12 ways to travel and make a difference

12 Ways to Travel and Make a Difference

For your next holiday, are you looking to do more than just sit on a beach? If you're searching for a more meaningful adventure, a volunteer vacation could be just the thing. You'll travel to unusual parts of the globe, meet intriguing people, and serve others while having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here are 12 particularly good volunteer vacation opportunities.

Researching and ensuring the survival of wildlife in Malawi
Earthwatch Institute
Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
For years, poachers and habitat destruction drove much of the wildlife population in Malawi to near-extinction. In response, the government started an intensive conservation program to reintroduce iconic species like the rhino, leopard, and hyena. The Majete Wildlife Reserve serves a major rehabilitation project, and since 2003, more than 2500 animals from 14 different species have been reintroduced in Majete.

What You’d Do in Malawi: The Majete Wildlife Reserve is home to a variety of animals like lions, elephants, hyenas, leopards, and more, so you’ll be helping researchers at the park obtain data they need to manage the park and ensure that all its species thrive. You’ll help with research such as monitoring the success of reintroduced predators and studying the population dynamics and distribution of the spotted hyena. During the day, you’ll check on the animals as you walk through the park and at night, you’ll drive through to count and observe all the creatures you see. Other jobs include conducting waterhole counts when animals congregate, working with camera traps to identify animals, and visiting local schools to teach children about conservation. You’ll be a part of one of the first research initiatives in the area, and your work at the reserve will make it a healthier and safer place for Africa’s most well-known animals.

After field work ends, teams stay at the research camp in the reserve. You’ll sleep in individual tents with real beds and amenities such as a small wardrobe, hot showers, electricity and Internet access. Meals are provided and you’ll enjoy African meals with fresh fish, chicken, beef, beans and rice. In your free time, you can take a guided nature walk or night drive, climb Majete Hill to see the views of Shire Valley, or go fishing in the Shire River.

Your Next Step: Earthwatch (tel. 800/776-0188; www.earthwatch.org). This 12-day project includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs. An Earthwatch membership is required.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss: Mulanje Mountain is a huge granite mass in southern Malawi, with peaks up to about 10,000 feet. Spend two nights on the mountain and explore the streams and peaks by walking the many family-friendly hiking routes here.

Official Tourism Website: www.visitmalawi.mw

Helping at-risk and disabled children in Romania
Global Volunteers
Barlad, Romania

Romania is home to medieval towns, painted monasteries, and soaring mountains. Its rich and unique cultural history has produced notable writers like Elie Wiesel, musicians, inventors, and athletes, and its people have thrived through a tumultuous past with tenacity and pride. However, Romania has the highest rate of child poverty in the world. There is always need for volunteers to improve the health, educational, and social resources of impoverished, disabled, and orphaned Romanian children.

What You’d Do in Romania: Since 2004 when it began its Romanian development partnership, Global Volunteers has focused on at-risk and disabled children. There are three main work projects you can participate in to help: Care for at-risk children, assistance with light labor, and teaching English in classrooms. You can aid the nursing staff with attending to infants and toddlers through play, feeding, exercises, and personal affection, especially with children who have hearing or sight impairments or mental disabilities. Other volunteers will help brighten the hospital and assist staff with plastering, painting and decorating hospital rooms. Lastly, you can help teach middle school students conversational English during the school year. No matter their age and background, these children can benefit from the nurture and kind words of a caring adult, and your contributions will ensure their lifelong development is as healthy as possible.

You’ll stay in a double-occupancy room in a comfortable tourist-class hotel that is equipped with a private bathroom, running water, a telephone and television. All your meals will be shared with the team in nearby restaurants or at the hotel. In your off time, shop in the nearby towns, hike in the countryside, or attend a soccer game.

Your Next Step: Global Volunteers (tel. 800/487-1074; www.globalvolunteers.org). This 2-week project includes lodging, food, in-country transportation, a team leader, insurance, and orientation materials.  

While You’re There, Don’t Miss: Transylvania at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains is a popular destination, and many tourists travel to the cities of Brasov and Sinaia on the weekends. Pay a visit to Bran, a stunning Gothic castle near Brasov and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula.

Official Tourism Website: http://www.romania.travel/
Lending a hand in a Mongolian orphanage.
Anthony Woods
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
A volunteer vacation in Mongolia will allow you to help children in extreme circumstances, and the smallest bit of aid can make a big difference here. In the best of circumstances, kids in Mongolia face plenty of challenges from environmental, cultural, and economic pressures. The precarious balance of family life can be toppled far too easily with a small shift of circumstances. High levels of unemployment, and poor wages for those who can find work, mean many live below the poverty line, making for a disproportionate number of abandoned Mongolian children.

In the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, it's a rare block that isn't populated by homeless children (many of whom in the bitter winter weather move underground into sewers and heating vents). Children who find placement in orphanages are spared the street life, but these institutions are filled to bursting and understaffed, so that meeting the most basic needs of survival for their charges is often an accomplishment. Volunteers from around the world endeavor to pour a little love and individual attention into a minimalist system of sustenance. 
What You'd Do in Mongolia: You'll be posted in a children's home or orphanage to help relieve the pressure on staff and contribute time and effort to the kids who live there. Twenty orphanages and care centers are served by this far-reaching project, from infant programs to large capacity facilities that help all ages (with up to 120 residents). Your schedule and activities will depend upon the age range of the children you'll serve. If in the infant program, you'll spend most of your time on direct care of babies up to age 3, some of whom need an unusual amount of care because they are facing disabilities as well as abandonment. Older kids will need help with homework, lessons in English (care center staff will be eager to practice their English skills as well), practical help with everything from hygiene and getting dressed to job hunting, and plenty of love. Providing one-on-one attention, even if it's just a lullaby or story, is the greatest gift you can give. 
A host family will introduce you to the cultural traditions that make Mongolia such a fascinating destination. Meals are provided and are a mix of local cuisine and several staples you'll recognize. Free time in Ulaanbaatar can be as vivacious or as relaxed as you'd like, with options across the spectrum from upscale dining to simple walks through residential neighborhoods or quality time with your fellow volunteers or host family. 
Your Next Step: Projects Abroad (tel. 888/839-3535; www.projects-abroad.org). A 2-week trip includes lodging with a host family, meals, project training and backup, and full insurance coverage. 
While You're There, Don't Miss: For a very specific and rare cultural experience, make your way to the Chandmani district of Khovd Province to hear a khuumii performance. Khuumii is "diaphonic singing," where performers are able to make two distinct sounds come out at once, usually a low, rumbling throat singing with a higher tonal melody. It is an art that takes years to learn and is a tradition revered but rarely practiced by newcomers, as the skills are so difficult to learn. 
Official Tourism Website: http://www.visitmongolia.com/
Rendering of new clinical addition to the Veterans hospital.
Anthony Woods
Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
This sprawling town in Northwest Arkansas is steeped in military tradition and history and a fitting site for one of the country's largest veterans hospitals. Veterans hospitals and health-care facilities can always use volunteer power for everything from patient assistance to greeting visitors or just pushing around the library cart. Here at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, you can pitch in for one day or many or throughout your entire vacation in the Fayetteville/Little Rock area. Some of the volunteer tasks require a driver's license (for driving the shuttle van), and some would be a better fit if you have some medical knowledge (or at least comfort with hospital work), but most require very little training or prior knowledge. Much of the work is in helping former military personnel, many of them seniors, with their care and well-being. 
What You'd Do in Arkansas: If you can push a cart, you're halfway there for many of the tasks required. You can be the smiling face behind the coffee cart visiting waiting rooms and in-patient and out-patient areas, you could bring the comfort cart around to patient rooms, perhaps the magazine and book cart is more your style, or you could be the ideal crafts cart volunteer, delivering supplies and ideas to make a project. Van drivers transport disabled patients to clinic appointments as needed, and golf cart drivers pick up patients and their families and other visitors in the parking lot and bring them to the medical center. 
Escort volunteers push wheelchair-bound patients to appointments, and administrative helpers answer phones, file, and greet patients and visitors. You could assist the pharmacist with pre-packed medications, take vital signs for outpatients, or set up lunch trays to ready them for room delivery. Your enthusiasm and willingness to take on any task makes you a great fit at the medical center. 
There are no travel, lodging, meal arrangements, or fee for visiting volunteers. Before you get to Fayetteville, contact the hospital to let them know you've got some time to give and a desire to serve. 
Your Next Step: VA Medical Center (tel. 479/443-4301; www.fayettevillear.va.gov). You'll make your own arrangements for your stay in Arkansas, and volunteer for as long as is convenient for you. 
While You're There, Don't Miss: As someone inclined to look for a volunteer vacation, you may already know about Heifer International (www.heifer.org) and its tireless work to end world hunger by donating livestock to villages around the world. You can tour its headquarters -- one of the world's greenest buildings -- in Little Rock, Arkansas. Every element was designed to be environmentally responsible, from recycled materials to innovative recycling projects (everything from rainwater to energy is recycled). It's a true model of working in harmony with the earth. Then head a short distance out of town to the Heifer's ranch, where you can learn more about the mission and meet some of the animals, from water buffalo to bunnies, camels to cows. 
Official Tourism Website: http://www.experiencefayetteville.com/
Immersed in Khmer culture and the Cambodian way of life.
Anthony Woods
Several locations across Cambodia
Cambodia offers far more than the ruins of Angkor Wat: boat trips up the Mekong, vibrant Phnom Penh, and a healthy dash of unpredictability. This project is part volunteer work and part cultural immersion, as you visit several of the best-known cities of Cambodia as well as off-the-beaten-path villages and towns. It's a month-long commitment but a nice blend of work and exploration. 
What You'd Do in Cambodia: In the first part of your journey, you'll explore major points of interest (Phnom Penh, the Killing Fields, National Museum, and so on). In the second part, you'll live in a traditional village and immerse yourself in Khmer culture. Through your interactions, you'll be introduced to the local language and cuisine, native rituals, dance, song, the art of puppet making, and more. After absorbing so much of the culture, you'll have the chance to give back, teaching conversational English, arts and crafts, and other skills. You needn't be an accomplished artist or teacher to make a powerful contribution. On your working days, you'll be in schools, talking and playing with small groups of students. Later in the day you'll repeat some of the same tasks at the orphanage. 
Coming home in the evenings to your host family is an uplifting, warm experience (and a guarantee of good eating). Families are carefully chosen for their interest in making deep, personal connections with visitors from other cultures and learning about their lives firsthand. The program is well structured, so your days off are filled with excursions. There are few questions about Khmer life, history, and culture that you won't be able to answer by the time you return home after such full immersion. 
Your Next Step: Projects Abroad (tel. 888/839-3535; www.projects-abroad.org). A 2-week project includes host family lodging, meals, touring costs and guides, project training and cultural orientation, enrichment classes, comprehensive travel and medical insurance, and 24-hour support. 
While You're There, Don't Miss: The floor of Phnom Penh's Silver Pagoda, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is covered with more than 5,000 silver tiles. It is home not only to the headliners -- a large golden Buddha and a beloved crystal emerald Buddha -- but also several other treasures, making the Silver Pagoda a glittering ode to the steadfastness of the culture -- and one of the only surviving Cambodian temples that wasn't damaged by the Khmer Rouge regime. 
Official Tourism Website: www.tourismcambodia.com
Helping children of displaced families in Colombia.
Anthony Woods
Medellín, Colombia
While situations have improved significantly and Colombia is much safer, in the past drug cartels and guerrillas forced Colombians from their rural homes in droves to seek refuge in major cities. More than half of the three million displaced Colombians were under 15 years of age. Without their homes, land, and occupations, they were left to fend for themselves on unfamiliar city streets. This local organization works with displaced community members to provide education, shelter, and food, since for many could not return to their homes. Volunteers help in countless ways to make the transition to city life less traumatic. There are free day centers, outreach programs for those living on the streets, English classes, arts and enrichment programs, and burgeoning health programs.
What You'd Do in Colombia: English is a valuable tool for any Colombian struggling to get a job, so language teachers for youth and adults are always needed. Several day centers provide a safe haven for kids who may not be enrolled in school or whose parents need to be away for many hours (or days) seeking employment. You can help here with childcare and arts and music programs as well as playtime and sports. You can work with the street outreach program to help those living without shelter, likely resorting to begging for sustenance, and let them know there are resources available to them. (Spanish is not required for every aspect of this project, but the street outreach will require fluency.) Excursions for kids who have had limited experiences in the world need chaperones, as a trip to the beach or a waterpark is a whole new experience. 
You'll stay in a volunteer hostel in the quiet El Poblado district, with public transportation to Medellin close by. Supermarkets, bars, clubs, restaurants, and shopping are all in this neighborhood. Meals aren't included, but there are countless inexpensive restaurants to try. Your evenings and weekends are free, and this lush, tropical region has amazing sights to see in the neighboring areas, as well as easy day trips a bit farther afield if you'd like to go to thriving Bogota, Amazonian Leticia, or the UNESCO World Heritage Site Cartagena. 
Your Next Step: Globalteer (tel. 202/697-9245: www.globalteer.org). A 2-week project includes room accommodation, local training, airport pickup, local support, and community orientation. Meals are your responsibility. 
While You're There, Don't Miss: Ciudad Perdida translates as "lost city" and is an archaeological site believed to predate Machu Picchu by centuries. It is an enchanted place, only reached by the most intrepid travelers. The steep paths to some of the more accessible ruins were designed so Tayrona Indians could hear visitors approaching (the journey takes a day and is quite difficult -- you must crawl through hand-carved tunnels and scramble over large boulders). To visit the actual city, you'll be trekking with a guide for 3 to 5 days, or arrive via helicopter. 
Official Tourism Website: http://www.colombia.travel/en
Uplifting women's empowement in South Africa
Global Vision International
Cape Town, South Africa

Today, most people living in poverty are women. Many girls are still denied a basic education and women continue to make up the majority of the world’s illiterate population. After 20 years of democracy, South Africa has made great strides in terms of gender equality, but there is still much to be done to ensure women receive equal opportunities and get the skills they need to participate effectively in the country’s economy. In the traditional rural and township culture, gender discrimination arises from religious beliefs and a male-dominated society. These ideas have influenced the workplace, with only 16% of senior management roles being held by women. By supporting women and providing them equal opportunities in education, jobs, and health care, everyone benefits. Infant mortality rates decrease, more children remain in school, incomes go up, and the cycle of poverty can be broken.

What You’d Do in South Africa: Five days a week, you’ll be actively involved in the women’s empowerment program and take on many responsibilities, depending on the needs of the projects at that given time. Opportunities include providing one-on-one education lessons with girls in local schools, giving alternative income and health workshops in the community, teaching women about various health topics and prenatal care, and working in local educational centers. All of your efforts are geared toward uplifting South African women and providing them long-term solutions to gender inequality.

You’ll be living in the quaint town of Gordon’s Bay, just outside Cape Town, and sharing either houses or apartments with your fellow volunteers. Rooms are typically shared between 2-3 people, with access to hot water, electricity, and Western-style bathrooms. During the weekends, there are many things to do, including a 2-night excursion to Cape Town where you can get a taste of the vibrant city life and visit iconic attractions such as Robben Island, where the country’s former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years, District 6 Museum, and the Castle of Good Hope. Other excursions in the area include shark cage diving, sky diving, wine tasting tours, and more.

Your Next Step: Global Vision International (tel. 888/653-6028; http://www.gviusa.com/). Lengths will vary but the 2-week trip covers accommodations, meals, local orientation, project training, and 24-hour in-country support. Insurance is not included.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss: You can’t say you’ve seen Cape Town (or even South Africa) unless you’ve stood on top of the iconic Table Mountain, an eons-old natural landmark that boasts the status of being one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. You can ascend the mountain on foot or by cable car and spend however much time you’d like exploring the area and enjoying the magnificent views of Cape Town.

Official Tourism Website: http://www.southafrica.net/

Swimmers at the Special Olympics in Raleigh, NC.
Anthony Woods
Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Raleigh, NC is an ideal spot for anyone who has an interest in working with people who have special needs. Special Olympics has active programs in 170 countries and more than 4.5 million athletes with intellectual disabilities. You can get involved close to home, wherever you may live, or if your travels take you to Raleigh, North Carolina, you can volunteer at the main North American chapter. There are ways to get involved year-round, not just for the annual Olympics event. The mission of Special Olympics is to provide sports training and athletic competition in Olympic-like sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. 

If you think you know what it is to be inspired, just wait. North Carolina has nearly 40,000 Special Olympics athletes statewide, and the national office here supports more than 544,000. Volunteering helps further the goal of helping every person become productive, accepted, and respected in his or her community. Volunteers dive in to assist running the organization, the events, and the coaching programs. 
What You'd Do in North Carolina: If you're in the area for the actual games, you can be involved in athlete and team support, fundraising, setup, cleanup, information, and several other day-of-event tasks. But no worries if your vacation doesn't allow you to be here for that -- there are competitions throughout the year. Be part of the volunteer team making it all happen at state-level events like the Summer Games, Fall Tournament, Winter Games-Ice Skating, and Winter Games-Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding. All of these need you and your fellow volunteers behind the scenes coordinating events. Coaching and sport development are also incredible volunteer opportunities (for longer time commitments). There are similar opportunities at the state level of competition throughout the country and indeed the world. 
There are no travel packages sponsored by the organization, so you'll arrange your own visit. If not in North Carolina, look into opportunities wherever you may travel, work, or live. Motivated volunteers are needed by each international organization to give athletes across the globe the opportunities to "develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community." 
Your Next Step: Special Olympics North Carolina (tel. 919/719-7662; www.sonc.net) and Special Olympics (800/700-8585; www.specialolympics.org for international and countrywide chapters). No arranged travel opportunities through the organization. When you know your plans and schedule, find the chapter nearest your locale to become a hero for the athletes. 
While You're There, Don't Miss: In a place like Raleigh, there's always a big event or celebration going on, and in a destination like the JC Raulston Arboretum, there's always something in bloom. With 10 acres and more than 6,000 taxa of plants, this garden is an acclaimed national treasure. Enjoy the rose garden, with hundreds of rose varieties, the arboretum with its special Southern magnolias, the Klein-Pringle White Garden, and other special zones for meandering among the botanic beauty. 
Official Tourism Website: www.visitraleigh.com
Support bilingual education and indigenous preservation in Xiloxochico, Mexico
Global Citizens Network
Xiloxochico, Mexico

The village of Xiloxochico is 20 minutes from the market town of Cuetzalan, in the Sierra Norte region of Mexico’s Puebla state. The village is home to the Nahua, an indigenous group descended from the Aztecs that have preserved their own traditions and the Nahuatl language while also speaking Spanish. About 1.5 million Nahua people still speak Nahuatl today, and another million only speak Spanish. There are 11 indigenous linguistic families spread out through Mexico and although there are national laws defining the rights of indigenous languages in the country, indigenous language speakers still face discrimination in their communities, including in educational settings.

In Xiloxochicho, there is still need for support of bilingual education in order to teach children the Nahuatl language and keep it alive. Chayojkila Xiloxochico is an indigenous elementary school that was founded in 1999 by a group of parents with support of teachers from CONAFE, Mexico’s National Council on Educational Development. The school needs assistance in building additional classrooms, restrooms, and a playground space.

What You’d Do in Mexico: You’d start off the day at Cuetzalan and drive by bus to Xiloxochicho where you’d begin work to help the Nahua community. Duties include digging, painting, and installing windows at the bilingual school. During breaks you’d talk with community members or play a quick game of soccer with the kids.

In Cuetzalan, participants will stay at Taselotzin, an eco-lodge run by Nahua women. The lodge has indoor plumbing, hot water, and electricity. Your meals would have staples in Mexican cuisine and include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Breakfast might comprise hot chocolate, pan dulce, a classic sweet bread in Mexico and other Latin American countries, and fresh pineapple and melon. Lunch would have corn tortillas, while soup and beans could make up your dinner. When you’re not working, there are many things to do and see in Cuetzalan, such as one of the region’s largest indigenous markets.

Your Next Step: Global Citizens Network (tel. 612/436.8270; www.globalcitizens.org). The trip, which is about 10 days, covers lodging and meals, in-country transportation, orientation materials, insurance, and a team leader in charge of logistics.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss: A 3-hour car ride away from Cuetzalan is the Capilla del Rosario, or the Rosary Chapel, thought by many to be one of the best chapels in Mexico. While you’re in the heart of Puebla, stop by the chapel to see the masterpiece of baroque architecture and decoration. Everything from the magnificent onyx pulpit to the staggering amount of gold covering the surface contribute to the spectacular decor that defines Mexican baroque style.

Official Tourism Website: http://www.visitmexico.com/
Tracking fire and wolves through the Canadian Rockies
Earthwatch Institute
Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

Waterton Lakes National Parks is one of the few places where you can get a feel for what North America was like before European settlers arrived. Only about 5 percent of Canada’s native grasslands remain, and they are here, filled with iconic native animals such as grizzly bears, eagles, wolves, and bighorn sheep.

The leaders of this national park strives to use natural resources like wolves and wildfire to create a healthy ecosystem. But over hundreds of years, through human interventions such as hunting, we have created an imbalanced natural relationship and the goal of the research at the national park is to restore these forces of nature. Wolves have also recently made a comeback in the park, and researchers think that as a result, elks are not mowing down aspen shoots as expected. Baby aspen draws a lot of elk, and elk attracts wolves, which makes elks skittery and less likely to linger as they eat. Your work at the park would help researchers find out if their hypothesis is correct and see what they can do to foster natural relationships between the forces at work in this wilderness.

What You’d Do in Alberta: At the park, you will get once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as hiking off-trail through parts of the park that tourists never see, past grizzly bears and elk, to help researchers unravel the complex interactions between wolves, elk, and fire. You’ll measure how much vegetation elk are consuming, record wildlife sightings, track wolves by driving or hiking to wolf dens, and more.

You’ll stay in the Waterton Lakes National Park Research House in Waterton Village, a town nestled in the mountains with views of peaks and a gorgeous lake. The team will plan and prepare meals together and bring packed lunches out into the field. There are a lot of local, organic food on the expedition such as fresh salmon, bison, and fruits and vegetables. From the research station in Waterton Village, you’ll get to see views of the mountains and sunsets. The park is home not just to wolves and elk, but also moose, bison, trumpeter swans, and sandhill cranes, so look forward being able to spot wildlife on a daily basis.

Your Next Step: Earthwatch Institute (tel. 800/776-0188; www.earthwatch.org) The 7-day expedition includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss: In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park in Montana became the world's first International Peace Park due to the work between the two nation's rotary clubs. After your work is done at Waterton, travel about an hour and a half, just across the border, to see the park in Montana. Take your time to enjoy the park, a World Heritage Site, as there are more than 700 miles of trails, and a variety of natural sights such as forests, meadows, mountains, and beautiful lakes.

Official Tourism Website: http://travelalberta.us/
Unearthing ancient history in Tuscany
Earthwatch Institute
Baratti and Populonia Archaeological Park, Piombino, Tuscany, Italy

Researchers know that for hundreds of years, Populonia was at the forefront of the ironworks industry in the Mediterranean. The oldest features uncovered in Populonia, two mound tombs belonging to wealthy local families, date back to the seventh century B.C. However, we know little about the political, economic, and religious changes brought by the arrival of the Romans in this region of the Tuscan coast. In order to reconstruct the history of Populonia, researchers must answer many questions: When and where did iron smelting take place? Who were the ancient people that lived and worked in the iron smelting industry, the harbor, and the mines? How was the society influenced by metalworking and trade?

By joining this expedition, you’ll aid researchers in filling gaps in knowledge about the Populonia area from the Etruscan period (beginning in 800 B.C.) and up to the early Middle Ages (A.D. 600). You’ll help researchers see how the Etruscan and Roman economies functioned and how the Romans took advantage of the natural resources of the territories they ruled.

What You’d Do in Italy: Teams will be split between two sites; The first team will be in the Etruscan cemetery of San Cerbone and the early Roman section of Populonia. The tombs were long buried beneath iron slag heaps and misled excavators at the beginning of the 20th century partly destroyed many tombs when they tried to dig them up. Your work will help preserve a site that might otherwise be lost.

The second team will work between the walls of a Roman villa on Poggio del Molino (Windmill Hill), overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The villa was built at the start of the 1st century A.D. and is one of the few existing sources of information from the end of the 5th century, when people continued living at the villa. At both sites, you’ll be excavating artifacts, mapping excavation sites, recording and analyzing finds, conserving artifacts, and rebuilding original objects from fragments you discover.

You’ll stay in modern apartments in the village of Populonia Stazione. You’ll get to make your own breakfast in the kitchen, while lunch will be at a local cafe, and in the evenings staff members will serve home-cooked Italian dinners. Your accommodations are close to the village’s center, where you can visit a pizzeria, a bakery, and two small grocery stores.

Your Next Step: Earthwatch Institute (tel. 800/776-0188; www.earthwatch.org) Volunteers can choose from 7-day or 13-day expeditions. The trip includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss: There are endless exciting sights in Tuscany, but of course the signature destination is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Indulge yourself with taking the classic tourist picture pose with the tower, but don’t forget that you can go inside and climb up 300-odd steps to get great views of the city.

Official Tourism Website: http://www.italia.it/

Help save the panda population in China
Ya’an, Sichuan province, China

Of all of China’s sights, the panda bear species is one of its most iconic, and a hallmark of the country’s rich ecosystem. Adored across the world, pandas are beloved for their drowsy nature and cuddly appearance. Although they have traditionally called the mountains of south central China home, today the future of the Giant Panda species is uncertain. Habitat destruction, poaching, and deforestation have drastically reduced the population, and there are currently fewer than 1600 pandas left in the wild.

There are currently many ongoing conservation efforts in the field, from creating national parks in order to prevent further deforestation, to captive breeding programs which aim to release new pandas into the wild to help restore a healthy population. The Frontier-China Panda Conservation Project is one such program—its researchers examine panda behavior and plan to breed pandas and release them into the wild, when possible. The project needs volunteers like you in order to carry out this research, and your help is essential to ensure the survival of this magnificent species.

What You’d Do in China: At the Bifengxia Panda Base, your duties include feeding the pandas and preparing their food, helping with daily maintenance like cleaning panda enclosures, and assisting with running the park. The sanctuary scientists may also need your assistance with collecting data about the pandas, conducting medical examinations and breeding efforts, and more.

You’ll be staying at a hostel close to the sanctuary, with hot water and a bathroom at your disposal, although internet communication might not always be available. You’ll be provided with three meals a day, which will mostly be authentic Chinese cuisine. The project is based in Ya’an, less than three hours from Chengdu in Sichuan province. Take time to visit Chengdu and explore all the great sights and aromatic foods the city has to offer, from Wenshu Yuan Monastery to dandan noodles, a Sichuan staple.

Your Next Step: Frontier (tel. 949/336-8178; www.frontiergap.com) The trip, which offers one and two week durations, includes pre-departure support, food, accommodations, local orientation and training, and in-country emergency support. Insurance is not provided.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss: Although most people would say going to a panda breeding center is already at the top of their bucket list when they go to Chengdu, another must-see is Mount Qingcheng, one of China’s most famous Taoist mountains. The trek up the mountain is not for everyone, but the sights along the way might make the taxing and sweaty trip worth it. Your views include peaks, lush foliage, numerous ancient palaces, and even a winding river or two.

Official Tourism Website: http://www.travelchina.gov.cn/