellers are paired up with blind companions, and you help to guide your partner and describe the destination to them. Pairs change each day, and there’s support provided so you’re not expected to act as a carer, and it means you get a discount. The small groups are ideal if you’re travelling on your own, too.

2. Use your professional skills
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Rio de Janeiro

Accounting, administration, marketing and IT skills can be a lot more use on holiday than you might think.

Charities in countries including Fiji and Brazil often need help with office tasks, including sharing your knowledge, leaving trained charity workers to get out from behind a computer or filing cabinet to help people in the local area.

Hands Up Holidays tailor makes trips to match your experience with specific projects.

3. Join the crew on a tall ship
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Jubilee Sailing Trust runs a variety of trips at sea

A sailing holiday on board a tall ship is always going to be a memorable adventure, and with the Jubilee Sailing Trust, you can help someone else to have the same thrill.

Itineraries range from a day in the Solent to a month at sea. On board, you’ll assist teenagers and adults over 16 who have a range of disabilities. In return, prices are subsidised. 

Enthusiasm is more important than sailing experience. Try a week’s voyage around the Canary Islands or a fortnight trip to Lisbon to get a taste.

4. Volunteer in the UK with the National Trust
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National Trust property St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall

There’s no need to travel halfway around the world to volunteer. Working holidays from the National Trust mix conservation with activities such as coasteering, surfing, wild swimming, joining an archaeological dig or handling historic collections.

With short breaks and week-long trips, there are also hand-picked holidays, where you can have more private accommodation than a dorm room.

5. Volunteer responsibly
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A Berber village in Morocco

If you’re volunteering with animals or children, it’s particularly important to check your holiday is genuinely helping the local communities. Responsible Travel’s selection from around the world has been carefully chosen to ensure the projects help without anyone being exploited.

With options ranging from conservation and bear-spotting in Romania’s Carpathian mountains to volunteering in Berber villages in Morocco and protecting marine life as you sail the Aegean, there’s plenty of choice a short-haul flight away.

6. Voluntourism with the family
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Volunteer holidays are a great option for solo travellers as there’s a structure in place if you need it, but also the flexibility to explore independently. If you want to travel with your kids, the family trips from Hands Up Holidays (deal for single parents, too) include guides who help you discover the country (Turkey and Montenegro, for example) in between your few days of volunteering.

7. A sports holiday helping underprivileged children

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Betty’s beach near Cape Town

If building and painting don’t appeal for your holiday time, try one that lets you learn a skill as you volunteer.

The sports holidays from i-to-i include a surf trip to South Africa: you hit the white sand beaches off Cape Town in the morning as you learn to surf, then help underprivileged children to do the same in the afternoons.

8. Thailand and Laos: trips to suit over-50s

GVI has been running volunteering trips for over-50s for around 15 years, so you can choose trips with slightly more comfortable accommodation or those tailored to suit a longer experience. Among others, there’s the chance to teach English to Buddhist monks in Laos or help with healthcare projects in Thailand, among others. 

Cathy Winston is editor of travel website 101 Singles Holidays