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Consider using your vacation time to help make the world a better place

By Kate Silver

Road trips have a way of opening your eyes to new people, new places, new things—all of which contribute to the rich personal memories we take away from them. Across the country, more Americans are discovering that road trips can have an even deeper meaning when they also include giving back.

Volunteer travel, or “voluntourism,” is a wonderful way to make an impact while exploring a new destination. Whether you’re going off-road to forge new trails or building bridges—literally and figuratively—your Silverado packs the work ethic that doesn’t ease up even when you’re out seeking adventure. So you’ve got the right vehicle; now tap the resources below to find a way to make a difference on your next road trip.

Become a Trailblazer. Want a walk in the woods that leaves behind more than footprints? With more than a million acres in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, volunteer opportunities abound for trail maintenance projects on more than 1,700 miles of trails. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation welcomes volunteers to participate in its easy day trips or more strenuous week-long trips within the four national forests that make up “The Bob.”

Want something a little closer to home? The American Hiking Society needs volunteers across the country to help on trail-repair projects.

Think Globally, Act Locally. Global Volunteers’ USA Service Program leads more than a dozen trips a year to two communities in need. Volunteers participate in week-long programs at the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana or in a “holler” at an Appalachian community in West Virginia, where they help paint, repair buildings, teach, organize libraries and spend the day working side-by-side with members of the community.

Making a House a Home. Habitat for Humanity offers a number of volunteer opportunities across the country (and internationally). This non-profit organization, which brings together volunteers to build homes for families in need, coordinates short-term building trips and offers opportunities to lend a hand in disaster-stricken areas. Volunteers can also participate in “Women Build” events, which are female-driven projects that could make for a fun girlfriend’s getaway.

DIY Volunteer Travel. With a little research, travelers can find volunteer opportunities in any community. Whether you’re interested in constructing buildings in Louisiana, helping with Hurricane Sandy relief on the Jersey Shore, cleaning up a forest preserve in Chicago or any number of other activities, Volunteer Match and HandsOn Network allow you to search for opportunities by region and are a great place to start looking for your next voluntourist adventure.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

Kate Silver is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Chicago. Her work appears regularly in The Washington Post, Spirit Magazine, Men’s Health and the Chicago Tribune, as well as on her blog, thekatesilver.com.


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