Make your time off more hands on with one of these unforgettable volunteering experiences. Whether it's tracking wolves in Slovakia or pressing grapes in France, you're sure to discover a few hidden talents along the way.
Tracking lynx and wolves in Slovakia
Romanticised and demonised over time, no animal has stalked through the darker recesses of the human imagination more than the wolf. Join scientists in the highest peaks of the West Carpathian Mountains, where carnivore populations – not only the wolf but also the lynx and the bear – are stirring old fears among the locals. You will spend the week tracking wolves and lynx and carry out research into their populations, habits and predatory impact.
Repairing castle walls or cleaning up coasts around the UK
It’s easier than you think to break from the grind, be good, and even enjoy a holiday while you’re at it. Across the UK, conservation projects offer the chance to escape to the countryside, meet new people and relax – at minimum expense. Choose from a range of projects, from rebuilding Scottish castle grounds to conserving the beautiful beaches of Devon.
ContactBritish Trust for Conservation Volunteers (01302 388883, www.btcv.org).
Orphanage volunteer work in Kenya
In Mombasa, where the greatest obstacle to schooling for many is hunger, a children’s centre depends on volunteers to support education, care and fundraising. Based in Bombolulu, the city’s largest slum that sits right beside the wealthy district of Nyali, you can help give kids another chance – while you also absorb the vibrancy of Swahili culture and find peace among the palm trees of its beaches.
ContactGlobal Vision International (01727 250250, www.gvi.co.uk).
Helping favela communities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brazilian favelas (hillside slums) are about more than machine guns and drug factories. In Rio de Janeiro’s Mangueira favela, children look forward to carnival, games on the beach and day trips to the jungle like any other kids. Join them to explore the colourful land, cuisine and culture while you pick up Portuguese and learn to samba like a carioca. ContactQuest Overseas (01273 777206, www.questoverseas.com).
Rescuing seals and other wildlife in Ireland
At this sanctuary on the east coast of Ireland you can learn to rescue and rehabilitate seals, either working onsite or as a driver. The fluffy, whiskered pups are extremely vulnerable in the summer – starvation, predation by gulls and crows, infection and abandonment are just some of the causes. Around 75 seals are rescued every year, together with seabirds and other wild animals. Room and board is self-funded.
Travel to a remote village in Nepal and live and work alongside local people to build much-needed family homes for a community of ex-bonded workers. It’s a great opportunity to experience Nepalese rural culture first-hand, and to help those living in poverty. Volunteers also get to explore the city of Kathmandu.
Herding goats might not be everyone’s idea of a holiday, but it’s just one of the many invigorating breaks across Britain offered by the National Trust to reconnect people with their island’s agricultural roots and history. Choose from a range of trips from two to seven days starting at £60, many of which are suitable for families. Projects involve everything from restoring ancient monuments to dirtying your hands in the wet grasslands.
Get certified to teach English as a second language and you can help children and adults in developing countries learn one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, giving them a valuable skill. Several organisations manage placements in vulnerable communities, such as shantytowns in South America; contact Real Gap Experience for information on voluntary teaching in Argentinian villas miserias, and the Children at Risk Foundation for the equivalent in Brazilian favelas.
French cuisine and wines taste good in the UK but nothing beats sampling them on the soil they grew from – especially when you’ve picked the produce yourself. On a farming holiday, you learn the ancient harvesting, preserving and cooking techniques that gave rise to one of the world’s finest cuisines, all the time savouring country air and organic, healthy food. Join a family and help them work on the farm, practise your French and learn the local style of cooking.
Getting paid to sail the world on a luxury cruise may sound like a dream, but land a job on a boat and you can do just that. Set sail for the Caribbean and when you arrive you’ll find a pay cheque helps make the most of time on land; though with palm-fringed beaches and white sand, the best stuff really is free. From sweaty jobs on deck to bowing a violin, there’s work for everyone.