Safari- and wildlife reserve-focused vacations are often considered experiences of a lifetime. Given the global outcry for conservation and animal rescue, there’s nothing more empowering than helping animals in need — especially if we can lend a hand to trusted organizations and the people protecting them. Furthermore, as we have seen on WhereverFamily and countless other travel outlets, safari-like trips are no longer reserved for Africa.
Even with so many efforts to rescue and protect wildlife around the world, it’s important to acknowledge there are both stray domestic animals and wildlife in the United States that need as much help as they can get. While the ASPCA, Humane Society and numerous independent volunteer organizations spread the word about their efforts, what if you could build your next family volunteer vacation around conservation within North America? This would certainly shift the experience-of-a-lifetime paradigm in a way that is deeply meaningful.
“What’s another trip to the Bahamas?,” muses Debbie Jacobs, president, Explorations in Travel in Guilford, Vermont. “For animal lovers, that means immersing themselves in creature-friendly tasks and projects that would never fit into their regular routine. From snapping photos of sea otters along the Alaskan coast to soothing rescued cows and pigs in the American heartland, our vacationing volunteers are finding that the rewards of donating their time to help animals far outweighs the lack of room service or tour guides.”
Here are some destinations where your family can make a difference while communing with nature and some of America’s most precious citizens.
Just outside of Chicago, Cristen Carlson and her daughter made it their business to rescue horses from terrible fates. Through farm visits at Proud Ponies Equine Rescue, Carlson is reaching out to people passionate about horses to help her provide them with human contact above and beyond medical care, grooming and food. However, in addition to contact with these animals, her facility offers special training to those interested in learning more about horse rescue.
“There are so many people interested in helping save these beautiful, majestic animals,” she explained. “But unlike dogs and cats, horses are large animals and need people with training and handling experience as well as education to care for them correctly. Although many people are interested in the future of defenseless horses, they may not have the ability to keep or own a horse … but they still want to become involved in the welfare of the animals and help in any way they can. Our rescues grieve for their former lives, miss routines and humans, worry about where they are and where their next stop will be. They all need massive amounts of love, tenderness and affection to help them understand they are safe. The difference one human can make in a horse in as little as a day is incredibly rewarding.”
The Crystal Coast/Emerald Isle, North Carolina
With Emerald Isle designated an official sanctuary for sea turtles and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores actively involved in conservation, those interested in sea turtle rescue can rent vacation homes, May–December, via realty companies, including Emerald Isle Realty, Blue Water Vacation Rentals or Spinnaker’s Reach Realty along the Crystal Coast area to participate in the collaborative Save the Sea Turtles program. The aforementioned companies make a conscious effort to educate visitors on the do’s and don’t’s of turtle nesting season and local efforts to rescue and rehabilitate the five (of seven) regional sea turtle species.
At the family-friendly, 3,000-acre Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, less than an hour from Zion National Park and an hour from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, volunteers can feed puppies in Dogtown; fill water bowls for feline friends in Wildcats Village; and clean the Bunny House. Several special areas for the youngest animal rescuers are populated with docile and senior animals who need a little extra help and TLC. There are four basic cabins on site for $60–70 per night, as well as several nearby motels making lending a hand easier than ever.
Beaufort, North Carolina
Through a partnership with Cape Lookout National Seashore, the Rachel Carson Reserve and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, the National Parks Service is on the hunt for members to join their Pony Patrol in 2020, who will act as ambassadors for the wild horses of Shackleford Banks. Applicants applying online must be able to “physically walk the beach in a dynamic setting, consisting of sandy terrain, extreme sun, heat, humidity, wind, and buggy environments.”
Explorations in Travel offers eight unique experiences across the country where mother-adult daughter duos can spend a few days, a week or longer giving hands-on aid to either wild and domesticated animals — or both. Although some of these trips include luxurious lodgings and amenities, most require active participation in chores, research or housekeeping duties — in some cases, all three.
The Humane Society of the United States regularly looks for volunteers ages 18 and older to assist in rescues of domestic animals brought on by natural disasters, illegal activities (such as dog fighting), and the everyday necessity of providing care for feral populations and re-homing abandoned animals. Animal rescue volunteers are required to complete certain FEMA courses as well as HSUS training on safety, emergency management, the Incident Command System and other critical aspects of emergency care.
Florida’s oceanfront Shelborne South Beach, an iconic and glamorous 1960s destination, was revamped for 21st-century families. Its fanciful allure — and fabulous pool and tropical beach access — is an exciting family destination in the heart of the historic and walkable Miami Art Deco District.
Although Alaska may not be on everyone's radar, it might move higher on your family’s must-visit list when they learn more. There are countless activities and breathtaking sights throughout the state, plenty of wildlife to see and much more, whether you spend time in the top tourist areas or venture off to explore Alaska’s hidden gems.
As I wander the canals of Amsterdam on a bright spring morning, the sun plays on the water as shoals of cyclists navigate the tight streets. The city’s inimitable narrow houses teeter overhead, and one particular street erupts in a riot of color as the De Wallen red light district gives way to the Singel canal to the south.
Harvard Medical School released a study that mothers and daughters who take at least one trip together per year have less stress, stronger immune responses, decreased risk for heart disease and more. That’s right: It turns out spending quality time together provides benefits similar to sticking to a healthy diet and getting enough sleep every night. And, let’s face it, traveling is a lot more fun.