Sure, sitting on the beach would be nice. Sunshine and cocktails, right?
But you want more than rest and relaxation. We get it.
You desire a trip that reignites your passion and creativity. You want a renewed sense of direction and purpose. You seek inspiration – and the motivation to be the best you can be.
If that sounds like you, why not brainstorm alternative vacation ideas? This guide will get you started.
What are Alternative Vacations, Exactly?
Bloomberg recently published a piece on transformative trips and they articularly summarize what non-traditional vacations involve.
As the Bloomberg article says, “If all you’re doing on your vacation is relaxing, you’re doing it wrong.” Your travels should function as therapy. Because alternative vacations or transformation trips can cure an entrepreneurial dry spell, teach you new skills, expand your outlook, and replenish your mind and body.
So, what should alternative vacations entail?
No limits exist on what you can do. When thinking about vacation ideas, consider something fresh and new. As research shows, you can gain a lot from packing your bags, visiting places you’ve never seen, and doing things you’ve never done.
That trip could be:
Transformative travel in nature (examples below)
- Do a cultural immersion with an Amerindian community in Guyana. Offered through Fronteering, you’ll experience life deep in the jungles of South America!
- Join Naturally Africa Volunteers on their Malawi Marathon program. Camp on the shores of Lake Malawi and participate in a charity marathon.
Customized couples vacations (examples below)
- Volunteer in the Manu Biosphere in Peru with Globalteer, and soak in the beauty of the Amazon rainforest.
- Go on Plan My Gap Year’s Real Taster Encounter. Taste the flavors of India, Bali, and elsewhere.
Work vacations for professional development (examples below)
- Learn Mandarin in China with A Broader View, and add another skill to impress employers.
- Work in journalism? Do a journalism internship in Ghana with Alai International. Improve your cultural competency and hone your reporting skills.
Volunteering with an NGO (examples below)
- Support NGOs in Rome, Italy with IVHQ. Assist with community development and youth welfare projects in a disadvantaged neighborhood.
- Contribute to marine conservation efforts in Cambodia with a local NGO. Offered through Frontier, you’ll live on a private island. How cool!
Now, instead of discussing alternative vacation ideas, let’s give you some real options. This way, you can easily find and create a transformative trip for yourself.
Note: If you’d like to customize your trip, the organizations in this guide will work with you to make your own vacation ideas a reality.
Transformational Travel Experiences for Your Next Chapter
Want to travel for self-improvement?
Then come up with vacation ideas that emphasize self-discovery. What sort of trip will broaden your perspective and bring you greater focus and clarity?
From cultural encounters and extreme expeditions to scuba diving and yoga retreats, you have lots of options. Choose according to your preferences and what works for you. You want a trip that will enable you to explore yourself, learn new things, and grow as an individual.
To get you started, we’ve listed some great programs for transformational travel experiences below. These customized trips suit mid-career professionals, college graduates, recent retirees, and anyone else looking for a spark before embarking on their next chapter.
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) – Volunteering and Yoga Retreats in Asia
International Volunteer HQ, a leader in volunteer travel experiences, has created several programs that pair yoga retreats with volunteering. Do good for people in need and feed your soul.
A yoga holiday gives you the opportunity to realign yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. And volunteering, as IVHQ notes, elevates the trips by adding “a fulfilling and deepened cultural exchange.”
To date, IVHQ has sent more than 103,000 people in travel programs overseas, including many on volunteering and yoga retreats in Asia. Your yoga holiday destinations include:
Journey to the home of yoga, and spend time at an authentic ashram (spiritual hermitage). Hosted in the beautiful state of Kerala, which is right on India’s tropical Malabar Coast, you’ll first volunteer in healthcare, kindergarten teaching, women’s education, or special needs care.
After the program, you can stay for a week of detox, cleanse, yoga, and relaxation. Kerala, the birthplace of Ayurveda (a holistic system of medicine), has many resorts where can get Ayurvedic treatment and balance the body, mind, and soul.
Program fee: from $360 for one week
Length: Typically 1-4 weeks (can be longer)
Take classes at The Yoga Barn as you engage in volunteer work. Topics include dance, yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, breathwork, and detox. For the volunteer portion, you can choose to take part in environmental education, health education, turtle conservation, construction and renovation projects, or teaching.
During free time, Bali, with its unique culture, gorgeous beaches, and welcoming atmosphere, calls you to explore. If you want a holistic and unforgettable holiday abroad, this program provides that.
Program fee: from $325 for one week
Length: Typically 1-4 weeks (can be longer)
Frontier – Extreme Expeditions & Adventure Travel
Founded in 1989, Frontier has become a go-to organization for everything from volunteer abroad programs to mid-career breaks for professionals. To date, they’ve helped more than 103,000 travelers go abroad.
If you want to increase your resilience and confidence, and become more decisive, Frontier has a breadth of inspirational adventures to consider.. From climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to kayaking with orcas off the coast of Canada, Frontier’s trips will put you to the test—mentally and physically. Check out their trip to Antarctica below!
Perhaps the most exhilarating of all Frontier’s programs is their Antarctic Voyage. Cruise around uncharted land, see colonies of penguins, stumble upon massive glaciers, and engage in extreme sports and activities, like sea kayaking in icy waters, camping in extreme conditions, and mountaineering across glaciated environments.
As you can see, Frontier’s Antarctic Voyage suits adrenaline junkies and those looking for an exciting challenge. Are you up to the task?
Program fee: from $11,295 for 12 days
Program Length: 12 days+
Raleigh International – Custom Expeditions
Founded in 1984, Raleigh International builds volunteer trips that aim to uplift communities and empower travelers to make lasting change. Focused on serving young adults, more than 400,000 youth volunteers have traveled with Raleigh International.
Offering a mixture of volunteering, adventure, and personal discovery, Raleigh International’s expeditions can be customized to suit your needs and goals. For instance, you could trek through mountains and work to combat climate change in Costa Rica.
See Raleigh’s expedition in Tanzania below!
If you want to enact positive change and fulfill your thirst for adventure, Raleigh’s Tanzania Expedition is calling your name.
Work with local schools to impart water and sanitation knowledge to children. Travel to the fringes of the Udzungwa Mountains, and implement sustainable forest management strategies. And trek through the Southern Highlands or Morogoro region. Does all that sound incredible?
Program fee: $3,100 for 4 weeks; $5,000 for 10 weeks
Program Length: 4-10 weeks
Customized Couples Vacations to Strengthen Your Bond
Whether you’re searching for unique honeymoon ideas or want something meaningful to do now that the kids left home, tailored couples vacations can prescribe exactly what you need.
As Ken Budd, author of The Voluntourist, states, alternative couples vacations, such as volunteering abroad as a couple, can bring you closer to your loved one, allow you to see them in a different light, and increase your appreciation for one another.
Look through the unique vacation ideas for couples below!
Plan My Gap Year (PMGY) – Cultural Encounters & Long Term Travel
Have an incurable case of wanderlust?
Then look for vacation ideas with Plan My Gap Year, an award-winning volunteer travel organization. Through PMGY, you can build your own couples vacations and voyage across an entire continent. You and your partner could join the following custom trips:
- Real Africa Encounter: Take the long and epic road through Ghana, Tanzania, and South Africa!
- Real Asia Encounter: Get to know all about Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal on this transformative trip.
- Real South America Encounter: Experience the beauty, culture, and history of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and more!
Need more than that? Do an around the world trip (details below).
Ever dream of hopping across the world?
With PMGY, you can. On this round the world encounter, you and your partner will have the chance to do so many once-in-a-lifetime things, including:
- Learn Swahili in Tanzania
- Trek through the Sacred Valley in Peru
- Explore the magnificent city of Cape Town, South Africa
- Go sightseeing in Delhi, India
- Live like a local in Fiji
If you to enjoy long term travel with your loved one, this trip should be your first choice.
Program fee: $6,024 for 20 weeks
Program Length: 20-40 weeks
GoEco – Road Trips, Culture Weeks, and Adventure Tours
Founded in 2006 by experienced volunteers, GoEco has carefully vetted all their volunteer travel projects, guaranteeing their trips adhere to high standards of ethics, safety, and quality. They were recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization by GoAbroad in 2018.
Other amazing adventure tours include:
Travel from Johannesburg, the City of Gold, to the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly called Swaziland). And soak up the beauty of Blyde River Canyon, Tugela Falls, Tsitsikamma National Park, and other places along the way.
During the journey, you and your partner will stay in eco-friendly accommodations, engage in cultural exchanges with locals, go on safaris, and partake in activities like bungee jumping, shark cage diving, sand boarding, and more. How thrilling does that sound?
Program fee: $2,680
Program Length: 3 weeks
Want a better view? Go to the rooftop of the world!
As you journey across Nepal, you’ll volunteer in Kathmandu, go whitewater rafting, relax with meditation sessions, visit Chitwan National Park, and more. You and your significant other will certainly create lasting memories.
Program fee: $1,850
Program Length: 4 weeks
Projects Abroad – Volunteer Abroad Specials for Older Couples
For nearly three decades, Projects Abroad has been a leader in international volunteering and internships. Having sent more than 115,000 folks overseas, they serve a variety of age groups, from high school students to those 50 and older.
If you and your spouse have been experiencing empty nest syndrome, or simply want a unique trip abroad, Projects Abroad has custom volunteer vacations for older couples. These programs have been specifically designed for those 50 and older and offer flexibility when it comes to dates and activities. They make for great couples vacations.
For example, you and your partner could sign up for the programs below:
Travel to the Galapagos Islands on this organized volunteer vacation. Protect endangered species, do light renovation work in a community, and socialize with locals.
This trip is an absolute delight! And you and your loved one will have leisure time to roam around your beautiful surroundings. So, ready to go to Ecuador?
Program fee: $3,570
Program Length: 2 weeks
Immerse yourself in Khmer culture! During your couples adventure, you’ll get hands-on with Khmer language classes, arts and crafts activities, sightseeing, and service work, such as teaching English in a village.
You and your partner will have ample opportunities to meet locals and other travelers as you see great cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (hello Angkor Wat!). Doesn’t this sound like the trip of a lifetime?
Program fee: $2,770
Program Length: 2 weeks
Work Vacations for Professional Development
Traveling can benefit your career, if you choose the right sort of vacation.
To propel your career to the next level, you require travel that focuses on honing your technical and interpersonal skills. To get thinking about the right vacation ideas for professional development, consider what skills and experiences could serve as an asset to you in the workplace.
Maximo Nivel – International Internships & Spanish Immersion Programs in Latin America
Looking for unique vacation ideas for Latin America?
Look no further than Maximo Nivel, a leading provider of work, intern, and study abroad programs in the region. Not only do their programs have an affordable price tag, but they’ll also challenge you to learn and grow.
For professional development opportunities with Maximo Nivel, consider their internships and Spanish immersion programs (details below).
Get practical work experience abroad, and stand out from the crowd. Maximo Nivel offers internships in fields like:
- Human Rights
- Hospitality & Tourism
Work in a different field? Maximo Nivel also offers customized placements in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Craft your own work abroad program in areas such as IT, psychology, law, and photojournalism. It’s entirely up to you!
Program fee: from $1,495 for 4 weeks (total depends on location, length, and field)
Program Length: 4-24 weeks
Need to learn Spanish? Then head to Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru with Maximo Nivel. There, you’ll have the option to take an intensive Spanish course, university Spanish course, or summer Spanish camp. Or, you can sign up for a language exchange with a local.
These Spanish immersion programs take you beyond the classroom. Whether you’re having drinks in San Jose, Costa Rica, viewing the architecture in Antigua, Guatemala, or walking around Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru, you’ll be living and breathing the Spanish language. Sounds magnificent, or magnífico, right?
Program fee: from $55 per week for Spanish lessons (other fees may be added, such as accommodation and food)
Program Length: 1-12+ weeks
Global Vision International (GVI) – Intern Abroad Trips
Since 1998, Global Vision International has been providing work vacations and volunteer travel programs that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. If you want to meet new people, enact positive change, acquire new skills, and experience parts unknown, join one of GVI’s internships.
Through GVI, you can lend your skills to women’s empowerment initiatives, international business internships, community development projects, and more across the world. Check out two specific work vacations with GVI below!
Want to get your PADI Divemaster qualification? Consider this project in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, an absolutely breathtaking destination. It could open up more opportunities in a variety of science fields, especially marine conservation.
To get your diving certification, you’ll undergo an extensive training program. Once you pass, you can assist with gathering vital data on coral reefs and native fish species. So, ready to explore the world beneath the surface?
Program fee: from $459 per week
Program Length: typically 24 weeks (includes a 12-week research placement)
Make the trek to Southern Thailand, where you’ll learn how health organizations work together to boost well-being on a global scale. If you work in public health or medicine, this internship will provide you with a more holistic understanding of global and local health issues. You’ll also improve your intercultural communication skills.
During free time, the beaches, seafood, and national parks of Phang-Nga await. When it comes to destinations for work vacations, few compare.
Program fee: from $552 per week
Program Length: typically 6-12 weeks
Volunteer with an NGO and Make an Impact
When you help others, you help yourself.
Like intercultural consultant and psychologist Marianna Pogosyan, Ph.D., summarizes, volunteering increases well-being, alleviates negative feelings, and gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. Professional studies even suggest a link between generosity and happiness in the brain.
So, if you hope your travels can answer fundamental questions about life, inspire you to live more intently, and lead to a healthier lifestyle, then think about vacation ideas that center around volunteerism.
To help you select a holiday program, we’ve listed some great opportunities for you to volunteer with an NGO overseas.
Love Volunteers – NGO Volunteer Abroad Projects
If you want to do NGO volunteer work abroad, Love Volunteers not only makes it easy and affordable, they also offer lots of different destinations. For example, you could volunteer with an NGO in Albania, and care for disadvantaged children.
Check out two other programs below!
Support a local charity outside Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and contribute to food security in an impoverished area. As a volunteer, your role will consist of supporting women who grow crops to feed their families and communities. You’ll teach economic skills to the women, helping them build a sustainable livelihood.
A challenging and rewarding program, you truly have the chance to make a lasting impact in Rwanda. Ready to answer the call?
Program fee: from $379 for 2 weeks
Program Length: 2-12 weeks
Love Volunteers works closely with an NGO in Jamaica to strengthen communities. As a community development volunteer, you’ll address key issues facing Jamaica, including literacy, infrastructure development, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment.
The project is held in Mandeville, a peaceful and attractive place. You’ll have ample time to enjoy the beaches and scenery.
Want to sign up? Head to Love Volunteers’ site!
Program fee: from $1,439 for 2 weeks
Program Length: 2-12 weeks
Plan My Gap Year (PMGY) – Volunteer Work Abroad with NGOs
Plan My Gap Year, an affordable, trusted volunteer abroad organization, works with a variety of NGOs across South America, Africa, and Asia. PMGY sends more than 4,000+ volunteers abroad every year and has a very high approval rating with past volunteers.
If you want to volunteer with an NGO for your next holiday, PMGY has a very popular project in Vietnam (details below!).
Assist an NGO with their grassroots endeavors in Hanoi, and gain experience in web development, digital marketing, and fundraising. As a volunteer with the NGO, you’ll help boost awareness of environmental conservation, children’s rights, special needs care, and more important issues
Hanoi, a happening city known for its history (see the Old Quarter), tasty eateries, and buzzing entertainment scene, offers plenty to do and see when you’re not volunteering with the NGO.
Interested? Plan your trip here!
Program fee: from $684 for two weeks
Program Length: 2-24 weeks
Making Your Transformational Trip a Reality
From extreme expeditions to volunteer travel, your transformational travel experience could go any number of directions. It’s entirely up to you!
Ultimately, you need a travel prescription. As you go over vacation ideas, focus specifically on your holistic wellness, career goals, and emotional needs. And you’ll build a transformational trip that revolutionizes your life in ways you haven’t yet imagined.
For even more alternative vacations ideas, check out our other resources: