Getaways that give back

Choosing a volunteer vacation can be daunting. These four affordable options are worth your time, money and effort.

You need some me time

volunteering animal sanctuary
A Sanctuary caregiver takes Marley on an outing.

Given that the typical American worker takes just 10 vacation days a year, according to travel booking site Expedia, you may want to mix your volunteering with a little straight R&R.

One option: Some outfitters offer packages with a "taste" of service, which tack a day or two of volunteering onto a typical vacation. U.K.-based Hands Up Holidays, for one, organizes trips to places like Peru and New Zealand for travelers who want to spend about a quarter of their time volunteering.

The downside? Many of these itineraries are run by luxury travel firms and tend to be expensive. Hands Up charges an average of $4,000 per person.

To trim that bill, go DIY. "It's not difficult to add a day on your own," says Shannon O'Donnell, author of The Volunteer Traveler's Handbook, who suggests searching for nonprofits at your destination (try a site like and arranging a visit.

The trip: The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, surrounded by the red rock cliffs of Kanab, Utah, takes in hundreds of cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, and other animals that have been abused or neglected. And with 1,700 creatures at the sanctuary at any one time, volunteers are essential for getting all of them fed, groomed, and exercised each day. (Best Friends Animal Society, which runs the Sanctuary, has partnered with the ASPCA on animal rescue initiatives.)

When you're not walking a pup, grooming a horse, or mending a fence, there's plenty to do nearby: Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon are within a 90-mile drive.

The price: There's no charge to volunteer. Best Friends has on-site cabins and cottages, priced from $60 to $140 a night.

Prefer something a little cushier? Many nearby hotels offer discounts for Best Friends volunteers. At the Canyons Lodge, for example, you'll get 15% off, bringing a deluxe queen or king room in the modern, quirkily designed hotel down to $76 to $135, depending on the time of year.

  @Money - Last updated December 19 2013 04:50 PM ET
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