An Alternative Way to Travel

This passion for life propelled me to fulfill my dream of a year-long trip around the world; but with a twist. I knew that I wanted more than simply being a tourist looking at the world from arms-length. But how could I accomplish my goal to gain a deeper understanding of foreign cultures and benefit local people and the environment at the same time? Voluntourism seemed the perfect solution, combining a sense of adventure with active participation on a local projects. It also meant that though traveling solo I would always be a part of a team and meeting new people at the same time.

I decided to spend my year traveling as a volunteer at 11 different projects around the world. At each I spent a minimum of one month, in 10 different countries in all. And I chose projects that were completely new to my life experience.

Becoming the Queen of Google researching volunteer opportunities on the Internet for a solid six months, I studied innumerable different types of volunteering: wildlife projects, community work, helping children, conservation projects, oceanography, teaching English, and building houses. I investigated many different projects and possibilities all over the world until I narrowed down my choices to those that both fit both my interests and my budget. The next trick was to link together the travel plans like a giant puzzle. Thanks to the wonderful interconnectedness and interdependence of the Internet, I pieced it all together and set up a year-long itinerary that would find me traveling to England, Italy, Greece, South Africa, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, China, and Ireland.

In England, I worked at a monkey sanctuary devoted to rescuing pet monkeys that were illegally traded internationally. Tending lion cubs in Johannesburg, including feeding baby bottles to young cubs, I learned about lion prides. As a baboon monitor in Cape Town, South Africa, I kept baboons from raiding towns and was fortunate to sit with a wild troop of them. I worked at a wildlife hospital in Lesvos, Greece but for only a week. (All travel has its setbacks. The man running the hospital and I were not compatible.) At a kangaroo sanctuary in Perth, Australia I learned to tend young joeys and I volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I fed and bathed rescued elephants that had been abused.

Yes, I was enjoying myself with wildlife; but then I moved to other projects. In Yantai, China, I taught English to high school students. In Altamura, Italy I worked at a restoration project, and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil I studied Portuguese while working on a conservation project. In New Zealand I lived at a sustainability sanctuary planting trees, gardens. This was a facility that generated its own electricity using wind power. I learned to live and travel leaving “a smaller footprint.”

My volunteer work as a newspaper reporter in Midleton, Ireland gave me a chance to interview TV stars, concert violinists, authors, and politicians. And in Israel, I worked at an archaeological site. An amazing and once-in-a-lifetime additional adventure during my year-long journey, was being able to travel from Beijing to Moscow to Brussels on the Trans-Siberian Express for five exciting days.

During my year of voluntourism I made countless new friends, had thrilling adventures, and fulfilled a dream that continues to enrich my life. Working side by side every day with other members of an international team, I experienced a whole new sense of collaboration. We talked endlessly about our different life experiences, learned far more from each other than we could ever have imagined — and we laughed a lot. I now carry a piece of each country with me; each, like a friend, has added something meaningful to my life. My heart is full; my experiences working with passionate people on projects they cared about has given me a new sense of purpose.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahtama (Mohandas) Gandhi

Voluntourism can be the perfect solution for combining a love of travel with a desire to make a personal connection with other cultures. It can also be an economical way to travel. In the classes that I now teach on voluntourism, my goal has been to find more and more opportunities that charge volunteers only for room and board. I recommend many of the projects that I worked on (rather than the expensive voluntourism projects) and many new ones I have discovered since my return.

I have recently returned from teaching English at Pueblo Ingles in Spain and will be traveling next to a wildcat sanctuary in Costa Rica. Later this year, I will be working at a chimpanzee sanctuary in the Congo. These are all free to fairly inexpensive projects.

Whatever your travel dreams, you can find a project to enrich your life and learn about a culture while working together with others like you from around the world.

For those who would like a copy of my 20-page list on voluntourism opportunities around the world, please feel free to email me at

I would also want to recommend “carbon offsetting” for those of you who would like to balance your air travel with helping the planet. I have included below some websites that you may find interesting in this regard.

My ongoing dream is to help more people learn about volunteer travel, to enjoy the world in a new way, learning and helping, growing and laughing.

Where I went

The Monkey Sanctuary in Looe, England $100/week. If you are wondering why there are monkeys in England it is because of the international pet trade.

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Roo Gully Sanctuary, kangaroos in Perth, Australia $100/week

The Lion Park in Johannesburg, South Africa Unfortunately this is now a fairly expensive project run by i-to-i.

Baboon Monitoring in Cape Town, South Africa

The contacts at the above link may be able to help you volunteer here. The group I worked with is no longer arranging volunteer travel. These are the baboons I worked with!

Lesbian Wildlife Hospital, Lesvos, Greece Free. The island of Lesvos is gorgeous.

Tararu Valley Sanctuary Sustainability & Adventures in New Zealand $380/week. They also need some long-term volunteers, however please contact the organization for costs.

Global Network Volunteers I contacted this organization to arrange to teach English in Yantai, China. They have many different types of projects, and were great to work with. A volunteer teaching post was around $500/month or $1000 for the full year!

Italian Restoration Project. Email Tonio Creanza at for restoration or archeology work in southern Italy $500 for 2 weeks

BCTV This is the British group that I was going to do the
Turtle Conservation Project with before the tsunami hit. BCTV is very well organized, and has many projects in many different countries.

Bridgelinguatec: The language and home stay program I participated in while I was Brazil $1700 a month.
There are other countries as well where you can arrange such programs. The organization also offers conservation projects on the weekend, and language courses every day.

Escape to the real world is the organization that now operates the program I was in while doing newspaper reporting in Ireland. Unfortunately this now is very expensive. (formerly This is an excellent site that lists free or very inexpensive projects throughout South America.

Carbon Offsetting. This a way to help our planet’s environment as you travel. See Sustainable Travel International, TerraPass, or

Joyce Major is currently working on a book, Smiling at the World. watch for her new website to be launched soon (

Joyce can be reached at

Joyce Major: Voluntourist
A solo year-long adventure around the world

“A burning desire for growth, an inward calling for change, a need to find my purpose and a curiosity about the world; all this took me around the world. ”

And thus Joyce set off to travel the world as a voluntourist. Here is her story.