Americans not only earn the least amount of vacation time in the industrialized world, but also choose to not use much of that banked time. No wonder many of us are so prone to exhaustion and stress! But a vacation doesn't always mean packing up and heading out in a car or on a plane. We all need breaks, even if some glam destination isn't in the budget, so why not consider spending some of that time volunteering. Helping a worthy cause could be a perfect change of scenery.
If you do a search for "eco vacation" many of them are expensive trips to the other side of the world. While I applaud these efforts, there are plenty of opportunities to help in our own communities. One thing to note is that you'll want to plan most of these activities in advance. As much as the different organizations need helpful hands, they need to know you're coming so that everyone's time is fully utilized.
Habitat for Humanity is a great program with local affiliates. You can do something really great for a family in need by donating your time to build them a home.
Feeding America is a national network of food banks and have various volunteer opportunities. From tutoring kids at one of their local Kids Cafe to repackaging donated food for distribution or transporting food to local agencies, there is plenty of good you can do by helping folks in your community get the nutrition they need.
Volunteer at your local animal shelter. With our economy the way it is, a vast number companion animals have been left homeless when their families lost their jobs and or homes. You can help by giving them attention, socializing them, walking the dogs or cleaning their kennels. Find your local shelter through this link at The Humane Society. I volunteered at Baldwin Park Animal Shelter last year and helped build an isolation room in the cat building (pictured above).
Contact a local homeless shelter and find out what kind of volunteer opportunities they may have. Though, they may do a basic background check on you or want to best find out how your skill set might be of service, so it's best to plan this well in advance.
Beach or park cleanup. You don't have to plan far ahead to go clean up a section of your neighborhood. Some gloves, trash bags and, hopefully, a friend to keep you company is about as simple and DIY as you can get.
(Image: Michelle Chin)