The holidays that REALLY make a difference… by ditching the sun-lounger and volunteering for a worthy cause

  • Here we pick the best bite-sized breaks where ordinary holidaymakers can get involved in a charity project
  • The list features a trip to the Belize in Central America to help save marine life, from sea turtles to dolphins
  • Or how about spending two weeks in the town of Luang Prabang in Loas teaching English to monks?

Basking on a sun lounger all day has its merits, of course. And who doesn’t enjoy a week or two of overindulgence when it comes to food and drink?

But increasingly there’s a movement towards combining a well-deserved break with helping others. Charity projects that might once have occupied a gap year student for months on end are now offering bite-size breaks for ordinary holidaymakers.

So from helping to save turtles in Belize to teaching English to monks in Laos, here’s how you could spend your downtime enriching your soul . . .


Close encounter: Swim with hawksbill turtles in the Belize Barrier Reef

Discover why this Central American country is home to one of the most extraordinary ecosystems in the world — the Belize Barrier Reef — during a week-long trip on St George’s Caye.

Led by a marine biologist, you’ll track dolphins, manatees and sea turtles and spend much of the time snorkelling this spectacular reef.

SKILLS NEEDED: As long as you’re a swimmer, you’re in.

REWARDS: Children will be talking euphorically about this trip for years to come.

GET INVOLVED: Oceanic Society offers week-long family voluntourism trips — children must be over ten — from £1,468 pp, Return flights from £995 pp with British Airways, 

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Installing scaffolding and hacking at damaged brickwork might sound tough, but joining a UK canal camp ensures British waterways are preserved for future generations. Don your steel-toe-cap boots and sign up for a family camp restoring the Uttoxeter canal in the pretty Churnet Valley.

SKILLS NEEDED: Ability to do light labour.

REWARDS: Getting terrifically muddy in the name of restoring Britain’s industrial heritage.

GET INVOLVED: The family camp takes place from June 14 to 16 and is priced at £15 pp. Accommodation is at The Quad, Smallwood Manor:


Kick about: Youngsters play a game of football on a beach in Rio de Janeiro

Showcasing your football skills in a country where the national team has won the World Cup five times may seem daunting, but you don’t need to play like Pele to enjoy coaching children from Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

SKILLS NEEDED: A healthy love of the game.

REWARDS: Spotting the next Brazilian great and letting the youngsters run rings around you in pursuit of a goal or two.

GET INVOLVED: A two-week stay costs £316 pp, plus a registration fee of £157: Fly to Rio with Tap Air Portugal from £396 return,


Make a difference: You can teach English to young monks in Laos 

This beguiling country in East Asia has a thirst to learn English, but a drought when it comes to available teachers. Spend a mindful two weeks in the captivating town of Luang Prabang teaching the country’s monks the basics.

SKILLS NEEDED: Patience and the ability to know when to keep quiet.

REWARDS: Tranquillity; some of the zen is sure to stick even after you jet home.

GET INVOLVED: Two weeks from £1,135: Thai Airways flies via Bangkok to Vientiane from £844 pp return,


All-rounder: A boy plays cricket on a beach in Sri Lanka as the sun sets in the distance 

You needn’t be a sports pro to sign up to this high-tempo programme on Sri Lanka’s southern coast; you just need buckets of energy to teach cricket, football, netball and more to kids from disadvantaged communities.

SKILLS NEEDED: Can you throw a ball? You’re in.

REWARDS: Seeing children improve with your expert tuition.

GET INVOLVED: Two weeks from £1,065 pp: Fly to Colombo from £508 return with Qatar Airways,


Up close and personal: Pictured are lions in the Namibian landscape

Roll your sleeves up for some hard and varied work at this sanctuary for orphaned and injured wildlife. You’ll be cleaning, feeding and tending to cheetahs, leopards and lions in the Namibian savannah, and preparing for their release into the wild.

SKILLS NEEDED: Hard graft: expect to get grubby.

REWARDS: As well as getting heart-stoppingly close to these African animals, you’ll have had a hand in their ongoing rehabilitation.

GET INVOLVED: Two weeks from £935 pp: Return flights to Windhoek from £680pp with Ethiopian Airlines. 


Spend two weeks aiding the cause of one of Europe’s most endangered animals, the loggerhead sea turtle. Based in the tiny village of Giannitsochori in the western Peloponnese, volunteers record nesting activity, harvest bamboo for protection and educate tourists.

SKILLS NEEDED: Days are long; reasonable stamina required.

REWARDS: Watching new-to-the-world hatchlings make for the ocean.

GET INVOLVED: A two-week stay costs £1,150, Fly to Kalamata with Thomas Cook airlines from £151 return,


Stunning: Learn about the plight of wolves in The Tantra Mountains in Slovakia (above)

For those with a penchant for nature and a desire to learn about the plight of wolves, this trip ticks the boxes. You’ll join the White Wilderness project — a collective of researchers, photographers and conservationists — whose mission it is to tally up these elusive creatures in the off-grid Tatra Mountains.

SKILLS NEEDED: Patience and energy, days will be spent scoping out the foothills and valleys.

REWARDS: Contributing to serious conversation work.

GET INVOLVED: A one-week stay costs from £820: Fly with Ryanair to Bratislava from £30.

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