In an era when environmental sustainability is top of the political agenda, it can sometimes be difficult to justify the air mileage and associated carbon emissions of seasoned globetrotting. However, there are many opportunities allowing you to travel and benefit the environment at the same time, offsetting your emissions by working to improve local ecosystems and communities. Volunteering projects exist all over the world and will take you to the heart of a country’s culture while allowing you to do your bit for the environment.
Infrastructure, farm buildings and sanitary facilities are vital to maintaining the health of local communities and ecosystems. Construction projects allow you to build new schools and farming infrastructure, creating a sustainable contribution for local communities.
In Kenya, for example, you can volunteer in Tsavo West National Park, working with villagers who have given up poor environmental practises like poaching and charcoal burning to conserve their natural heritage and wildlife. By helping to provide locals with an alternative income, you can encourage better environmental behaviour in the long term.
Other schemes allow you to become involved with community projects during specific sightseeing tours. For example, in Peru, you can take part in a Community Inca Trek, which allows you to work with local communities on your way through the Andes and towards the epic Machu Picchu.
Marine conservation is vitally important for sustaining water and plant life, coral populations, beaches and surrounding wildlife. Oceans also provide a crucial source of produce for local communities and worldwide trade.
Marine projects in the Caribbean will enable you understand the importance of coral preservation, combined with PADI courses, allowing you to monitor the overall health of the reef and contribute to sustaining fish populations. Additional opportunities exist to teach locals and youngsters the importance of marine conservation.
Projects in Mexico allow you to monitor sea turtle populations in a bid to protect this species, while immersing yourself in a tropical paradise. You can research dolphins in Kenya or spend time conducting primate research in coastal forests. These projects could be the stepping stone to a career in marine biology and are wonderful opportunities to develop a lifelong vocation.
Many projects will allow you to help to teach local people about environmentally-friendly ways of farming. Projects in India give you a chance to teach locals vital skills like producing compost fertilizer, the medicinal properties of herbs and plants and how to maintain native vegetation. In the past, these communities may have damaged their natural surroundings with traditional working practises, or may now be putting pressure on local resources due to rapidly expanding populations.
Wildlife conservation projects will enable you to assist in maintaining the biodiversity of ecosystems. This includes monitoring birds and mammals at the risk of extinction. Projects in South Africa will immerse you in the diverse African bush, working with local communities to conserve their environment and monitor species of lions, elephants and leopards. This is a fantastic way to get to grips with an African safari.
Teaching opportunities allow you to combine English teaching with conservational education for children. Some schools require a TEFL or TESOL qualification, although many merely require a healthy dose of enthusiasm and a capability to work well with children.
You can work in remote villages in Rwanda or the coastal towns of Thailand, providing assistance with English teaching and environmental education. You can take school children on school trips to local conservation areas, or get them involved in tree planting programmes.
Calculate the carbon impact of your flights and find ways to offset these emissions through environmentally friendly and socially beneficial projects; it’s the best and most rewarding way to travel by far.