A conservation project is a great gap year idea if you want to take a gap year but you also want your gap year idea to be something that benefits people and places beyond yourself. Not just because working on a conservation project will look good on your CV but because of the environmental benefits a conservation project can bring to the world.
But where to start? The internet is full of gap year conservation project ideas, which can at first glance seem quite overwhelming. So we’ve put together this handy essentials guide including all the basic info you need to undertake a conservation project on your gap year.
What do we mean by conservation project?
When we say ‘conservation project’, we mean to volunteer abroad by helping preserve local environments and the wildlife and people that live there, whether that be helping to stop deforestation in the Amazon, protecting endangered wildlife in Africa or helping curb the destruction of marine life in the Galapagos Islands.
Some people choose to spend their whole gap year working on a conservation project, while others combine it with travelling the world for pleasure.
Why take on a conservation project? You’ll be helping protect endangered species, giving something back to the planet and giving a hand to people less fortunate than yourself. You’ll also get to experience places like a local rather than a tourist.
How much does a conservation project cost?
On some conservation projects your food, drink and accommodation will be covered, though you will have to cover your spending money and travel costs to get there.
But most of the time you will have to pay to do a conservation project. This might seem strange but many conservation organisations rely hugely on these volunteer donations to keep running. And for them to cover your accommodation and meals would take vital money away from their conservation projects.
The fee for conservation projects will vary greatly so it’s very important you do your homework and research your chosen project super well before signing up.
You will need therefore need to plan and save up but you should also rest assured that both you and your chosen cause will benefit a great deal from your time and investment.
How do I plan for a conservation project?
The most important factor in deciding what kind of conservation project you should take on is what are your interests. Do you most want to help endangered or mistreated animals, or is marine life more your thing, or would you rather work on something that directly benefits the environment?
Are there any places you specifically want to be posted? Or spots where you have a burning desire to be stationed? Perhaps you love surfing so would like a conservation project near good waves or you might want to learn to scuba dive so a project on coral reefs would be a good choice.
It’s not selfish to align your conservation project with your interests, it’s sensible, as you’ll get far more out of the project and be more likely to see it through.
You need to ask yourself these kind of questions long before you plan to go. You also need to think about how much support you’d like to have available on your conservation project. If you’re independently-minded you can save money by going it alone but you’ll have to plan a lot more in advance.
If you’d like some help with the planning and the reassurance of 24-hour support while you’re away you can opt for a gap year conservation programme. This will cost more but may well be worth the money, as long as you research the credibility of your company and exactly what they’re promising before you go.
When choosing your conservation organisation make sure they have long-standing relationship with the project and a good reputation. Ask what their emergency protocol would be should anything happen to you. If you don’t offer an interview, set up a meeting with them before you hand over any cash.
Read your blurb!
Once you’ve decided which conservation project to take on and signed up, make sure you read all the blurb they’ve sent you with all the zeal of a hot-shot lawyer. You need to know what to expect so you’re as mentally prepared as you can be.
If you’re helping nurture abandoned puppies in India, or victimised orangutans in Borneo or other mistreated animals or marine life you may see some shocking sights. If you’re on a short-term project you may not be given the responsibility you’d like. Some of the projects may be hard physical work in hot climates, the better you prepare mentally the smoother things will go.
You should also be aware of how remote your location is. Will you get a phone signal or be able to access wifi? Can you survive without Netflix and Facebook? If not, perhaps a less off the beaten track conservation project would be more up your street.
If you’re going with a gap year programme, you’ll still most likely have to organise your flights, visas and vaccinations well in advance. Check what your organisation is sorting out and what is left to you.
For most of us this will be a once in a lifetime experience, so enjoy it. Most people just take from the world without giving back but you’re making the effort to help out and you should be proud of yourself for that.
Keep an open mind, make an effort to learn the local language, be friendly but keep your wits about you, especially in large cities and with new people.
In many conservation projects you can help bring about real change and benefit to local environments, wildlife and marine life, while seeing a different country in a wholly original and unique light, which no ordinary tourist would ever encounter. Make the most of it, have fun and good luck!