Volunteering isn’t just for gap ‘yah’ students or those suffering a mid-life crisis. It offers travellers a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture in a way that is virtually impossible on all-inclusive tours. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend a year pent up in a yurt in rural Mongolia, or your entire life savings to do it.

Instead you can expect to learn new skills, meet new people and maybe even pick up a new language along the way. A tan with a conscience – who knew it was possible? 

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1. Argentina

In Buenos Aires, Argentina’s cosmopolitan capital, there’s the opportunity for travellers to help disadvantaged children with after school activities in some of the most deprived parts of the city.

Responsibilities vary with Original Volunteers, but most participants who take part find themselves organising outdoor games for the kids or helping them build confidence with their English with some informal language tuition.

Birthday parties are a big deal here, so hosting celebrations for children who would normally miss out is another common activity. You might also end up helping with arts and crafts in local community centres, or ballsy travellers could try fundraising on the street.

The city is a heady mix of European architecture and Latin American fizz, and there will be plenty of free time to enjoy all of it. Volunteers can indulge in tango lessons, some of the world’s best hunks of beef, lashings of home-made red wine and the legendary Latin American nightlife.

Volunteers also have the option to visit a Guarani Indian village in the tropical north to distribute resources, or the famous Iguassu Falls.

Cost is a £125 booking fee plus £95pw for the first two weeks.  

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2. Thailand

Fancy yourself as a bit of an elephant whisperer? Well, i to i Volunteering has just the project for you. Working with mahouts (elephant keepers) in Surin, northeast Thailand, you will help with conservation efforts for these mighty mammals.

Daily tasks include feeding, bathing, grooming and training the elephants, as well as helping to teach your hosts English. The project lasts for between two and four weeks and prices start at £599. 

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3. Japan

Horticulturalists, unite! WWOOFing, an acronym for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, has surprisingly little to do with dogs. 

Instead, it provides those who aren’t afraid of getting their hands a little mucky with the chance to help out on farms worldwide. At one dairy farm in Hokkaido, Japan, you’ll learn how to milk the cows as well as feeding, cleaning and other farming processes. WWOOF annual membership fee is £20. 

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4. Ghana

Volunteer HQ offers construction and renovation programmes in Ghana, where volunteers work alongside locals to help improve infrastructure. 

The project focuses on the construction and restoration of orphanages, clinics and schools in the east African nation. But if construction doesn’t tickle your fancy there are also teaching and medical opportunities available. Programmes last one week to six months, costing from £190, plus a registration fee of £160. 

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5. Madagascar

Ride the ocean ecotourism wave in Madagascar, volunteering for marine conservationists Blue Ventures.

Working with international research scientists, volunteers identify ways in which the island’s coastal communities can live sustainably by helping to survey the region’s reefs. Training includes snorkelling and diving excursions as well as informal lectures. 

The project costs between £700 and £1700 for a three-week placement. Find more details online. 


Photos: Getty; Thinkstock