Iguazu Falls National Park in Argentina: Falls, Wildlife, Trails

devils throat Iguazu Falls Argentina

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We have been in Argentina for several weeks and were excited to have the opportunity to visit Iguazu Falls National Park.

Located in northeastern Argentina, it is an amazing place to view incredible wildlife, exploring the many trails, and watching the breathtaking falls.

After spending time in fast-paced cities like Buenos Aires, it was wonderful to slow down and be closer to nature again, like we were in Chacra Millalen, volunteering on an organic farm.

Terrifyingly Awesome: Iguazu Falls, Argentina

We were greeted in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina (after a 20 hour bus ride) by dark clouds, cool weather, and pouring rain.

It continued to rain all afternoon Friday and into Saturday morning.

When the alarm went off at 7am on Saturday morning I jumped out of bed excited to get to the Falls, but it was still overcast.

We had decided that if it was raining we would stay a few more days in order to experience Iguazu Falls at its finest, so we went back to sleep.

By the time we got up a little while later the sky was clearing, so we took our chances and went to the falls.

It turned out to be one of two magnificent days at Iguazu Falls National Park (Parque Nacional Iguazu).

Iguazu Falls (Cataratas del Iguazu)

Iguazu Falls consists of over 275 separate waterfalls on the Iguazu River.

One side of the river and waterfalls is Brazil and on the other side is Argentina.

Many people see the falls from both sides, but unfortunately Americans are required to get a $150 visa to go into Brazil so we only visited the Argentine side.

It is reported to be better overall, but with fewer panoramic views.

We visited Iguazu Falls National Park for two days — hiking the on and off the beaten track trails and taking in the grandeur of the falls.

Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat)

Garganta del Diablo is the largest of Iguazu’s falls at nearly 500 feet wide.

To get to these falls there are a series of catwalks nearly a mile long over the river until you get to the falls themselves.

Arriving at the end of the catwalks overlooking Devil’s Throat my initial instinct was to grab hold of the innermost railing and inch back closer to land — the waterfall is literally under your feet.

Once my survival instinct subsided I was astounded by the sight and sound of the falls.

The roar of the water rushing over the falls in one I’ll never forget.

The Devil’s Throat waterfall itself is massive and immediately to it’s left (from the Argentine catwalks) are the Union and Floriano Waterfalls making for an seemingly unending series of falls.

Salto San Martin, Mbigua, Mendez and Bossetti

While not nearly as massive as Devil’s Throat, the San Martin, Mbigua, Bernabe Mendez, and Bossetti waterfalls are just as breathtaking.

There is a series of upper catwalks which allow visitors to experience the falls looking down over them, and a longer lower circuit of trails that provides panoramic views.
Salto San Martin Mbigua Mendez Bossett
Iguazu Falls

Isla San Martin

We got to San Martin Island, on the Argentine side of the falls, via a short boat ride.

From the island there is an impressive front-and-center view of the San Martin Falls.

The spray coming off of the falls was so intense on the island that some people wore rain ponchos.
san martin Falls
The side of the island facing away from the falls gives little indication of the tumultuous waterfalls that these waters flow through.
parana rive rview

Sendero Macuco / Macuco Hiking Trail

On our second day visiting Iguazu Falls National Park we decided to get off the tourist path and hike the Macuco Nature Trail through the jungle.

While this wasn’t exactly traditional backpacking South America, we enjoyed a more tranquil part of the park.

Although we saw thousands of people while visiting the main park, we only ran into about a dozen during our three hours hiking this trail.

It was peaceful with only the sound of bird calls and a few nature sightings.
sendero bird
The Macuco Trail leads about 2.5 miles through the jungle to the Arrechea Stream Waterfall.

If you ever get the chance, make the trip to Iguazu Falls and the natural wonders within.
Iguazu Falls

World’s Largest Rodent and Other Exotic Iguazu Falls Animals

After enjoying the fauna on Peninsula Valdes, we were excited to see what lived in this area.

Awhile ago I watched a PBS documentary about animals in South America.

It featured the capybara — which at 140 pounds — is the world’s largest rodent.

The image of a ginormous hamster-beaver-bear stuck with me, so I was psyched to learn capybaras live in Iguazu Falls National Park (Parque Nacional Iguazú). I went on a mission to find one.

Luck was on my side and a capybara did come out to pose for a photo, along with lots of other exotic wildlife — from toucans and kites to coatis and lizards.

I was surprised to see such a wide variety of species here.

Capybara

You can’t tell how huge it is from the photo, but the capybara weighs 140 pounds and can be over 4 feet tall.

Think black bear-sized guinea pig. This one was scavenging near Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat), one of the biggest waterfalls in the park.
capybra

Spectacled Caiman

This caiman — complete with a butterfly on his head — was lounging on a rock not far from the capybara.
Caiman

Coati

It may look cute and innocent, but there were signs throughout the park warning visitors to hide food in the presence of coati, this raccoon relative, because they’ve been known to attack for food. So unlike the folks in this photo, I kept my distance from coatis and their sloth-like claws.
Coati

Toucan

Not the best shot of a toucan, but they don’t stay still for long! You can see its beak pointing toward the bottom of the photo.

This isn’t a toco toucan (think Toucan Sam), though we did see a few of those fly by as well.

But they were too fast to snap a picture.
Toucan

Giant Ants

I have to admit I was a little bit afraid this very large ant would somehow leap off the ground and bite my hand.

But it didn’t and now you can see how huge these ants are.

I figure if a normal ant can carry a large leaf on its back, this one can probably carry a small child.
Giant Ant

Butterflies

I’d never seen so many butterflies in my life.

They were everywhere — in blue, pink, green, solids, patterns — swarming around us as we stepped onto new paths.

One even landed on my head and stayed there for a full minute before moving on.

Plumbeous Kite

I used a super-zoom lens for this shot of a plumbeous kite, part of the hawk family.
Kite

Vulture

There was a gigantic colony of vultures hanging out on a nearby rock, with dozens more circling in the sky.

Eerie!

Even scarier is the fact that this photo was captured without the help of a zoom lens.
Vulture

Lizard

These 3 foot long reptiles proved they weren’t afraid of people as they sunned themselves near hiking paths.

They looked intimidating, though, and we captured this shot with the zoom.
Lizard

Rodents

I’m not sure what this is called, but it was about the size of a guinea pig and didn’t seem to be afraid of people.
Small Rodent
The second I learned is an agouti and was the size of a small beagle and was much more skittish.

It ran across the trail far ahead of us.
Iguazu Falls Agouti

Guira Oga: Iguazu Falls Animal Rehabilitation Center

The bus driver saw the sign, slammed on his brakes, and pulled over on the side of the highway to let us off.

The Güirá Oga Animal Rehabilitation Center is sandwiched between the town of Puerto Iguazu and the main Iguazu Falls Park entrance.

We could have easily missed it, but I’m so glad we didn’t.
Guira Oga entrance sign
As the only visitors there, we got our own personal tour guide.

José, the son of a national park tour guide, grew up in Puerto Iguazu and recently returned from university in the province of Neuquen.
capuchin
To begin the tour, we rode to the head of the trail in a wagon attached to a Güirá Oga truck.
wagon
Güirá Oga’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and reintroduce injured or endangered animals to Iguazu Falls National Park.

They function as an animal hospital and rehabilitation center focusing primarily on birds, although plenty of cute furry animals are also rehabilitated at the park.

During our hour-long tour, we got to see up close many of the animals we saw at Iquazu Falls, plus others like the Capuchin monkeys and Oso Melero.
Iguazu Falls Capuchin monkey
Iguazu Falls Oso melero
The most surprising and confusing part of the tour was when José showed us the nutrition/food preparation building.

He told us about how Güirá Oga grows partridges and mice. Despite José’s excellent English, we didn’t understand right away.

They breed the partridges and rodents at the center to feed to the other animals.
hatching eggs
Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday and during siesta hours we didn’t get to see any of the hospital veterinarians in action, but we learned a lot about the animals and the park during our tour.

Güirá Oga does excellent work, and we enjoyed supporting it.

With so many falls to visit at Iguazu Falls National Park in Argentina, we could have stayed much longer.

It was a wonderful experience; one we would recommend to anyone.

The wildlife at Iguazu Falls was diverse and fun to see as well.

And while you are in the area, be sure to visit Güirá Oga Animal Rehabilitation Center, which rehabilitates animals for release to Iguazu Falls National Park.

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Peninsula Valdes ~ Fauna and Whale Watching

Peninsula Valdes in Argentina is the only place on the planet where Orcas beach themselves to catch seals.

Of course, that only happens at certain times of year, and even then, it’s rare.

We were blessed with the opportunity to travel to Peninsula Valdes and enjoyed every minute of this magnificent place.

This nature reserve is a sanctuary for wildlife.

After much research and meeting with other green travelers on past excursions, we knew if we ever went to Argentina, we wanted to visit Peninsula Valdes, so that we could experience the amazing fauna and see the southern right whales on the whale watching tour.

We were also excited at the prospect of seeing penguins.

What could be cooler than penguins on a beach?

We arranged our whale watching tour for later in the week.

In the meantime, we debated going on an arranged tour of Peninsula Valdes, but we’d heard they can be a bit rushed. We really wanted to take our time.

So we paid a bit extra, and the owner of our hostel gave us a private tour of Peninsula Valdes.

The desert-like landscape was fascinating and so unlike other parts of the country, including our time enjoying volunteering at Chacra Millalen, an organic farm in Argentina.

Diverse fauna in Peninsula Valdes

We didn’t see any Orca whales, but the elephant seals, penguins, ostrich-like rheas, llama-esque guanacos, seals, and seal lions more than made up for it.

Please note, wherever we go, we never, ever touch, feed, purposely come close to, or disturb wildlife in any way.

This peninsula is a sacred habitat for so many species and also has a huge tourism population.

It is so important to be respectful of the surroundings here.

Rheas & Guanacos

We were less than 10 minutes into our tour when we spotted a rhea (similar to an ostrich) with 11 chicks on the side of the road.

Our guide told us they usually have 10-12 babies in a litter.

Next we were fortunate enough to see some guanacos, llama-like animals that are abundant on the peninsula.

They often travel in groups of five or more, but we found these two alone.
Peninsula Valdes
Peninsula Valdes Guanaco grazing near an inlet

Penguins

Then we stopped at my favorite point where we saw penguins.

When we first walked toward the rope that keeps people off the beach, we were disappointed because we didn’t see any penguins in the distance.

Then we looked down, and there they were, just a few feet away.

This penguin greeted us with a wave and stayed posed for lots of photos.
Peninsula Valdes Waving penguin
This cutie was standing close to us.
Peninsula Valdes
This penguin and many others on the beach were nesting.

We didn’t see any hatched chicks.
Peninsula Valdes
This penguin decided to take a dip in the ocean right before we left.

It’s interesting how much penguins look like ducks when they swim.
Peninsula Valdes

Elephant Seals, Sea Lions & Baby Seals

There were signs on the beach with sketches of male, female, and baby versions of these seal types, but from 200 feet away it was virtually impossible to distinguish one from the other.

The females are nearly identical, at least to my untrained eye.

But I’ll do my best labeling them.

One of the most fascinating parts of this experience was listening to the noises the animals make while they splash around in the water.
Peninsula Valdes Female sea lions playing in the water
We weren’t sure which animal we were photographing when we took the picture, but based on its ginormous size (males can weigh up to 7,700 lbs), we were guessing an elephant seal.

Looks like we were right — see its trunk-like nose?
Peninsula Valdes
This little fellow was sleeping by himself on the beach sunning himself.

For the most part, all of the seals and sea lions looked like this — inactive to the point of being lifeless.

But no worries.

That’s just how they roll.
Peninsula Valdes
One of my favorite parts was seeing the sea lions walk out of the water using their feet-like fins.

See the trail of footprints this one left behind him?

These two are male sea lions, which you can tell by their thick necks.
Peninsula Valdes

Birds and Lizards

We saw so many interesting species on our visit to Peninsula Valdes.

We caught a glimpse of this pretty red bird off of a hiking trail near the beach.
Peninsula Valdes
There were also so many lizards on the beach trails near the sea lions and penguins.
Peninsula Valdes

The Salt Lake

Our guide pulled over on the way back to show us this expansive salt lake.

He said it was almost entirely salt, with very little water, and that they don’t take salt from it to eat.

It was difficult to capture its size in a photo.

It remains one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen.
Peninsula Valdes

Whale watching off Peninsula Valdes

Whale watching off Peninsula Valdes is a big business here, and it was on our list of things we were going to be sure to do.

We were hoping to see whales called southern right whales.

We learned from our guide that usually southern right whales spend summer in the Southern Ocean which surrounds Antarctica.

They migrate north in the winter for breeding and are often found on the coasts of Argentina.

Our small boat rounded the corner into a bay of the Gulfo Nuevo in the Atlantic Ocean.

Immediately we saw three small whale tails and the mother whale’s head behind them.
Peninsula Valdes
During our two-hour whale watching excursion, near Puerto Madryn and Puerto Piramides, Argentina, we floated in the ocean and watched as the southern right whales nursed, played, and swam under our boat.

Peninsula Valdes

Southern right whales average about 40 ft long and weigh 27 tons.

It is reported there are only about 8,000 of them left in the world, 400 near Peninsula Valdes, because they were hunted to near extinction.

Hunters favored them because they are slow and float on the water’s surface when killed.
Peninsula Valdes
Southern right whales also float when they’re nursing.

We learned that of the three babies (ages 4-6 months) we saw, only one was this mother’s.

The guides recognized a second as an orphan who has been nursing from other mothers in the area.

Although not all mothers will nurse an orphan.

They didn’t know where the third baby came from.

While this whale let him nurse on this particular day, we learned it was unlikely she would continue to do so as each baby eats over 200 liters of milk a day.

Another interesting fact: Southern right whales have hair in many of the same places humans do, like eyebrows above their eyes.

Peninsula Valdes

Sadly, even with the ban on hunting, these whales are still not safe from predators.

The seagull population has expanded rapidly, and one seagull colony has started eating off live whales’ skin.

Peninsula Valdes

The southern right whale has incredibly sensitive skin, and the seagulls bring infections.
Peninsula Valdes
Despite this depressing fact, I couldn’t be anything but awestruck at these majestic creatures.

They swam close to the boat and made magical whale noises.

The tour operators stressed the importance of being quiet.

Peninsula Valdes

It was a magnificent two hours and money well spent.

Peninsula Valdes

A visit to Peninsula Valdes affords one an up-close experience of the wildlife and beauty that abounds here.

It is an important nature reserve that is very important to our ecosphere.

Later in our travels we saw the majestic Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo, which was also incredible.

We were excited to see penguins and penguin chicks in Punta Tombo Argentina.

After seeing lots of them at Peninsula Valdes, we wondered how much different it would be visiting here.

Home to over 600,000 Magellanic penguins, it’s one of the largest penguin colonies in the world.

But we said “why not?” and booked the trip to Punta Tombo reserve, just south of Trelew, Argentina.

It turns out that seeing thousands of penguins in one place is exponentially more exciting than seeing a few dozen.

Penguins at Punta Tombo

The Magellanic penguins return to Punta Tombo year after year from September to April to nest and raise their chicks.

We arrived just in time to see the newly hatched chicks.

The parents share responsibility for the chicks.

While one sits on the nest, the other goes out to sea to find food.

My favorite part was when the penguin parents would tire of standing over their chicks and suddenly just plop (like a belly flop) right on top of the chicks.

It seemed like the chicks would get squished! Penguin chicks are so adorable.

We couldn’t decide between using our DSLR vs Point-and-Shoot camera, so we used both, just as we did while visiting Peninsula Valdes, Iguazu Falls, and Tikal National Park.

While these pictures seem close up, we were actually keeping a respectable distance, to be respectful to all wildlife.

Punta Tombo
with two chicks
Punta Tombo
with one chick and one egg

Punta Tombo

Punta Tombo

Punta Tombo
basking in the sun; another sitting on nest
Punta Tombo
Guanacos (relative of the llama) and penguins enjoying the Atlantic coast
Punta Tombo
walking to and from the beach
Punta Tombo
hundreds of penguins heading out to sea

Memorable time at Punta Tombo

Our visit to Punta Tombo was incredible.

Seeing thousands of penguins across the beach, adorable chicks, and penguins diving into the ocean was a truly unforgettable experience.

Stepping on penguins? Dilemmas in green travel

While I was at Punta Tombo, however, I felt we got a little too close for comfort.

Take one step without looking, and I could have literally stepped on a penguin.

We were warned to “not get too close.”

But what is too close?

No one told us the specifics.

Many tourists leaned within feet of the penguins just to get better pictures.

And of course the tour group was loud.

Punta Tombo
fellow tourist who got too close

It was difficult to know our immediate impact.

It seems like in order to build the walking trail years ago, some nests would have had to be moved or destroyed.

And since the penguins return to the same nests year after year, what happened to the penguins whose nests were in the way?

Penguin population at Punta Tombo is getting smaller

Sadder still is that the penguin population is slowly dwindling.

The pollution and over-fishing in the Atlantic Ocean means that the penguins’ food sources are dying and moving further from shore.

Thus the penguins have to swim further away from their nests to find food.

Penguins are monogamous and share parenting duties.

One parent guards the nest while the other goes for food.

But because its partner is gone longer in search of food, sometimes the penguin on the nest will starve by the time the other returns.

Or the nesting penguin may abandon the nest to get food — leaving the eggs or chicks unprotected.

When that happens, the penguin is often so near starvation it dies before it even gets to the water.

And we were told that the chicks are getting smaller because they aren’t fed as frequently.

Punta Tombo
penguin corpse on the beach

While I loved the opportunity to take lots of cute photos of penguins at Punta Tombo, I was struck with the dilemmas of being an environmentally conscious traveler.

How do I justify disturbing this place? And what can I do to prevent the pollution that causes these penguins to starve?

I felt a bit guilty after visiting Perito Moreno Glacier and Peninsula Valdes as well.

Both, like Punta Tombo, are major tourist attractions. Yet, they all come with a cost of destroying the natural habitat, little by little.

People and companies are profiting; tourists are “experiencing;” yet, the flora, fauna, and other natural surroundings are the ones who pay the price after thousands of people come traipsing through, year after year.

The visit was a reminder of how interconnected people and animals are, and that traveling doesn’t come without costs.

With the holidays just around the corner, a lot of us will be traveling.

Let’s try to make an even greater effort to be a little more environmentally conscious.

Whether it’s bringing a reusable water bottle to the airport, parking further away rather than driving in circles looking for a parking spot at the mall, or wrapping presents in the Sunday comics, every little bit helps.

While Punta Tombo was a wonderful experience, because I strive to be a green traveler, it is difficult to say whether I would recommend it or not.

Like the glaciers and other natural spaces, too much “people intervention” is detrimental.

I believe people, for the most part, try to do their part to respect their surroundings while visiting these places, in this case, the penguins, penguin chicks, and nests.

However, it is still invading on their natural habitat.

Perito Moreno Glacier Argentina – Great Glacier Pictures

We were in Argentina for two months and had Perito Moreno Glacier near the top of our list of things we wanted to see.

We always try to experience as many outdoor respites as possible, as we usually prefer nature-made over man-made.

Already we had enjoyed taking in the natural grandeur of Peninsula Valdes and Iguazu Falls.

We were anxious to see Perito Moreno Glacier, a major tourist attraction in southern Patagonia, in southwest Santa Cruz Province of Argentina.

This glacier is one of three in Patagonia that is not retreating.

We also learned that this field of ice is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh, not salt, water.

Located in the Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier is something to behold.

We took at least 1,000 glacier pictures that day as we couldn’t get over the beauty of the glaciers.

Of course, photos never can capture the true magnificence, but we still tried.

We were so lucky to have experienced the Perito Moreno Glacier

We had been in Argentina for months exploring so many places.

The magnificent Perito Moreno Glacier was the last of the “big things” we wanted to see.

Afterwards, we had several weeks to explore the rest of the country at our leisure.

Some of the other stops we made included Trelew, Punta Tombo, Mendoza, Maipu, and San Martin de los Andes.

Places we went to in addition to Perito Moreno Glacier

Trelew: Real life in Argentina

“What are you doing here?” a local teenager asked us after he learned we were from the United States.

Trelew isn’t exactly the top spot on most “Places to Visit in Argentina” lists.

But perhaps it should be.

Situated between Puerto Madryn, Punta Tombo, and Gaiman (a Welsh village with tea houses), Trelew is a great stop for anyone on an extended visit in Argentina.

Because so few tourists visit, cheap accommodations were hard to find.

But if you do decide to stay, you’ll be rewarded with a true taste of Argentine life.

We stopped here during the middle of our trip for five days to relax and get some work done.

While there, we enjoyed doing things Argentines do: shopping for groceries and chatting with the checkout person; ordering and waiting for made-on-the-spot empanadas and sampling Argentina parrilla; and sitting on the park bench in the center of town watching kids throw water on each other to celebrate the end of the school year.

Because it was November, not exactly the end of the school year for Americans, it took us a while to figure out what the teenagers were doing when they were ripping up notebooks, playing drums and singing, and flinging liter bottles filled with water.

In Trelew, there’s also a paleontology museum with some interesting exhibits — including one where visitors can touch a real dinosaur bone.

Perito Moreno Glacier
paleontology museum
Perito Moreno Glacier
View from our apartment in Trelew

We stayed in an apartment with a view of the city.

There was a fantastic owner, Miguel.

I accidentally left some posters at the apartment, and a few days later Miguel emailed and arranged to ship them to us in Buenos Aires, where we were going to be at the end of our trip.

I am so thankful to him for doing that.

If you’re on extended trip in Argentina and looking for a place to sit back, relax, and settle down for a few days, check out Trelew.

AfterbPerito Moreno Glacier, we made our way to Mendoza

Buses and buses.

We were excited to take the trip to Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine region.

We were looking forward to a wine tour by bike.

Is is hard to believe we could be on a boat beholding the amazing Perito Moreno Glacier and then days later be on a wine tour by bike in Mendoza.

We also thoroughly enjoyed the fine Argentine cuisine and the typical Argentine breakfast in Mendoza.

Perito Moreno Glacier
Plaza Independencia
Perito Moreno Glacier
Mosaic tiles in Plaza España
Perito Moreno Glacier
Mullets are popular in Mendoza
Perito Moreno Glacier
Virgin of the Grapes mosaic at a bodega

Hiking to the Mirador Arrayan Tea House: San Martin de Los Andes

After experiencing the amazing Lake Agnes Tea House in Lake Louise, Canada, I was excited to learn that San Martin de los Andes, Argentina has the Mirador Arrayán Tea House.

The local city guide pamphlet promised the tea house would have “excellent bakery pastries that can be also appreciated … and eaten.”

Appreciated and eaten?

I’m there.

We set out for our 10 km hike late morning on the part paved, part dirt road that leaves San Martin de los Andes near Lake Lacar.

San Martin is a cute town of about 20,000 people nestled in a valley in the Patagonian Andes.

A gorgeous spring day with just a few clouds in the sky provided the backdrop for our hike and within 15 minutes of our hike we had a spectacular view of the city below.
15minview.jpg
Despite the trek being on a road and not a trail (you can drive to the viewpoint) we only saw a dozen or so cars.

The hike was peaceful, and we made it to the Mirador Arrayán in about an hour.

We marveled at the view, trying but failing to capture its majesty on film.

Glancing to the west you see the entirety of Lake Lacar with snow capped mountains in the background.
lakeview.jpg
Looking to the east is the city of San Martin de los Andes.
sanmartindelosandes.jpg
We hiked the 1km further up the road, looking forward to the Mirador Arrayán Tea House, and to appreciating and eating its pastries.
teahouseclosed.jpg
We approached the Tea House, only to find a sign on the door indicating their hours of 4pm-8pm.

We weren’t going to hang around for another four hours so we turned back to the lookout point, lunching instead on our backup food– smoked trout and cheese, a local specialty.

I guess we’ll never experience the Arrayán Tea House’s pastries, but the view and serenity were well worth the hike.

Bike & Wine Tour in Maipu: It’s Better After a Bottle

We had high hopes for our wine tour by bike through Maipú, in the heart of Argentina’s wine region.

What could be better than a leisurely bike ride through a cute old town with wineries on one side and the Andes on the other?

But our experience didn’t quite match up with our expectations.

We hopped off the bus in Maipú and rented two rickety bikes.

Winery map in hand, we started pedaling toward the first winery.

Based on the map, it should have only been a few blocks away.

Then again, the map didn’t have a scale.

Eight kilometers later we pulled into the old-fashioned bodega, exhausted and happy to be there.

The bike shop didn’t have any helmets and the bike lane ended after a few blocks.

The wine route turned out to be a run-down major road, with cement trucks whizzing by at 70 mph, barely swerving to avoid us and kicking up dust and spewing exhaust in our faces.

Not quite the majestic, peaceful experience we’d hoped for, but we tried to look on the bright side.
NotSoScenic.jpg

Not the scenery we’d imagined

Two large dogs greeted us at the first winery, which consisted of five unlabeled buildings.

We ventured into one and found a winery tour in progress.

We tagged along for 15 minutes during which I learned.

You should always store wine on the first floor of your house and the bottle should be kept horizontal.

When you buy wine at the store, take a bottle from the back of the shelf because it’s been exposed to less light.

At least I think that’s what the guide said.

It was all in Spanish, and I struggled to keep up.

Then the tour group went to do a tasting, which was a bit too expensive for us, and we left.

The next winery looked close, but I feared the map might be deceiving us again.

Fortunately, it only took 10 minutes to get there, and this bodega was much more scenic, less busy, more reasonably priced, and served food.

That’s more like it.

We did the tour, ordered a delicious meal, and proceeded to split a bottle of wine.
ThatsMoreLikeIt.jpg

Wine and food — that’s more like it

Feeling content, we stopped at one last winery.

We walked through its museum and saw an entire cow skin that had once been used to filter wine.

We sampled one of their wines, then decided it was time to call it quits for the day.

We headed back to the bike shop, stopping only to sample exotic liqueurs at a store along the way.

A delicious but bad idea after aforementioned bottled of wine.

Content after a five hour day of bodega tours, we returned our bikes and got on a bus headed for Mendoza.

The day wasn’t what we expected, but we still had fun.

With good weather and good wine, you can’t go wrong.

A wonderful time at Perito Moreno Glacier and afterwards

We were lucky to be able to have time to explore Perito Moreno Glacier and many more cities while spending time in Argentina.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is a must-see spot. Given the extra time we had, we were fortunate to also experience off-the-beaten-path locales of Trelew, Punta Tombo, Mendoza, Maipú, and San Martin de los Andes.

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When you take the time to prepare for extended travel, you will have a much better trip.

We recovered from jet lag, but something still felt a bit off.

It took us a while to realize the simple problem: in our pre-departure packing fervor, we’d taken no time to mentally prepare for extended travel.

We were suddenly surrounded by the unfamiliar.

Another culture, a foreign language, different customs.

It was part culture shock, part “I can’t believe we’re doing this for 3.5 months” shock.

One day we had full-time jobs and were living in Washington, DC.

Two weeks later we’d quit our jobs and moved our stuff to Minnesota and ourselves to Argentina.

Sure, we’d done a lot; but we didn’t take time to mentally prepare for extended travel.

Having no set schedule, no boss to report to at 9 am, and no place to call home was disorienting.

All we had done was book our flights to Buenos Aires.

In retrospect, the shock could’ve been easily avoided, or at least alleviated, with a little mental preparation.

After our months’ long excursion to Argentina, we experienced amazing sites, including the Perito Moreno Glacier, Iguazu Falls National Park, Peninsula Valdes, and the penguins at Punta Tombo.

We didn’t want to waste the opportunity there, but didn’t have enough energy to fully experience Guatemala.

Luckily, we still made it to Tikal National Park, an unbelievable place filled with Mayan ruins and exotic animals.

How to prepare for extended travel in 7 steps

Learn from our mistake and take steps to prepare for extended travel.

Take these steps to get ready so you can start enjoying your destination as soon as you arrive.

Jot down your expectations

Ask yourself some basic questions.

What do you think the new culture will be like?

What do you hope for?

How do you think it will be different from your culture?

Writing down your expectations will help you realize exactly what they are and how they might be different from reality.

Write out your goals

What do you hope to accomplish while you’re there?

Conquer a new language?

Do some freelance work?

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Jot down a few goals before you go and revisit them after you’ve been there a while.

Having them prepared beforehand will help you stay on track once you’re there.

Nail down a schedule

If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, a daily schedule will give you a sense of normalcy.

And help you maintain your sanity.

What time of day do you want to get work done?

When do you want to read or write?

How much time do you want to spend sightseeing versus relaxing or working?

You don’t have to stick to it completely, but a basic schedule will help you figure out your life in a new country.

When you take the time to prepare for extended travel, your time there will be much more relaxing, enjoyable, and productive.

Communicate with your travel partner

If you’re traveling with someone else, take time before you leave to talk about what you hope to get out of your travels.

How much time do you want to spend alone?

How many hours a day do you hope to work?

Getting your expectations out in the open will help prevent misunderstanding or conflict later.

prepare for extended travel
prepare for extended travel

photo credit: Leposava

Get to know the culture

Before you leave, rent movies and read a book or two about the country you’ll be visiting.

Your guidebook can only provide so much insight, and your local library may be a treasure trove of cultural information.

Knowing a little about what to expect can go a long way toward helping you prepare for extended travel.

Talk to people who have lived there

If you know someone who is from the country where you’ll be traveling, or who has lived there, ask them about it.

Especially ask about what’s different there, what they were most surprised by when they came to your country, and what they think might be the biggest shock for you.

Narrowing down a big list of must-see destinations to a small list can really help you prepare for extended travel.

If you don’t know anyone who’s been to your country or region of choice, ask around; a friend of a friend might have studied abroad there.

A great way to find out what to see and do as well as what to avoid in a new place, is to ask people who have lived there.

Depending on your interests, you may do better asking for suggestions about the hidden gems, not just the typical tourist attractions.

Learn some of the language

This is the one step we did fairly well before we left and it’s definitely helped.

Take a few hours to learn at least some basic phrases in the language of the country or countries you’re visiting.

Hearing a foreign language all around you is always disorienting, but being able to communicate and understand even a few words will help you feel at home much faster.

Be sure to avoid travel burnout as well by planning some downtime during your travels.

What else can you do to prepare for extended travel?

Check out Long Term Travel – Too Much Time to Think?

Other Tips to Prepare for Extended Travel

I love making lists. Actually, what I love about making lists is crossing things off.

Something I did do with our extended trip to Argentina was to make a lot of lists.

Here’s a glimpse into it.

  • Sell stuff we’re not taking with us on craigslist
  • Pack
  • Move stuff to place for storing
  • Get banking in order
    • Figure out best travel credit card /debit card to use while abroad
    • Let banks/credit cards know we will be out of the country
    • Ensure that all credit card/bank statements are solely electronic
  • Tell post office forwarding address
  • Make copies of all essential documents and leave with someone we trust
  • Decide on cell phone situation (keep one US phone active and “pause” the other?)
  • Decide what other electronics to bring (computer, cameras, etc)
  • File power of attorney paperwork for important decisions in case something goes amiss while we’re away
  • Determine any medicines needed for travels
  • Determine any shots needed for travels
  • Make packing list
  • Figure out what we need to purchase before we go (a bag lock, new lens for camera, lens case for camera, extra memory cards)
  • Determine best guidebook and buy it
  • Find online research about places to visit and print or download to computer
  • Buy small Spanish dictionary
  • Find volunteer options abroad
  • Book first few days in the hostel
  • Figure out health insurance options
  • Figure out travelers health insurance options

Remember that it’s all too easy to get caught up in physical preparations like buying supplies and packing, but it’s equally important to mentally prepare for extended travel.

Whether you are going to Argentina or Alaska, taking these steps will help you get there.

Long Term Travel – Too Much Time to Think?

One thing I didn’t expect about long term travel was having so much time each day.

I knew that I would have free time, but I figured there would still be little things to do, even if it was just lots of sightseeing.

The great thing about having extra time to just be is that it ensures you will avoid travel burnout on your trip.

Will you have a fulfilling time long term travel?

Long Term Travel
photo credit: CarbonNYC

What to do on an extended trip

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to distress (it took about 3 weeks before I could finally relax) I can do whatever I want.

Besides sightseeing, writing, and reading (things I expected to spend a lot of time on) I devote my time to other activities I didn’t consider before.

Here are some things I do with my time and my reflections on them:

Sleep

I used to sleep 8 hours a night and feel pretty well-rested on most days.

Now my body wants to sleep 10 hours.

When I think about it, 10 hours of sleep each night seems too much.

Isn’t this what society tells us?

I’m trying to cut my sleep back to 9 hours a night.

I might even set a travel alarm clock.

Who would have ever thought I’d say that?

Dream

Because of all the sleep and lack of stress (I presume) I dream a lot.

And wake up remembering most of my dreams.

These vivid dreams are rarely about our travels.

Rather, they incorporate people from my past — some people I haven’t thought about in ages.

I know I should probably keep a dream journal and figure out what all these dreams mean, but part of me would rather not over-analyze them.

Apparently it has to do with major changes in my life.

Think

I don’t have a job or any real responsibilities so now I have lots of time to think.

A huge amount of time to think. And not that much to think about.

So my thoughts (like my dreams seem to do) go to my past; memories that I didn’t even realize I had.

I think about the future and what it will look like.

I try to take in every moment and “live in the present.”

But still, I have more time to think than ever before, and I’m not sure I like it.

Sitting in my hotel room, there is nothing to clean, nothing to fix, really no errands to run unless I wanted to wash my clothes or buy food, etc.

Prepare yourself in advance for long term travel and the extra time you will have to think, and you will be more likely to enjoy it more than I did.

Eat

In Defense of Food (a great book) argues that we should take our time when eating and cooking.

Here, enjoying Argentine cuisine, we definitely do that.

The Argentinean culture is naturally slow.

If dining out, it’s easy to take an hour at breakfast drinking a cup of coffee and eating medialunas (pastries).

Lunch can take 1.5-2 hours; afternoon coffee and snack 1.5 hours; late dinner 2 hours.

This is if we ate every meal out and took our time Argentinean style.

Obviously we don’t spend 7 hours of our day eating, but it’s probably close to 4-6.

Most of the time is spent sitting in the cafe or restaurant and talking or thinking.

When we cook it’s probably the same amount of time, only most of the time is spent preparing food, cooking it, and cleaning up.

The nice thing about experiencing long term travel is that we get to experience the customs without feeling like we have to rush through them.

Is it possible to have too much time during long term travel?

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure this lifestyle is totally for me.

It is a true blessing to be able to experience long term travel.

And I do love being able to cook and read and hike and sight-see and stay up late watching whatever I want on television without worrying about sleep deprivation.

But I can’t get over the feeling that I’m not really contributing anything back to society.

Next week we’ll be volunteering at Chacra Millalen so maybe then I’ll feel like I’m giving back.

But right now I can’t help but wondering if all the time I spending sleeping and dreaming and thinking and eating is excessive.

It does feel wasteful when you are abroad but it is often necessary to avoid travel burnout.

Another tip is to take the time in advance of your trip to prepare for extended travel.

Have you enjoyed long term travel?

Did you feel guilty or enjoy the change?

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Long-Term Travel: Why it Works for Us

Week-long trips can be wonderful, but often feel like a whirlwind.

Especially when you’re traveling internationally.

By the time you get over jet lag and adjust to the new time zone, it’s time to head back home.

This is one of the reasons my husband and I started looking into long-term travel.

Long-term travel works

Nearly six months ago we packed up our apartment in Cape Town, South Africa and hit the road.

While long-term travel may not be for everyone, here are a few reasons it works for us.

Long-Term Travel is Cost-Effective

South America is at the top of our bucket list.

Often the most expensive part of travel is getting there so when we go to South America, we’ll go once for 6 weeks — rather than making 6 one-week trips — to save money.

Plus, the trip will be more eco-friendly because we’ll only have to fly there and back once.

We also don’t have a home or a car in America.

Because we don’t have to maintain a home here, we’re able to allocate our money to our lives on the road.

There are many areas of the world that are cheaper than the United States, so it can actually be money-saving to be on the road somewhere else.

Maps Long-Term Travel

We are Flexible

I think long-term travel has worked for us because we are both pretty flexible.

We spent a few weeks after our honeymoon without water in South Africa because the pipes froze (we got to know each other really fast…).

Whether we’re running up against frustrating border officials or locking ourselves out of a safe that contains all of our cash and our passports, we are able to roll with the punches and make it work.

Long-term travel also means that our timeline is flexible.

We know roughly where we will be when for the next few months, but are able to adjust our schedule as needed.

It can also help to mentally prepare for extended travel before you go on your trip.

There is Time to Invest in Relationships

My husband and I are both relational people and we enjoy getting to know people and investing in their lives.

Long-term travel gives us the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships.

Having the time to get to know people depends on how quickly you travel; by working slowing through countries, we have been able to build life-long friendships.

We also experienced aspects of other cultures that we never could have on shorter trips.

One of the most interesting cultural experiences I’ve had was going to a Zulu funeral.

When a good friend’s father died, we were thankful to be able to support her and honored that she would want to include us in such a important family function.

In fact, the family considered us such honored guests that my husband ended up speaking at the funeral.

We could not have had the same experience if we were just traveling short-term.

We Can Work Remotely

Most Americans get a few weeks off from work a year so the idea of long-term travel can feel overwhelming.

In our case, I am a writer and my husband is a web developer.

So whether we are in a coffee shop in Rwanda or Starbucks in Detroit, we can work on projects and meet deadlines.

Even though we’re traveling, we are still working 40 hours a week — our scenery is just changing.

We are currently in the United States.

Last month we were in Iowa, this month Michigan, and we’ll be spending April in Florida.

Working remotely provides us with the flexibility we need to take care of our expenses and travel at the same time.

Long-term travel gives us the flexibility we love, saves money, and gives us time to invest in relationships.

That’s why it works for us.

It’s difficult for many due to limited vacation time off from work and limited funds; however, without those constraints, you may well love long-term travel.

Americans get an average of 25 days of vacation each year, so when they think of travel, they often assume it must fit into this time frame.

Have you considered long-term travel?

Do you think it would work for you?

Ultimate Packing List for Round-the-World Trip

We’re in the final 24 hour countdown to Argentina and our bags are officially packed using the Ultimate Packing List.

The last time we traveled for more than a couple weeks, we each hauled a giant pack and a smaller backpack.

This time around, we decided packing light was the way to go.

I’m proud to say, after much pruning of our packing list, we stuffed all of our travel gear into two carry-on size recycled packs — so it’s better for the environment and for our backs.

Also checkout our Review of Best Portable Travel Chargers

We’ll be spending the next 4 months traveling through Central and South America, getting to know the region, and practicing our Spanish.

Since Argentina is a huge, geographically diverse country, we’re bringing clothes for every climate.

The only things I’d add to this packing list for a longer round-the-world trip would be a scarf and a pair of long underwear. How to Choose Healthy Water Bottle
Ultimate Packing List

Kimberly’s Ultimate Packing List

2 long sleeve t-shirts
3 short sleeve quick dry t-shirts
1 quick-dry sporty tank top
2 tank tops
1 sleeping / exercise t-shirt
1 lightweight hoodie
1 zip-up fleece
1 Nike running / rain jacket

1 pair The North Face Women’s Paramount Porter Convertible Pants (I love love love these — one of my favorite pieces of travel gear.)
1 pair jeans
1 skirt
1 pair sleeping shorts
1 pair sweatpants

6 pairs underwear
2 sports bras
2 regular bras
5 pairs socks
1 swimsuit

Shoes

Montrail Continental Divide trail shoes
Teva Hurricane sandals
Teva flip flops

Everything Else

1 winter hat
1 pair gloves
1 hat
1 pair sunglasses
1 belt
1 medium Aquis microfiber quick-dry towel
1 small quick-dry towel
1 Eagle Creek small shoulder bag
1 Diva Cup
1 watch
1 pair sunglasses
Mountainsmith Lily recycled pack

Elizabeth’s Ultimate Packing List

1 athletic tank top
1 other tank top
2 long sleeve shirts
3 short sleeve shirts
1 sleeping t-shirt
1 fleece
1 Nike running jacket
1 lightweight zip-up hoodie

1 pair khakis
1 pair jeans
1 pair sweatpants
1 pair sleeping shorts/athletic shorts
1 pair khaki shorts
1 skirt

1 swimsuit
6 underwear
3 short socks
2 long socks
2 sports bras
2 regular bras

Shoes

Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoes
1 pair nicer black flip flops
1 pair shower flip flops

Everything Else

1 medium microfiber quick-dry towel
1 winter hat
1 pair gloves
1 baseball cap
1 pair sunglasses
1 Diva Cup
1 watch
1 sunglasses
Mountainsmith Ivy recycled pack
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Our Shared Ultimate Packing List

2 mini shampoo bottles
Face wash
Toothpaste
Toothbrushes
Razor
Dental Floss
Deodorant
Face lotion
Small bottle of sunscreen
Chap stick
Nail clippers
Hair binders
Comb
Jewelry
Castile soap

Peptobismol
Advil
Antibacterial hand gel
Neosporin
Motrin
Malaria pills
Halls cough drops/vitamins
Anti-itch cream
Imodium AD

Laptop
A/V cord
Flash drive
ipods
ipod chargers
Pacsafe backpack protector
Nikon D40 camera with 18-55mm lens
Nikon 55-200mm lens
Canon PowerShot SD700
Camera chargers
Connector cord
3 extra memory sticks
Camera adapter
Joby GP3-01EN Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Flexible Tripod
Laptop case
Camera case

Lonely Planet Argentina guidebook
Eyewitness Argentina guidebook
Small Langenscheidt Spanish dictionary
Penguin Spanish phrasebook
Spanish grammar book
Books for plane
Journals, pens, tape
Small planner

Everything Else

Camelbak BPA-free water bottle
Klean Kanteen 27 oz. water bottle
Bottle opener
Locks for bag
Eagle Creek money belts
Emergency contact numbers
Passports
ATM cards
Cash
Passport and marriage certificate copies
Ecobags reusable produce bags
2 Baggu reusable shopping bags
Deck of playing cards
Wrap-N-Mat
Daypack

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We hope you can use some of these ideas from our Ultimate Packing List as you plan your next adventure!

Tips for Picking the Best Travel Companion

As far as picking traveling companions goes, I have been fortunate: my best friend and my husband are both wonderful travel companions.

But on a recent trip, my husband and I traveled for about a week with some people we met along the way.

While it worked out okay, by the time we parted ways I was happy to be back on our own.

Between complaining about the host families accommodations and not being culturally sensitive about taking photos, I knew I had to start being a little bit more careful about who we travel with.

Tips for picking the best travel companions

Match budgets and taste

Some people prefer luxury dining experiences and have high standards when it comes to where they lay their head.

Others are more the camping and hunt-for-their-food type.

Put the two on a trip together and, in no time, they’ll be arguing about where to stay and which restaurant to visit.

Not only should travel companions have similar interests, they should also be in agreement about basic finances during the trip.

When I went to Europe for the first time with my best friend, we agreed that we were probably going to have make some sacrifices for our budget.

It’s amazing how long you can survive on pretzels and Nutella!

Go with the flow — or not

Some travelers are a bit uptight, while others take a more laid-back approach to trip planning.

If you fall into the latter category, traveling with someone who doesn’t may be frustrating — and vice versa.

On the other hand, in could work out perfectly if one of you is a planner and the other doesn’t want to plan at all.

Just make sure you and your travel companion are on the same page about the structure of your trip and who gets input into the planning process, and you’ll be good to go.

We all know that travel doesn’t always go as planned.

Regardless of your travel style, be sure to pick people who will roll with the punches and stay positive regardless of what happens.

It’s best to have similar interests

If you are a shop ‘til you drop type and your travel companion loves the great outdoors, you may have trouble finding travel activities you’ll both enjoy.

Be sure to travel with people who have similar interests — but remember that similar does not mean “exactly the same.”

It can be great to travel with someone who pushes you to have new and exciting experiences while traveling.

If you’re traveling with someone who’s passionate about music, they may seek out the local music scene and you may get to experience parts of culture you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Daily routines matter

Are you an earlier riser who tucks in early or a night owl who parties all night?

If you’re up at the crack of dawn, a travel companion who sleeps until noon won’t be a good match for you.

Chances are you’ll be up, showered, and ready to go — and they will just be rolling out of bed.

On the other hand, if you’re just gearing up for a night on the town and your travel companion is already yawning, you probably aren’t compatible.

Even if you don’t have the same daily routine at home, you can make it work on your trip; if you can agree to a general schedule before you leave, you can prevent a lot of frustration during the trip.

Your best friend may not make the best travel companion

Even if you’re great friends at home, you won’t necessarily be compatible travel companions.

Traveling with someone is like being their short-term roommate — and we all know those people who were best friends until they shared an apartment or a dorm room.

On the road, you’ll be spending a lot of time together, often even more time than you spend with your significant other.

If you’re not sure you can spend 24 hours a day with your best friend, it may be time to consider other travel companions.

Tours vs DIY travel

Some people prefer traveling as part of a tour.

They love picking a trip and not having to do most of the planning.

For others, the planning is half of the fun.

They love doing hours of research before a big trip, figuring out the best places to stay, and where to visit.

If you are a big fan of all-inclusive tours, you may not like traveling with those who are a bit more DIY when it comes to travel.

What’s your style?

Tips for Finding Last-Minute Summer Travel Deals

Summer travel season seems to go faster than other times of the year.

If this has come as a shock to you, it’s time to book a vacation!

Last-minute summer travel deals can be had if you know where to look.

Find time on the calendar (preferably during the week) and hit the internet to find a deal on summer travel.

Before you know it, you’ll be sipping a tropical drink or hitting the links.

Last-Minute Summer Travel Deals

Book directly through resort and airline websites.

Destinations and airlines list exclusive deals directly on their own sites, so don’t overlook this avenue to savings.

Even if nothing is advertised, the chances of snagging a deal directly through a resort website are high: simply ask if they have any promotion they can give you.

Usually, the answer is yes, and even if not, upgrades upon check-in are common.

Resorts like to be loyal to customers who book directly with them instead of booking sites.

Check destination and tourism center websites and social media.

Destinations often write about local events and celebrations on their Facebook pages.

If you’re thinking of taking a last-minute vacation to a particular region or city, check to see what’s happening there right now, or what’s upcoming on the tourism calendar.

Deals on lodging or attractions can be found this way, especially on a city or destination’s tourism department Facebook page.

Many tourism departments have lodging partners, and pass on savings to you when they refer you.

Find last-minute airfare deals by being flexible.

If you’re flexible about your destination, airfare deals can be found on sites such as AirFareWatchDog, which allows you to search by best deals instead of particular cities and dates.

You can also find great deals to Europe: 25% off on Vueling.

But don’t pair airfare deals with hotel or rental car add-ons: you can almost always find the better deal booking each component separately.

Find Cheap Airline Tickets: Cheat Sheet

Choose first-come, first-served campgrounds.

If you’re driving and camping, steer clear of campgrounds where reservations are accepted.

These will most likely be completely booked during the summer months.

Instead, head to campgrounds where the policy is first come, first served (many national park campgrounds abide by this policy for at least some of their campsites).

Hit the road early to get a spot.

Consider a mid-week vacation home.

If you’ll be staying in one location for the duration (or majority) of your vacation, consider a vacation home.

While many are booked solid on summer weekends, they’re often empty during weekdays (especially Sunday night-Monday night), and owners are willing to make deals.

Many vacation home booking sites allow travelers to make arrangements directly with owners (HomeAway has this policy), giving travelers the chance to negotiate.

Think outside the ‘summer travel’ box.

Instead of heading where the masses go in summer – beaches, theme parks, and national parks–think outside the box.

Head to a ski resort with rooms standing empty (most now offer mountain biking, ropes courses, or hiking in summer) or a typical spring break location, such as Arizona or Palm Springs.

Yes, it will be hot, but activities can be planned for morning or evening with plenty of poolside fun in-between.

Book activities mid-day.

While on vacation, most people don’t want to sweat on the golf course mid-day.

Ditto for bike excursions, horseback rides, or outdoor tours.

Often, these activities will be discounted if you do them during the heat of the day.

Book your tee time for 1 pm and ask for a discount.

By thinking counter-intuitively (and doing whatever the crowds are not doing), you can find great deals on summer travel.

Go directly to the source of the deal instead of using impersonal booking sites, be flexible, and think outside the box.

Have you planned summer travel yet?

What deals have you found last-minute?

Travel Burnout – To go or not to go to Tierra del Fuego

Have you ever experienced travel burnout? You know the feeling if you travel as part of your job.

But have you ever experienced it while you were supposed to be having fun, while on vacation?

Every once in a while when traveling for an extended period of time, you might just need a break, even when you’re in an amazing place.

Traveling isn’t as exciting; it wears you down.

It’s not quite homesickness; it’s just being tired of being on the go, seeing so many new sights, not being able to take it all in, and spending money.

After being on an extended trip to South America and seeing the sites of Buenos Aires, Peninsula Valdes, Bariloche Argentina, and more wonderful locales, we were exhausted.

In the end, after much deliberation, we ended up not traveling to Tierra del Fuego, which would have taken more than 20 hours by bus.

We have no regrets.

Feeling guilty about not “doing more” leads to travel burnout

Part of it is that we felt so blessed with the opportunity to travel, we didn’t want to miss anything.

But we finally learned when we feel travel burnout that it is best to take a few days to just relax.

We learned we should do what we wanted to do instead of feeling like we should have to do something.

In the past two months when we’ve started to feel this way — even just a little — we’ve stopped for a few days.

We’ve found a private room or an apartment (rather than a hostel) which has cured the beginnings of travel burnout.

We can cook our own food, take it slow, and spend a little less money.

Had we had our trip planned out better, we should have arranged our trip to Chacra Millalen, an organic farm in Argentina, when we wanted some downtime.

We are very hard workers, but we didn’t realize the weekend there was “off.”

Had we planned this better, we could have incorporated our volunteering a few days earlier and then had the weekend to relax.
travel burnout
photo credit: Vautrin Baires

Tips for avoiding travel burnout

We’ve learned a lot from this experience.

In the future, when we plan for trips that are longer than two weeks, we will build in some downtime to reduce travel burnout.

You will most likely know when you are experiencing travel burnout.

Tips for avoiding and reducing it will depend on where you are.

It could include relaxing time at the hotel pool; a day reading and wandering at the beach; or a day hanging out in the lodge or hotel.

It could entail an entire day, hanging out in the hotel room, reading a book — and not a travel guide.

Even when we are on the go, it helps to plan for just one or two sites a day, and spend our thoroughly enjoying them instead of rushing through.

It is so much more enjoyable to spend time and enjoy where you actually are, rather than always be thinking about “what’s next.”

We will spend a day without going out to eat by taking advantage of room service or snacks and sandwiches from a local grocer.

We will do our best to avoid the crowds and busy times by not planning trips during peak seasons.

All in all, our extended trip to South America, with most of our time spent in Argentina, has been wonderful and better than I could have imagined.

Argentina is an incredible country with so many wonderful sights. But sometimes even an incredible vacation can wear you out.

Take time and precautions to avoid travel burnout.

With better planning and more of a “living in the moment” attitude, you will be happy with what you have seen and experienced rather than trying to squeeze more into your vacation schedule.

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Things to Know about Washington, DC Monuments at Night

Washington, DC Monuments

Updated:

I’ve lived in Washington, DC for almost five years and am getting ready to move.

As with many places I’ve lived, I’ve enjoyed “playing tourist” while I living here.

However, even after doing so many things and seeing so many sites, I still have a few things I either want to do again or to experience for the first time.

I also put together a list of what I will miss and won’t miss living in Washington, DC as it helps me appreciate what I had and at the same time, it helps me to remember what I didn’t like, hopefully making moving a little bit easier.

Here are some things to know about Washington, DC, whether you are visiting for a short stay or moving here.

Here are the things to know about Washington, DC

I always heard that, second to Washington, DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival, the best time to visit are area’s monuments is at night.

I finally made the walk happen.

Check out the spectacular pictures.
things to know about Washington, DCthings to know about Washington, DCthings to know about Washington, DCthings to know about Washington, DCthings to know about Washington, DCthings to know about Washington, DCthings to know about Washington, DC

What I’ll miss about Washington, DC

While there are so many great things about living here, these are my favorite.

The Metro (D.C.’s subway system)

You know I’m a green traveler, and I love taking public transportation system.

It is convenient, accessible, and all-around easy.

Interestingly, this is also on my list of what I don’t like about Washington, DC.
things to know about Washington, DC
photo credit: ChrisDag

Politics

If you enjoy politics at all, you will always have lots to discuss here.

Washington Post (especially the Sunday edition)

I love supporting my local newspaper.

Variety of restaurants

Read below for some excellent sustainable recommendations.

Diversity

I love experiencing other cultures, and am happy to be able to do so in the town in which I live.

Neighborhoods (especially Eastern Market, DuPont Circle, and U Street)

Each has their own style, character, flair, and special charms.
things to know about Washington, DC

Free stuff to do

I appreciate when large cities support their community with free events.

Washington, DC is a wonderful place to live and visit because of all the free things to do.

The Smithsonian museums are free.

The monuments are free.

You can plan ahead and have a tour of the State Department, the Department of the Interior for free.

You can visit the Capital, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress for free.

Walking everywhere

Walking and biking are my favorite things to do, and I love living in a city in which I don’t have to drive any time I want to go somewhere.

D.C. Public Library

In my ongoing quest to be green, I check books out from here weekly.

I frequent this library for everything except the newspaper, which I subscribe to on Sundays.

Go to the Library of Congress and get a Reader’s Card.

With it, you can use the Reading Room.

You must be at least 16 years old.

The Monuments (during the day and night)

I never tire of seeing them.

I love that they are constant reminders for us locals to reflect on in the course of our day-to-day lives.

More things to know about Washington, DC

It is sometimes helpful to think of things you don’t like when you are moving from a place.

In my effort to focus on the negatives, I remember Washington, DC has plenty of quirks and annoyances that I’m looking forward to leaving behind.

Lack of parking

This may sound controversial as you know I like to walk or find a bike route wherever I go.

My second choice is public transportation.

So you must understand, if I can’t do any of these, I am already annoyed I have to drive.

The Metro (subway)

While I’ll miss the easy commute to work, I’m happy to leave behind the Metro’s constant delays, crowds, and rising fares.

Politics

Again, I love it and sometimes don’t.

Overall, I appreciate the political atmosphere and buzz in D.C., but only to a point.

Too many people are too consumed with politics to care about anything else.

High cost of living

D.C. is extremely expensive.

It’s not quite as expensive as New York, but with so many people living on nonprofit salaries, it’s pretty pricey.

Transient nature

In part because of the changing politics and high cost of living, moving seems like the only constant in D.C.

If you’re not from Washington, DC, and/or you don’t have family here, chances are you arrive, stay for a few years, and move away.

Bureaucracy

Whether it’s getting your car inspected by the DMV or simply getting a parking permit for a moving truck, the stereotypical government bureaucracy runs rampant in the city.

Impossible to escape

If you live almost anywhere within the city itself, you’ll find that there are few major roads that allow you to quickly and easily get out of or around the city.

It shouldn’t take 30 minutes to drive the 4 miles from Capitol Hill to Georgetown in no traffic, but it always does.

Things to know about Washington, DC: Car-free camping

Washington, D.C. may be one of the most accessible cities in the country in terms of public transportation.

If you can take the Metro or the bus to Dupont Circle, the Capitol, Georgetown, the (National) Mall, or even (Mazza Gallerie shopping) mall, why can’t you take public transportation to a campsite?

It turns out you can, and it’s called “car-free camping”.

Campsites that you can ride your bike or take public transportation to.
things to know about Washington, DC

Where are car-free campsites in Washington, DC?

Here are the five campsites and some of the details as of this writing.

Check their sites for updated information before you go.

Greenbelt Park, 6565 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt

How far is it from Washington?

About 12 miles from downtown.

How do I get there?

Ride Metro’s Green Line to Greenbelt, then hop on the C2 Metrobus.

The bus will stop at the park entrance.

What else do I need to know?

The campground includes showers and bathrooms.

Register in advance.

Visit http://www.nps.gov/gree.

Lake Fairfax Park, 1400 Lake Fairfax Dr., Reston

How far is it from Washington?

About 20 miles.

How do I get there?

Take Metro’s Blue or Orange line to Rosslyn, then transfer to the 5A Metrobus toward Dulles Airport.

At Tysons Westpark Transit Station, transfer to Fairfax Connector Bus 574 toward Reston Town Center.

Get off at Baron Cameron Avenue and Lake Fairfax Drive, about three blocks from the park entrance.

The campground is about a mile from the entrance, so if you are coming by bus, the first thing you will see is the water park.

The sites fill up early, so try to register two to three weeks in advance.

Little Bennett Regional Park, 23701 Frederick Rd., Clarksburg

How far is it from Washington?

About 30 miles.

How do I get there?

Take Metro’s Red Line to Medical Center, and transfer to Ride On Bus 70 toward Milestone Center.

At the Milestone Center Park and Ride, take Ride On Bus 75 toward the Urbana Park and Ride.

Get off at Frederick and Camping Ridge roads, about a third of a mile from the park entrance.

What else do I need to know?

Watkins Regional Park, 301 Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro

How far is it from Washington?

About 15 miles.

How do I get there?

Take Metro’s Blue Line to Largo Town Center, then transfer to the C26 Metrobus toward East Kettering.

The bus stops at Keverton and Watkins Park drives near the park entrance.

What else do I need to know?

Reservations in advance are recommended.

Visit http://www.pgparks.com/places/parks/watkins.html.

So, if this summer you have that “must get out of the city now” feeling, throw your tent on your back, strap on your bike helmet, and pedal to the nearest campground.

If you’re just visiting D.C. for a weekend this would be a great way to stay travel green and save money.

Best green restaurants in Washington, DC

Are you looking for variety and sustainable dining in your choice of restaurants?

Even in the city with a reputation for being obsessed with politics, you can find quality, organic food in eco-conscious restaurants.

You just have to know where to look.

Coppi’s Organic Restaurant (U Street)

How it’s green: The Green Pledge on this bicycle-themed restaurant’s website outlines the steps they take to be green, including: sustainable seafood, local organic produce, grass fed, free range meats and poultry, a wood burning oven, wind power electricity, and low wattage light bulbs.
1414 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009.

http://www.coppisorganic.com/

Metro: U Street / African America Civil War Memorial / Cardozo (green and yellow)

Java Green (downtown / K Street)

How it’s green: Java Green, which bills itself as an “organic eco-cafe,” concocts its dishes with organic and fair trade ingredients, uses wind power, “uses real chinaware to reduce the use of disposable containers,” and also offers “biodegradable serving ware and carry-out bags made from corn, sugar cane fiber, and potato starch.”

1020 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036

Metro: Farragut North (red) and Farragut West (blue and orange)

Sonoma Restaurant + Wine Bar (Capitol Hill / Eastern Market)

How it’s green: Like other DC area green restaurants, Sonoma prepares its food with naturally-raised, seasonal, and local ingredients.

Its website also mentions using renewable energy, though it doesn’t specify the sources.

223 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003 http://www.sonomadc.com

Metro: Capitol South (blue and orange)

Restaurant Nora (Dupont Circle)

How it’s green:

Restaurant Nora was the first American restaurant become certified organic.

According to Nora’s menu (which is printed on recycled paper with environmentally-friend dyes), Chef/owner Nora Pouillon concocts her dishes with ingredients “from certified organic farmers and products who do not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or GMOS.”

Even the water is from the tap, filtered by their “special system,” which eliminates the environmental impacts associated with bottled water.

2132 Florida Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

http://www.noras.com/

Metro: Dupont Circle (red)

SweetGreen (Georgetown)

How SweetGreen is green:

As its website touts, “not all ingredients are organic, but a lot are.”

The walls are made of recycled wood; their carry-out containers and utensils are biodegradable; and they use energy-efficient wiring.

3333 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007

Metro: Rosslyn or Foggy Bottom-GWU (blue and orange

U.S. National Arboretum – free and fun

We headed to the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC in mid-May for a day-long retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Even though the Arboretum is in DC, it’s quiet and peaceful.

And we were lucky enough to catch some of the azaleas in bloom.

The weather was perfect – not too hot or humid, a rare occurrence around here – and it wasn’t very crowded.

There was even a wedding happening by the dogwood trees.

The National Arboretum is free, accessible by public transportation, open every day (except December 25) and with 446 acres, it’s so big that it’s rarely crowded.

If that’s not enough to convince you to go, maybe our photos will.

Pink Azaleas

Caterpillar

Dogwood

Flower with Bee

Pagoda

Pink and Red Azaleas

On a related note, recently I read a depressing Washington Post article about the hardships the arboretum faces after the federal government cut $2 million from its budget this year.

The budget shrinks more every year and the arboretum is having to cut back on staff and programs.

You can pitch in.

Donate to support the U.S. National Arboretum or, if you’re in DC, volunteer to be a gardener or tour guide, among other positions. Training is provided.

With a little bit of research, you will easily find more options to experience.

If you happen to work on the Hill, you’ve probably noticed that your dining options have recently gotten greener.

According to the Washington Post, under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Green the Capitol project, even Congress is greening its lunch offerings, which now include sustainable seafood and organic, locally grown produce in the House cafeterias.

They’re even using compostable plates and cutlery.

There are so many things to know about Washington, DC that you will never be at a loss for something historical, cultural, or entertaining to experience.

What are your favorite things to know about Washington, DC that must be shared?

A trip to Washington DC may seem to be overwhelming with the sheer number of interesting and exciting things to see and do, but with some careful planning you can see the best sights in Washington DC no matter how long you have to explore use this Guide to Washington DC.
Guide to Washington DC

Guide to Washington DC

The first thing you have to do is prioritize – there are three major components to the attractions in DC: the monuments, the Government buildings, and the museums.
Choose which of those you want to see the most of and plan accordingly, because any one of those three choices can take a good long while to explore fully.

Monuments

There are popular locations like Arlington National Cemetery where you can see the eternal flame marking the grave site of John F Kennedy, the eternally patrolled tomb of the unknown soldiers, and the final resting sites of many other notable people in the history of America.

Other sights not to miss are the Vietnam War Memorial, and the chilling Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Pentagon Memorial dedicated to those who were killed during the attack on September 11th, 2001.

Then there are the monuments honoring Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson.

You can choose to take a tour and see them all in a few hours, or spend as long as you like basking in the history and majesty of some of the greatest architecture in the United States.

Government Buildings

Being the centralized seat of government for the United States means there are no shortage of government buildings that are located within the city limits, but a great deal of them are open to the public and have a lot to teach about the way our government operates and the daily goings on that make the machinery move.

The most famous sites to tour are the White House, the Capital, and the Supreme Court, but there are also many other fascinating buildings to explore like the Treasury Building, the headquarters of the CIA and FBI, the Library of Congress and the National Archives.

Another great thing about touring these buildings is that many of them do not charge an admittance fee.

Visit the only 5-domed Capitol Building in Iowa with kids.

It’s impressive, and it’s free.

Museums

Smithsonian – one word encompasses so much.

Again, before you embark on going to experience all that there is to see, you should have a plan in place.

You won’t want to miss the Air and Space Museum, nor the Natural History Museum.

Art lovers have a wide variety of Smithsonian museums to choose from, and for a family friendly and fun filled day, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the National Zoo.

And apart from the Smithsonian museums, there are many others in Washington DC to see and learn from, including the famous International Spy Museum, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, and the US Navy Museum.

So no matter what route you choose when deciding how best to use your time in Washington DC, there are a lot of great attractions to choose from.

Moving to Washington DC? Checkout the professionals, and their moving tips, at Craig Van Lines.

(photo credit: 1)

In Defense of Food – Quotes, Guidelines, and Review

best places to WWOOF

Updated:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.

I hate to give the game away right here at the beginning of a whole book devoted to the subject.

Eating a little meat isn’t going to kill you, though it might be better approached as a side dish than as a main.

You’re better off eating whole fresh foods rather than process food products.”

In Defense of Food – Quotes, Guidelines, and Review

In Defense of FoodThis is how Michael Pollan begins his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

I first saw a copy of In Defense of Food while browsing at Barnes & Noble.

At the time it struck me as just another dieting fad book.

The second time I saw the book was in the ship’s library on our Alaskan Cruise.

I started the book but didn’t have time to finish it before the cruise was over.

The third time I happened across In Defense of Food was at the local library.

I guess the third time really is a charm.

In a nutshell, In Defense of Food changed my life.

For several years I have tried to eat local and to eat many fruits and vegetables.

Just like many others, I’ve read all about the health and environmental benefits of doing so.

But, convenience often took a front seat, and I bought produce shipped from all over the world and low-calorie bread with more ingredients than calories.

In Defense of Food didn’t just change my attitude about healthy eating.

It also changed my shopping and dining habits.

Now I go to farmer’s market at least once a week (and not just for a fun outing) and even make my own bread.

One of the reasons In Defense of Food is such a good book is that it’s easy to read.

Pollan can be funny and he pulls in all sorts of interesting facts and random tidbits.

Kind of the way Freakanomics or The Tipping Point brings science to an almost pop-culture-non-fiction scale.

Partly because my last book review post Eat, Pray, Love Quotes was well received and partly because I selfishly want to have my notes from this book in one place for a reference, I pulled together my favorite quotes from In Defense of Food.

I also posted the outline of the final section of the book, which lists Pollan’s guidelines for healthy eating.

I highly recommend In Defense of Food to anyone interested in food, health, the environment, and travel.

Travel may seem a stretch to some people.

However, the book actually goes fairly in depth about food from other cultures and Pollan discusses these eating habits in a way that any traveler will find fascinating.

In Defense of Food Quotes

“My aim in this book is to help us reclaim our health and happiness as eaters. To do this requires an exercise that might at first blush seem unnecessary, if not absurd: to offer a defense of food and the eating thereof… But I contend that most of what we’re consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all, and how we’re consuming it — in the car, in front of the TV, and, increasingly, alone– is not really eating, at least not in the sense that civilization has long understood the term.”

“But who knows what else is going on deep in the soul of the carrot. The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating foods as compared with nutrients: You don’t need to fathom a carrot’s complexity in order to reap its benefits.”

“A diet based on quantity rather than quality has ushered a new creature onto the world stage: the human being who manages to be both overfed and undernourished…”

“Food consists not just in piles of chemicals; it also comprises a set of social and ecological relationships, reaching back to the land and outward to other people.”

In Defense of Food Advice

Eat food: Food Defined

Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Or don’t eat anything that doesn’t rot.

Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or include d) high-fructose corn syrup.

Avoid food products that make health claims.

Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

Get out of the supermarket whenever possible– shake the hand that feeds you.

Mostly plants: What to Eat

Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.

You are what what you eat eats too.

No that is not a typo

If you have the space, buy a freezer.

When you find a good source of pastured meat, you’ll want to buy it in quantity.

Eat like an omnivore.

Remember to eat well-grown food from healthy soils.

Eat wild foods when you can.

Be the kind of person who takes supplements.

Eat more like the French.

Or the Italians.

Or the Japanese.

Or the Indians. Or the Greeks.

Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.

Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.

Have a glass of wine with dinner. (Fine to skip this!)

Not too much: How to eat

Pay more, eat less.

Eat meals.

Do all of your eating at a table.

No not a desk — a table.

Pay Attention To Your Food When You Eat.

Avoid eating mindlessly!

Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.

Try not to eat alone.

Consult your gut.

Cook and if you can plant a garden.

Resources for Volunteering Abroad and Why You Should Do It

resources for volunteering abroad

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In Volunteering Abroad: 10 Things to Know Before You Go, we discussed everything you should think about before you sign up. With proper planning, it can be the experience of a lifetime.

Volunteer Travel Programs Local and Abroad – Volunteer travel is an amazing way to see a place, get to know local culture, and leave a positive footprint.

We volunteered while traveling through Argentina.

We learned a ton about WWOOFing — World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — and had an amazing experience at Chacra Millalen.

It’s been awhile since we’ve written about volunteer travel and since summer is here (or so it feels in Minnesota today) with summer vacation planning underway, I thought I’d revisit the subject focusing specifically on volunteer travel abroad versus volunteer travel locally.

Local vs. Abroad Volunteer Travel

Whether its sandbagging for a flood emergency in Fargo or picking strawberries on an organic farm in California there are plenty of opportunities to take 1 or 2 days and see a place (relatively) near your home and volunteer the same time.

You don’t have to travel far to find a place to volunteer.

The trick is finding a place you want to visit for a vacation that also has a volunteer opportunity.

Generally, there are two ways to search for a volunteer travel program: by place or by opportunity.

For US based volunteer travel I find it more exciting to search for an opportunity and then find out what else there is to do in that city or town.

Some of the top sites for finding U.S. based volunteer travel programs include Idealist, VolunteerMatch, WWOOF and Organic Volunteers.

We offer some resources for volunteering abroad to help find a good program to ensure it is seamless, hassle-free and rewarding.

Perks of volunteering abroad

When we volunteered abroad at Chacra Millalen, an organic farm in Argentina, we learned new skills, met interesting people, ate lots of new foods, and experienced a different way of life.

Help others.

Whether you’re cleaning up a polluted river or volunteering in a medical clinic, the work you’re doing is making a difference.

The people you’re helping will be incredibly grateful.

It will make you feel good too.

Get up close and personal with a culture.

There’s no better way to experience a culture than by living in it.

You’ll see parts of the culture and country you’d easily miss living in a hostel, especially if you’re living with a host family.

Plus, you’ll get to try new foods.

Learn a language.

The best way to practice a language is to be immersed in it.

When the people you’re working with are counting on you to communicate, and you’re listening to another language being spoken for hours every day, you’ll become more proficient than you would believe.

And you won’t even have to pay for language classes.

Have fun.

When you’re working 12 hour days with someone, you’re going to bond, even if you might never have otherwise been friends.

And making friends will take your mind off the hard work, sore muscles, or hot weather.

In addition to getting to know other volunteers, you’ll also get to build relationships locals.

Learn a trade.

You may not want to be an organic farmer now, but who knows what your dream will be in 10 or 15 years?

You may decide to start your own garden or even a farm.

Even if you don’t, you’ll learn leadership, teamwork, and communication skills that will impress any prospective employer.

resources for volunteering abroad

Most of these reasons for volunteering abroad also apply to local volunteering.

So, while planning your summer vacation see if you can find a volunteer opportunity as part of your travels to help wildlife in Belize.

Great resources for volunteering abroad, Volunteer Traveling and WWOOF ‘ing:

11 Things to Know Before You WWOOF
21 Resources for Volunteering Abroad Why You Should Do It
10 Things to Know Volunteering Abroad Before You Sign Up
All about WWOOFing

Getting Started & Finding Volunteer Programs

Whether you WWOOF or choose one of these below, there are many options, including:

Crossculturalsolutions.org: Offers volunteer programs in 12 countries, including Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand.

idealist.org: An extensive volunteer database with environmental listings, connections to local nonprofits, financial aid information, internships and a kids and teens page.

Current opportunities include teaching environmental awareness to Nepalese villagers and developing a fruit-drying program for Ghanan villagers, among many others.

volunteerabroad.com: Listings include opportunities to protect Australia’s environment and conservation projects in Costa Rica.

volunteerinternational.org: Conservation programs in Thailand, creating a Holocaust Memorial Park in Poland and making eco-friendly soap with disabled persons in Japan are just three of the unique opportunities you’ll find on this site.

The Nature Conservancy accepts volunteers working to conserve the Boreal Forest and the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada (see nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/canada).

Great Adventures provides links to volunteer and work abroad programs in dozens of countries.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms– Volunteer on organic farms across the world – no previous experience required.

i-to-i.com: Work to conserve Madagascar’s lemurs, care for endangered wallabies in Australia or help maintain biodiversity with indigenous peoples in Costa Rica.

Tim Ferriss’s take on volunteering abroad lists 5 international volunteering organizations under “Volunteering Mini-Retirements” experiences:

Burners Without Borders– Following the 2005 Burning Man event, several participants headed south into the Hurricane Katrina disaster area to help people rebuild their devastated communities.

After several months of working along the Gulf Coast, BWB has set up a project in Pisco, Peru to assist with earthquake relief work.

Project HOPE– Nearly 50 years ago, Project HOPE was founded on the willingness of doctors, nurses and other medical volunteers to travel the globe on a floating hospital ship, the SS HOPE, to provide medical care, health education and humanitarian assistance to people in need.

While we now operate land-based programs in more than 35 countries, Project HOPE has again returned to sending medical volunteers on board ships around the world to provide medical assistance, long reaching health education programs, vaccinations and humanitarian assistance.

International Relief Teams – International Relief Teams mobilizes volunteers and distributes medical supplies to support the organization’s four missions:

Domestic and international disaster relief,

Medical education and training,

Surgical and clinical outreach,

Public health. Since 1988, IRT has provided more than $5.6 million in volunteer services, and more than $112 million in medicines and supplies to families in desperate need in 42 countries worldwide.

Relief International – Relief International is a humanitarian non-profit agency that provides emergency relief, rehabilitation, development assistance, and program services to vulnerable communities worldwide.

RI is solely dedicated to reducing human suffering and is non-political and non-sectarian in its mission.

Hands On Disaster Response – Hands on Disaster Response covers food and housing and does not require a fee.

Habitat for Humanity – Build houses for people who can’t afford them with this well-known U.S.-based organization.

Doctors Without Borders -You don’t have to be an MD to provide medical care to people in developing countries.

They’re currently seeking doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, technicians, logisticians, and others.

Engineers Without Borders USA – Projects “range from the construction of sustainable systems that developing communities can own and operate without external assistance, to empowering such communities by enhancing local, technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial skills.”

Conservation Volunteers in Australia. – Links to various conservation programs and organizations in Australia.

Volunteer Match – A great resource for providing you with volunteer opportunities (including many in the US) that match your interests.

Looking for more resources for volunteering abroad?

Volunteer Traveling and WWOOFing:

11 Things to Know Before You WWOOF
10 Things to Know Volunteering Abroad Before You Sign Up

Volunteering can be a life-changing experience for you and those you help.

Using these resources for volunteering abroad, you will have your choice of opportunities and find the best one for your interests.

Volunteer in Africa: What to Know Before You Go

If you’ve always dreamed of volunteering in Africa, now is a great time to do it.

People in Africa face an array of challenges.

Extreme poverty, lack of clean drinking water, HIV/AIDS, lack of access to healthcare — and there are plenty opportunities to help.

Here’s how to volunteer in Africa.

Volunteering in Africa is a great opportunity to give back, learn new skills, and gain valuable life experiences.

Be sure you do your homework before you go.

Your volunteer experience will be much more meaningful if you’re adequately prepared.

As you’re planning your trip to volunteer in Africa, these tips will tell you what you need to know before you go even if you are WWOOFing

volunteer in Africa

How to volunteer in Africa

I’ve met hundreds of volunteers in Africa over the last few years, and I’ve learned that people often come with misconceptions about what their experience will be like.

Understanding what to expect can help you have a richer volunteer experience.

If you’re thinking about volunteering in Africa, here are a few things to consider:

Not all organizations will have volunteer opportunities.

Some organizations’ missions are incompatible with short-term volunteers.

For example, over the years many children’s homes and orphanages have learned that having people come and go frequently can be harmful for the children in their care.

They’ve learned that consistency is important, and it’s something short-term volunteers can’t offer.

Managing volunteers requires time and effort

Organizations that have a lot of volunteers often need to hire someone to manage the volunteers’ schedules — and in some cases their accommodations and transportation.

I’ve heard from a number of volunteers who wanted to volunteer in Africa for free and are frustrated when they have to pay for a volunteer experience.

But keep in mind that hosting volunteers, and doing it well, can take a lot of time and effort.

For example, if you volunteer on a building project, someone needs to make sure you have the supplies you need.

If you volunteer at a school, someone must coordinate with the teachers and the person in charge of the school.

This is one reason some organizations charge for a volunteer experience and have a limited number of volunteer spots available.

Sometimes locals can do the job better

Whether it’s a building project or teaching in a village, sometimes locals can do the job more effectively than international volunteers.

If you’ve traveled in Africa, you know that foreigners often attract attention, which can be a distraction on a volunteer site.

And with building projects, volunteers often don’t have the skills needed to build with local materials and tools.

Plus, it would be a shame if volunteers were taking away paid work for local residents.

volunteer in Africa

Tips for an amazing volunteer experience in Africa

All of that said, there are many organizations rely heavily on volunteers and feel that their service is invaluable.

Tips for having a memorable and life-changing volunteer experience:

If you’re short on time, plan ahead

I’ve met a handful of people who arrived in Africa hoping to volunteer, but with out having any contacts or plans for what they would be doing.

If you have plenty of time (and patience!) this can work.

But it’s best to plan ahead, especially if you’re on a shorter trip.

Contact a few organizations in areas you’ll be visiting and find out how you might be able to get involved.

It’s okay to pay, just not too much

There are a lot of great organizations that ask volunteers to contribute to overhead costs, or the cost of the specific project they’ll be working on.

In general, I think this is fine.

But ask good questions — make sure the money is staying in the local community and supporting local programs.

There are some organizations that will charge inflated amounts and take advantage of volunteers.

Do your homework and plan ahead ;to make sure you find an excellent volunteer experience with a reputable organization.

Be willing to do anything

It’s great if you have specific skills you think will be helpful, but it may be difficult to find a short-term volunteer opportunity where you’ll be able to use your talents.

Be open to a variety tasks, however menial they may seem, that allow you to take some of the load off of the people working hard in their local communities.

Use the time to build relationships with other volunteers and local non-profit workers; you’ll be able to gain insight into their culture, as well as the significant challenges they may be facing.

Learn about WWOOFing

If you’ve always wanted to volunteer in Africa, there’s no time like the present.

Volunteering in Africa and volunteering abroad can be an amazing, life-changing experience.

Just make sure you have realistic expectations, and use the tips above to set yourself up for success.

Eco-tourism in Africa

Many people may plan to volunteer as well as travel in a new country.

It’s great if you have the time to do both.

When we were in Argentina, we took several days to volunteer on an organic farm.

It was one of the highlights of our trip.

When you go to Africa, or anywhere and are planning travel, more and more tourists and tourism providers are taking responsibility for the environmental impact caused by their activities.

The tide is turning toward eco-friendly, sustainable travel.

Holiday-makers expect ethical dealings, and tourism providers understand the importance of maintaining the environments and communities they operate within.

An example of a company that takes eco-tourism its commitment to ethical tourism practice, a UK-based tourism provider.

Here’s a case study of the different ways this company is working to maintain sustainable tourism:

In Africa – Education

Giving back to the communities who accommodate tourists through the Loldia School Fund, Safari Consultants sponsors students for the entire five years of high school in Kenya.

There is also a commitment to provide two bursaries each year for students at the Koiyaki Guiding School.

Providing local Maasai youth in Kenya the opportunity to learn the tourism industry and skills in eco-friendly land management.

Wildlife Conservation

Safari Consultants demonstrates its commitment to taking care of wildlife through regular contributions to the South Luangwa Conservation Society in Zambia.

Individual projects

Smaller conservation projects and one-off involvement is also key.

Maintaining a level of flexibility in the budget allows a company to make pledges to a variety of different projects as they come up.

eco Tourism to Africa

Safari Consultants has assisted small-scale projects such as providing school equipment in school, and football boots for a local team.

Examples in the UK – Industry standards

It’s necessary to keep up with peak industry bodies such as The Travel Foundation and Ethical Tour Operators Group (ETOG) of Tourism Concern to keep up-to-date with projects and industry news and demonstrate a commitment to ethical tourism.

Taking care of the environment has been extended to onsite practice at Safari Consultants HQ in Suffolk, where low energy light bulbs are used, and electricity runs off 100% renewable resources.

They have an in-house green travel policy for all staff, plus a comprehensive recycling scheme in the office.

As climates change ever more rapidly, it becomes increasingly essential to do as much as possible to mitigate the impact that humans have on the environment.

The onus is on both tourism companies and travelers, who can choose to support ethical tourism providers, especially when travelling in the delicate ecosystems such as while on safari.

Always remember about supporting the local economy and to buy sustainable souvenirs only.

Volunteers and tourists

In Africa and wherever you are going — should also take personal responsibility while abroad – from taking care of the environment while visiting to offsetting carbon emissions, there are many ways to ensure the lightest possible footprints are left.

(photo credit: 1mklipovsky)

Are you planning a trip to Africa?

The chance to volunteer in Africa is sure to be a memorable and life-changing experience.

Do your research in advance for the best time possible.

Volunteer in Uganda ~ My Life-Changing Trip with Shanti Uganda

For a volunteering experience like no other, consider the chance to volunteer in Uganda.

No travel experience has been more powerful and transforming for me than my trip to Uganda.

Just for reference, I have traveled to more than 70 countries.

I went with Shanti Uganda, a non-governmental organization dedicated to women’s health.

Instead of being on the outside looking in, Shanti Uganda afforded me the unique and precious opportunity to immerse myself in the daily lives of a small Ugandan community.

Volunteer in Uganda

Arriving at Shanti Uganda, I was embraced with open arms by the local Ugandan women and their children.

Their joy for life was contagious and their beaming and outpouring welcome was deeply moving.

Over the ensuing days, other trip participants and I worked with them, sang with them, drummed with them, and danced around the fire with them late into the evening.

They told us their stories and shared their sorrows and their dreams.

We learned how to prepare their food, dined in their homes, and played with their children.

After just a week, I felt such a deep bond and connection with this group of rural Ugandan women and their families.

I experienced a profound reaffirmation that we are all one.

On my trip, I visited a birthing center Shanti Uganda built to assist local mothers (many of them HIV-positive) who have virtually no other support for normal deliveries.

Tragically minimal support for births with complications.

Their work in that area is essential; in Uganda, one in twenty-five women in dies in childbirth.

volunteer in Uganda
The midwives of Shanti Uganda

It was evident that Shanti Uganda has grown far beyond its original vision of bringing conscious birth to communities experiencing trauma in Uganda.

It’s become a center for women and children’s health education, vaccinations, and preventive care.

And it’s become a community activity and education center for teens, and a work and skills training site for rural women who, through Shanti Uganda’s initiative in developing cottage industries, are earning an income for the first time in their lives!

And this amazing work takes place in a beautiful organic garden setting with solar-powered energy and a cistern-based water collection system, making Shanti Uganda off-the-grid and self-sufficient.

Learn about WWOOF before you make your plans to volunteer in Uganda.

My trip with Shanti Uganda was ten days, and it included a trip to a national park and the impressive Murchison Falls.

We also experienced a safari with elephant, hippo, giraffe, lion, baboon, crocodile and warthog sightings; a white water rafting experience on the Nile; and time exploring the local markets and amazing restaurants of the capital, Kampala.

But the truly unique part of our travel was living and working with and learning from the women of the Shanti Uganda community center.

Through Shanti Uganda, I discovered a way to support meaningful work, both actively with my time and more passively with the money and supplies I could bring to the center.

I felt like my contributions could make a real and palpable difference in the lives of people I grew to know and care for.

It is rare to find a way to truly immerse yourself in another culture and live it, not just peer at it through a camera lens or on a tourist bus.

Shanti Uganda afforded me that experience and I am eternally grateful.

Volunteering in Uganda

There are many ways to volunteer in Africa and to volunteer abroad.

Learn all you can in advance so you can make the right trip for your interests and your abilities to serve.

Learn about volunteering on an organic farm.

If going abroad isn’t in your sights right now, there are plenty of local volunteer opportunities as well.

Shanti Uganda is an NGO committed to improving lives.

They strive to improve infant and maternal health, provide safe women-centered care, and support the well-being of birthing mothers and women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

The chance to volunteer in Uganda was life-changing.

For a unique opportunity for travel to transform lives, join Shanti Uganda on one of their upcoming trips.

photo credit: Shanti Uganda

Volunteering in SE Asia: Getting Your Foot on the NGO Ladder

Volunteering in SE Asia can be a wonderful, life-changing experience.

Getting your foot on the first rung of the ladder in the conservation and humanitarian sectors is a chicken and egg kind of situation – you want a job to gain experience but the employers want to employ someone with experience which you can’t have until you get a job!

Through searching the web and talking to career advisers, you will probably come to the conclusion that to take that first step you often must volunteer.

Volunteer travel is now big business and as the pool for governmental and corporate funding is continually shrinking, which is worsened by the increasing number of fund seekers.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are turning to volunteering as a way to fund their conservation or outreach activities.

Paying to volunteer in itself sounds wrong, but when you think of yourself as a voluntourist and, if you volunteer, 100% of your money is paid directly to the project then this blow is lessened.

Editor’s Note: While we don’t necessarily advocate for paying for volunteering, (since there are ways to volunteer without paying, like through WWOOF) the author makes a good point that if you are going to pay you should only pay the volunteer organization directly and not a middleman.

Volunteering direct is booking and paying the organization directly rather than pay through an agent.

Many excellent projects around the world are crying out for paying volunteers and would be more than happy for you to come along and help out.

There are many benefits for joining these smaller organizations.

The most important will be that you will increase your contacts and network within the relevant NGO sector.

It’s “who you know”

The more you delve into the world of conservation and community development, the more you may realize that it is not what you know but who you know.

Many positions are filled even before the job is publicized.

Many of the top leaders in conservation actually started as a volunteer.

The contacts you can make by volunteering directly can lead you to places you never thought possible.

I personally was offered a PhD position in Australia in ecotourism as a result of people I worked with when I volunteered in Borneo.

After volunteering on my own I set out to help more people to volunteer directly and started Ecoteer.

We now help around 2,000 members to find volunteering positions directly.

We have scores of projects on our site and have introduced a member assessed rating system to help our members when they are choosing which projects to apply to.

Through the past years of running Ecoteer and extensive travels and volunteering in SE Asia, I have found many small projects in need of volunteer help.

Below I have listed my top 5 volunteer projects in Southeast Asia which could help you get on the first rung of the ladder.

Kalaweit

Kalaweit means Gibbon in Indonesian.

This project shows what can be achieved by a traveler with a mission — it is a sheer inspiration to any budding conservationist.

In 1999, Chanee, an 18 year old Frenchman, set off on an adventure to save the Gibbons of Borneo.

He found a small wildlife center in the center of Kalimantan, Borneo, where he first volunteered and started to buy gibbons from villagers who kept them as pets.

At the wildlife center, Chanee helped the Gibbons back to full strength and then set them through the long and tedious process of rehabilitation.

Chanee also started a radio station with hourly messages about gibbon conservation and requests for listeners to report caged Gibbons.

The Kalaweit organisation now rehabilitates 300 Gibbons and Siamangs, and employs 50 people (veterinarians and keepers).

Before you pay to be a volunteer, it is worth learning about volunteer travel programs.

There are so many resources for volunteering abroad and volunteer opportunities to consider.

Help Our Penyu

Penyu means sea turtle.

Help Our Penyu is a sea turtle conservation project in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia.

The project was initiated in 2009 by Azimi Ahmad, a Malaysian student.

It is a registered charity in Malaysia.

The Perhentian Islands are a heaven for travelers following the SE Asia backpacking trail; however, the high tourist population on the islands are causing big problems for the sea turtles.

The project seeks to unify sea turtle conservation by engaging the resorts, villagers and school children in sea turtle conservation.

Help Our Penyu has already stopped egg poaching on one major nesting beach in the Perhentian Islands.

In 2011 it expanded to protect a second nesting beach.

Each week, Help Our Penyu run an after school club for the school children and host an information booth on weekends to engage tourists in marine conservation.

Help Our Penyu initiated the Walk for Turtles campaign which was the first large-scale turtle track survey in Terengganu.

The turtle track surveys are essential to accurately assess the nesting turtle populations of Terengganu.

If you are considering volunteering, there are several things to know about volunteering abroad.

Volunteering in SE Asia: help our penyu

Marine Conservation Cambodia

Founded in early 2008 by Paul Ferber, Marine Conservation Cambodia has committed itself to the comprehensive protection of Cambodia’s marine environment.

They assist local communities in the sustainable use of their marine resources and provide alternative forms of income generation through ‘true’ eco-tourism and scuba diving.

The project plays a big part in marine research in Cambodia and has an online photographic directory of marine species in Cambodia.

MCC has had a positive ID on a seahorse species never found before in Cambodia – Hippocampus mohnikei.

MCC has empowered the community at Koh Rung Samleom, who are now self-protecting a globally significant seahorse breeding ground.

Borneo Child Aid Society

In Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, it is estimated that over 50,000 children are not given any schooling.

Non-Malaysian children are not entitled to state schooling.

The Borneo Child Aid Society is helping to address this issue and are providing basic education for about 10,000 children.

The project started in the mid-1990’s and is led by Torben Venning, a Danish humanitarian activist.

The society works very closely with the Palm Oil Plantations and is helping to provide education for their foreign workers’ children who are not entitled to state education.

The Borneo Child Aid society learning centers provides the children with basic math, science, Bahasa Malaysia and English lessons.

Afternoon activities for the children are conducted with environmental awareness sessions at least once a week.

The Borneo Child Aid Society is expanding its learning center network to offer floating schools to the sea gypsies of the Sulu Sea (Bajau Laut) who live on boats off the coast of Semporna and the southern Philippines.

Ban Roean Ram Workcamps

Ban Roean Ram was founded in 2008 by Jatuporn Jitprapan and Uthai Tongkamkeaw, two passionate and caring Thai women.

They now have a team of five Thai people and a few past volunteers are now helping them develop their network internationally.

The purpose of the NGO is to develop sustainable development in villages in Southern Thailand.

The centers provide locals with education about community development, traditional Thai culture and folk wisdom, (which is being lost) the local environment and nature.

In cooperation with temples, schools, local government and with the community, Ban Roean Ram is aiming to establish groups around Southern Thailand with six objectives:

1. collect folk wisdom from sages
2. stimulate cultural as well as economic life in the village
3. improve opportunities for children and youths teaching them about Thai traditions
4. offer activities such as music, sports and establish a shop with local products
5. found local museums
6. found libraries

Volunteering in SE Asia is a valuable opportunity

Our world is full of amazing, inspiring and life-changing places to volunteer.

Learn about volunteering in Africa and in Uganda, and our experience volunteering on an organic farm

There’s much to learn about volunteering.

Fistula Horror Stories: Socially Conscious Travel & Human Rights

I didn’t want to get married. They would find a husband, throw a party and send me away. I ran away many times. I refused to go back, but my father kept beating me. I was about 10 or 11 years old. I kept running away until I finally stayed with the fourth one because I got pregnant. I told my father, “You beat me and kept sending me back and look what has become of me.” If my mother were alive, she wouldn’t have let this happen. I won’t go home without being cured because no one will accept me. My other choice is to kill myself.
— Wubete, 17 years old, in A Walk to Beautiful

I seriously considered becoming a physician so I could travel to Africa and volunteer.

In the end it didn’t work out (chemistry is not my friend), but I’m still fascinated by public health.

Frankly, find it abhorrent that the US doesn’t provide medical care to everyone who lives here.

But I digress.

At Go Green Travel Green, we’re advocates for social responsibility and volunteering at home and abroad.

In honor of Bloggers Unite for Human Rights, I want to bring to light an issue that I just learned about on Tuesday: the obstetric fistula epidemic in Ethiopia.

I watched the PBS documentary A Walk to Beautiful about a hospital in Addis Ababa dedicated to treating women with this condition.

What Is Fistula?

The Fistula Foundation defines an obstetric fistula as a “hole between a woman’s birth passage and one or more of her internal organs” – namely, her bladder and/or rectum.

And according to the World Health Organization, “2 million women have untreated fistula” and “approximately 100,000 women develop fistula each year.”

These days, fistula of this sort is seen primarily in developing countries when women are in labor for many days without the care of a doctor or midwife.

Ethiopian girls like Wubete are often married off before they hit their teens.

Their young age, coupled with the fact that malnutrition has stunted their growth, means that their pelvises are under-developed for childbirth.

That causes labor to take longer and often leads to fistula. And, ultimately, the “root causes of fistula are grinding poverty and the low status of women and girls,” says the Fistula Foundation.

On top of the physical pain associated with a long labor and a gaping hole between internal organs, women affected by fistula suffer psychologically.

They’re outcast in their communities because of incontinence and their husbands reject them.

Fortunately for these girls and women, Drs. Catherine and Reginald Hamlin have founded hospitals in Ethiopia dedicated to treating fistula patients.

Australia-born Catherine lives in Ethiopia, where she’s been for 30 years, treating women affected by fistulas.

In the documentary, she says her husband would still be with her in Addis Ababa if he were living.

fistula
Wubete, photo credit: PBS

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If the girls and women in Ethiopia had basic human rights, they wouldn’t be married as preteens and pregnant at 13.

But there’s hope for fistula prevention.

One of the women in the documentary said she wouldn’t let her daughter marry young.

She wanted her to be able to make her own choice.

A number of the interviewees spoke bitterly of the fact that they were married as children.

It sounds like the tide is slowly turning in Ethiopia.

I can only hope that in 10 or 20 years, the idea of marrying off an 8 year old will seem as outrageous there as it does here.

But change takes time.

Back to Wubete.

In the end, a Sister from the clinic gets her a job at an orphanage.

The documentary concludes with Wubete saying, “I grew up too fast and then was made small and helpless.

And now I have become an adult again.”

What you can do to help end fistula suffering

Donate to an organization fighting for human rights or working to improve the quality of health care in developing countries:

Volunteer

With the Fistula Foundation to fund raise and spread the word about the fistula epidemic.

In Ethiopia with a variety of organizations.

If you’re a medical professional or have a relevant specialty, volunteer with an organization like Doctors of the World or Doctors Without Borders.

Spread the Word

Blog about fistula or send this post to your friends.

Every bit counts.

Volunteering Abroad – 10 Things to Know Before You Sign Up

resources for volunteering abroad

Updated:

Volunteering abroad can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

You get to spend a few weeks or months saving the rain forest or building houses for people who can’t afford them.

Every program is not a good fit for everyone.

But there are so many different places and types of work to choose from, you’ll definitely be able to find one that works for you.

We’ll cover everything you need to consider when deciding on a program for volunteering abroad.

10 things to know about volunteering abroad before you sign up

Read another one of our articles to learn about resources for volunteering abroad and reasons to volunteer abroad.
resources for volunteering abroad
There are so many important things to consider before planning a trip to volunteer overseas.

Here’s our top list.

Do your research about volunteering abroad

Not all volunteer abroad opportunities are created equal.

Some cost money, others are free.

Some require commitments of 3 or more months; others only ask that you stay a week.

Location

This is one of the most important things to consider when you’re picking a destination.

Is the program in a place you want to visit?

Would you be living close to a major city?

Would you want to?

If you’re looking to go barhopping on the weekends, and you commit to 6 months in rural Romania, you probably won’t be happy.

Safety

Learn about the safety of the region you’ll visit and, if possible, talk to other people who have lived or traveled there.

Safety can be crime-related or illness-related.

Some people would prefer to avoid politically volatile regions, but are okay with risking malaria.

Decide what you value before you book a trip.

Cost

Some volunteer programs charge thousands of dollars; others are completely free and provide you with housing and food.

Take your budget into account before you commit to a program.

Climate

If you’re uncomfortable when the thermostat rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, you should probably steer clear of Calcutta in May.

Look at average temperatures for the dates you’ll travel and make sure you pack weather-appropriate clothes.

Most programs offer packing advice on their websites.

Length of Stay

Some programs are come-and-go and allow you to show up and stay for a while.

Others have strict requirements for booking in advance and staying a minimum amount of time.

Your dream program may require a 6-month commitment.

If you’re only able to get away for 3 months, contact them and see if that’s a possibility.

If not, ask them for recommendations of similar programs and keep on looking.

Type of Work

You could be volunteering on an organic farm, like Chacra Millalen, building houses through Habitat for Humanity, doing environmental research, teaching English, or helping out in a medical clinic.

There’s definitely something for everyone, so choose an activity that you’ll enjoy.

What’s Provided

Some programs give you food and lodging at no additional cost.

Others provide lodging, but you’re expected to pay extra for it.

Still others point you in the right direction by giving you recommendations, but you have to book and pay for it.

Figure out what your program provides and what you can afford.

Schedule

If getting out and exploring the region is important to you, figure out how much free time you’ll have.

Some programs give you days off, while others expect you to be available the entire time you’re there.

Do your research, and decide what will work best for you.

As an example, while we were in Argentina volunteering at Chacra Millalen, we didn’t realize they do not have their volunteers work on the weekend.

Had we realized that, we might not have planned on Saturday-Sunday as part of our stay.

It was wonderful being there, but we were there to work.

Reputation

Dig around online, scour forums, and ask for references if you have doubts.

If the company or organization you’re considering seems sketchy, it might be.

Or they might just have a small budget and no website.

Do your research and try to speak to a real person about any concerns.

You can look up U.S.-based organizations (or orgs with a U.S. affiliate) on Charity Navigator, which evaluates non-profits and gives them 1-4 stars, and GuideStar, which provides information on thousands of non-profits.

Additional resources for volunteering abroad traveling and WWOOF ‘ing:

Volunteer Travel Programs: Local and Abroad
11 Things to Know Before You WWOOF
21 Resources for Volunteering Abroad Why You Should Do It

Doing your homework in advance will ensure there are no surprises.

Using our list above will help you consider things you might not have otherwise thought about.

Volunteering abroad should be an enriching experience.

Make it a great one too with these tips.