By Michele E. Buttelman
Travel with a purpose, or “voluntourism,” is the latest popular vacation trend. International travel that focuses on “good works” has been around for decades, but now the trend to combine sightseeing with “giving back” has caught on in the United States.
Taking a vacation with a greater sense of purpose doesn’t mean you can’t also kick back at the beach, climb a mountain, frolic in the pool or go wine tasting. Many voluntourism opportunities can be tacked on at the beginning or end of your trip.
California offers limitless opportunities to gain satisfaction from doing good, as well as enjoying a spectacular vacation.
There are two ways to approach voluntourism: Start small by tacking on one day of volunteer work to your regular vacation plans. Or go big and sign up for a multi-day service trip that includes several hours of work every day, plus fun activities.
The best part of voluntourism is the flexibility. If you want an entire voluntourism vacation, or just a day of “doing good,” you can find an opportunity that fits your needs.
Be sure to plan your volunteer activities in advance. Different state, county, city and nonprofit organizations have different rules for volunteers.
Here are a few voluntourism ideas:
California State Parks
Through volunteer programs, the state parks plan more than 100 volunteer projects throughout the year to benefit more than 30 parks across California. From Humboldt Lagoons State Park to Old Town San Diego State Park, you can help protect these priceless resources now and for generations to come. Plus, many projects offer special perks, like guided interpretive tours, horticulture and wildlife education opportunities, kayaking and free camping.
For information on volunteer opportunities visit the California State Parks Foundation at www.calparks.org/how-you-can-help/volunteer.
To search for available volunteer work days, visit volunteer.calparks.org/search.
Sierra Club Outings
Part of the largest grassroots environmental organization in the country, Sierra Club Volunteer Outings offer regularly scheduled, multi-day service trips that involve physical tasks like pulling out nonnative plants, tearing down fences and building trails. Meals and lodging (or tents) are provided, plus after-work perks like guided hikes or kayak tours. Volunteer opportunities are available at destinations across the United States.
For information visit bit.ly/3OctIyN.
Some California trips have waitlists. Trip offerings with space available in 2022 include:
Service in the High Sierra
Aug. 6-13. Price $545
Help to preserve the wilderness of the High Sierra.
Camp below the peaks that inspired Muir and Ansel Adams.
Includes: All tools and group cooking gear, instruction on trail work and the safe use of tools, all meals and snacks.
The project will involve trail maintenance in the John Muir Wilderness.
Piedras Blancas Light Station Service
Dec 11-17, 2022
Enjoy California’s beautiful Central Coast scenery.
Restore natural resources in an historic setting.
Explore beaches, hike and spot wildlife.
The work location will include the Piedras Blancas Light Station and the spectacularly dynamic area surrounding it, rich in species diversity and cultural history. The Light Station itself is 6 miles north of Hearst Castle off the California Coastal Highway and adjoins San Simeon State Park. This isolated promontory is surrounded by the largest mainland rookery of northern elephant seals, along with sea otters, California sea lions, harbor seals and peregrine falcons. The awe-inspiring seascape is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States.
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuaries
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuaries in Lompoc and San Luis Obispo offers volunteers a chance to hang out with nearly 400 wild horses in beautiful Central Coast rangeland while helping with chores: feeding, cleaning, checking fence lines and maintaining pastures.
Each year, volunteers contribute more than 3,000 hours of work around the sanctuaries in a variety of volunteer activities.
Join Return to Freedom for a volunteer work day, arrange a youth group volunteer day, or participate in the In-residence Volunteer Program. Whatever your availability, interest and skillset is, the sanctuaries are happy to have you as part of the volunteer team at a Return to Freedom’s Wild Horse Sanctuaries.
For information visit returntofreedom.org/volunteer.
Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day
The California Coastal Commission has announced that the 38th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day will take place Saturday, Sept.17, from 9 a.m. to noon in most locations.
But you can also help out at local events almost any day of the year. Groups like the Surfrider Foundation, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and Orange County Coastkeeper organize trash cleanup events and they aren’t always at the beach.
Trash in rivers and creeks can also make its way downstream to the sea, and trash on beaches at mountain lakes is destructive to wildlife and water quality. The League to Save Lake Tahoe holds regular cleanups. Visit their website at www.keeptahoeblue.org.
Of course, you don’t have to join an organized event — just bring a bag with you on your next coastal, lakeside or riverfront trip and pick up any trash you see.
For more information on where you can participate, visit the California Coastal Cleanup website at www.coastal.ca.gov/publiced/programs.html.
If you want a “staycation” at home in the Santa Clarita Valley, there are also many volunteer opportunities available. Spend a few days chilling by the pool, curled up with a good book or binge watch that show you’ve been trying to find time to see, then if you decide you want to assist nonprofits as a volunteer at a fundraiser, or working in disaster preparedness, or other activities, visit the Santa Clarita Volunteer Hub. You can find a variety of volunteer activities for the city of Santa Clarita as well, including outdoor trail work and volunteer work at a city library.
For information visit santaclaritavolunteers.com.