Free Volunteer Vacations

One of the ways to travel free or close-to-free that we highlight in the book is volunteering. We are both huge advocates of volunteer travel, or “voluntourism” as it’s often called; in fact I (Shelley) first went to India as part of a volunteer group to an orphanage, and it so changed my life that I’ve been back 5 more times, and even wrote a book about it!

As we discuss in the book, volunteering isn’t always free. Because nonprofit organizations are cash and resource strapped, they have to cover their costs of recruiting, training and hosting volunteers – and they often do this through fees for volunteers. Many people question why organizations charge you to volunteer, but an incredible amount of work and resources goes into volunteers – especially those coming from another country – and the nonprofits can’t cover that. However, volunteering still often represents a way to stay somewhere for weeks, even months at a time for a very low cost; and it also provides an in-depth cultural experience that is hard to find in any other way. Plus, one of the biggest benefits is the feeling that volunteers get from really contributing to the places they visit, and making often life-long relationships.

But there are still many volunteer programs and opportunities that ARE free! Today I would like to highlight one of these – the Continental Divide Trail Alliance. One of the most scenic ecosystems in the world,the CDT is a 3,100-mile primitive and challenging
backcountry trail from Canada to Mexico along the backbone of America. Approximately 70% of the Trail is usable. However, many of those miles are in desperate need of repair, rerouting for sustainability, or removed from roads and motorized trails.

If you are interested in seeing some of the most beautiful wilderness this country has to offer, from Montana to New Mexico, and having an excellent outdoor adventure, the CDTA volunteer program is something you might want to check out. Best of all – it’s FREE to volunteers!

That’s right – you can backcountry hike, backpack and camp while improving one of our greatest natural resources and having an amazing adventure, all for free. No trailbuilding experience is required for most projects, and most meals are provided as well. Most projects are from 2 days to a week, but if you’re up for something longer you can piggyback several projects together. You are responsible for getting to the site yourself. Most projects are for those 18 and older; but a few allow children as young as 10 with an adult – making this a potentially great, free family adventure!

Imagine a week spent in the picturesque canyons of the Rocky Mountains, enjoying spectacular views over the Continental Divide, or backpacking through Yellowstone National Park alongside elk and bald eagles?

Check it out – free travel doesn’t get much better than this! And if you want a more in-depth look at volunteer travel, as well as many other methods such as work exchange, agri-tourism, home exchange and frequent flyer tips for traveling for free, don’t forget to download or order How To Travel For Free (or pretty damn near it!) today!


About Shelley Seale

I'm Shelley, a journeyer and learner of the world, freelance journalist and author, yoga chick and dog lover. I pound the keyboard from home barefoot every day, and while my boss is demanding she also occasionally lets me have the early afternoon cocktail. I think not going into an office or collecting corporate paychecks are very good ideas, though not always profitable. I have written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, Texas Monthly and CNN, among others. Neither the New York Times nor Johnny Depp have answered my letters yet. I love yoga, indie movies, wine, and books, though not necessarily in that order. I believe in karma. Mean people suck. If I could have any dream job I would like to be a superhero. I have performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano and was once robbed by a monkey in Nepal. But, I don't know how to whistle. My mantra is "travel with a purpose."
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2 Responses to Free Volunteer Vacations

  1. adele says:

    Hi Shelley,

    I recommend you check out It’s a resource for travellers who wish to do work exchanges with hosts in different countries in return for room and board. Membership is free and hosts need help with all kinds of jobs.


  2. Stream Watch says:

    Looking for a volunteer vacation?

    Make a difference on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula with the Stream Watch Ambassador Program.

    Ambassadors are everyday people providing an extraordinary day on the river! After attending a mandatory training, Stream Watch Ambassadors are outfitted with the knowledge and supplies to walk the rivers sharing information and enthusiasm to protect Kenai Peninsula Rivers.

    Make a difference! Become a Stream Watch Ambassador this summer! Ambassadors must be physically fit individuals who are 16 years of age or older and are interested in making a difference on local rivers. Ambassadors are required to attend trainings and commit to a minimum of 24 volunteer hours (June-Sept) on the river. No administrative fees for participation. Volunteer campsites are available.

    For more information, visit or email!


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