Volunteering on an expedition on your gap year is one of the most exciting and challenging ways to make a real difference to the world. These types of volunteering packages are perfect for those with a taste for adventure and who strongly believe in eco-tourism.
The options are as vast as the terrain you’ll be covering and you’ll be able to get completely off the beaten track, returning home with incredible stories and photographs, not to mention the knowledge that you’ll be part of a global community committed to creating a sustainable future.
You could help conserve rainforests in Asia, marine life in Central America or wildlife in the heart of Africa, all while having the adventure of a lifetime. Have a look through these pages for some inspiration on where to go and what to do, and to find out the best way to prepare for this type of experience.
Popular Countries for Expeditions
There are so many countries around the world where you can take an expedition while simultaneously volunteering, right from Argentina to Zambia. On this page we’ve dug out the most popular countries for this type of volunteering, but be sure to use the left hand side bar for heaps more!
With its dramatically beautiful scenery and ancient history, Peru is a place which needs your protection, and a place which is really good to volunteer on an expedition. There are lots of options to choose from and expedition projects can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months. You could find yourself descending into the heart of the Amazon, monitoring the rainforest environment and wildlife, or travelling into the beautiful but fragile Manu National Park to work with local indigenous tribes and communities.
South Africa is famous for its magnificent landscapes and breath-taking wildlife, making it a perfect place to take an expedition while volunteering at the same time. Although much has been done in recent years to protect South Africa’s wildlife, there is still a lot which needs doing; this is something of a never-ending project. You can become a part of that while exploring the amazing country at the same time. As well as exploring the game reserves, your work could include driving through the bush in a 4x4 tracking priority species, setting up camera traps and helping with ongoing game counts.
Volunteering on an expedition in Malaysia is tough but extremely rewarding work. Expeditions typically take place in the dense jungles that the country is famous for, and can last up to 10 weeks. As well as volunteering on all manner of things, like environment and wildlife conservation, you’ll be taught jungle survival skills and often have to sleep pretty rough. You should be mentally and physically prepared before taking one of these on.
Belize is a fantastic place to take part in a marine conservation expedition. The Central American country is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world (exceeded only by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef)and has one of the world’s most diverse eco-systems. Amazingly, only 10% of the reef has so far been researched, meaning an extreme likelihood of further research uncovering brand new species of coral and other sea life. An marine expedition in Belize will allow you to scuba dive almost daily, conducting research (perhaps you’ll find a new species!) and helping with general conservation.
It’s really important to properly prepare for a volunteering expedition, both for the sake of yourself, the group you’ll be working with and the environments and people you’ll be helping. Make sure you research thoroughly the project you’re interested in before committing any money. For example, if you want to volunteer in marina conservation but don’t have a PADI cerficiate, make sure you find out whether you’ll need one or if you’ll be trained onsite.
Keep in mind that you’ll probably be in the move a lot, so pack sensibly. You’ll almost certainly need a decent backpack (check out our guide to choosing a backpack) and very comfortable walking boots. Nothing is quite as traumatic as hiking for hours with agonising blisters. Also think about essential accessories, like a head torch for trekking in the dark and going to the toilet in the middle of the night. And then don’t forget about basic medical supplies.
A reasonably good level of fitness is usually key for any sort of volunteering expedition, but particularly ones which involve trekking in difficult environments, like jungles, for instance. It’s not like you have to be the next Rambo, but in the weeks preceding your trip it’s probably a good idea to take some long walks or get yourself down the gym.
It’ll really benefit you once you’re on the expedition, and you’ll be glad you put the training in.
Jabs and immunisations
Again, very important, especially for remote and wild areas. Tropical areas are often home to all manner of nasty diseases and parasites, so speak to your local healthcare professional before leaving, tell them where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, and they’ll be able to tell you exactly what you need. For example if you’re going to be working with wild animals, a rabies vaccine would be wise. Similarly, if you’re going to be in malaria hotspots, you’ll probably need some antimalarials to err on the side of caution.