Stuck in a vacation rut? Is one tourist destination starting to look like the next? Maybe it's time to try both an exotic international locale and one that will allow you to give back to a local community at the same time.
Volunteer vacations are an increasingly popular way to spend time off from the routine, and there are dozens of companies that offer affordable volunteer trips to almost anywhere in the world. Besides that good feeling you'll get helping out in a less fortunate area of the world, your trip - including the program fee and airfare (which are usually paid for separately) - will likely be tax deductible.
It won't be your typical vacation. You might live with a local family instead of at a tourist's hotel. And instead of lying on the beach, you might teach in a school or help provide health care. But if you're willing to forgo the tanning time to help make a small corner of the world shine a bit brighter, here's some Web sites that will help get you there.
Global Aware - says its volunteer vacations in Peru and Nepal are like mini-Peace Corps experiences. Assemble wheelchairs from recycled parts in Cambodia or help create paths to attract tourists to Costa Rica's Carara Rainforest. The organization is also awaiting approval from the U.S. government for volunteer trips to Cuba.
Cross-Cultural Solutions - runs volunteer trips in the Americas (Brazil, Costa Rica), Africa (Ghana, Tanzania) and Asia (Thailand), and volunteer activities range from teaching in a primary school to creating activities for at-risk youth. Trips last from two to 12 weeks and start at $2,400.
United Planet - helped organize volunteer trips after the devastating Asian tsunami in December, and you can still do tsunami-related volunteer work in Ranong, Thailand. A one-week trip costs $1,395, two weeks is $1,595 (airfare not included). United Planet Quests offers trips from one week to one year to over 50 locations worldwide.
A Web page at the University of California, Irvine's Center for International Education, serves as a volunteer clearing house, with dozens of links to other sites. The philosophy here - at - will be familiar to volunteers: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." Find links to both small organizations and well-known groups like Habitat for Humanity (click on the "Where We Build" link).
Another link is to Transitions Abroad - a bimonthly magazine with articles and information for those interested in working, studying or volunteering abroad.
At Volunteer Abroad - pull-down search menus will help you find volunteer trips by region, country, type of volunteer work or project duration.