One unique way to travel is to become a volunteer. This movement, traveling as a volunteer, commonly referred to as voluntourism, has become a very popular travel mechanism for young adults. Voluntourism programs are those in select countries where the participant pays a fee (usually all-inclusive), provides volunteer work, and sees the sites in the location. My first, and so far only, voluntourism trip was to Tenerife, an island in the Canary Islands, a group of islands near Morocco and owned by Spain.
Before I decided to travel Europe for 3 months, I googled a bunch of random terms to try to find the best way to extend my money across as many countries as possible. Through my many searches, I googled voluntourism in Europe and happened across the Atlantic Whale Foundation ‘s (AWF) page. With AWF, I paid €175 for a week in Arona, half-board, transportation, t-shirt, and airport pickup/drop-off. It was by far money well spent!
When I flew in from Zürich, the pilot had to fly around Mt. Teide, the volcano on Tenerife. It was amazing to fly right beside a volcano, a first for me! As we circled around it, the ocean view was incredible! One glimpse at the electric blue in the water and I knew it was going to be an amazing week.
Since I arrived in Tenerife and was transported to Arona, a town about thirty minutes from the beaches, on a weekend, my first two days were free to do as I wish. With AWF, all of the volunteers were housed in the main house and the side house (used for its kitchen). Everyone cooks together, everyone eats together, and everyone cleans together. Moreover, this is where the volunteers bonded. On my first day I managed to befriend the two Dutch girls and two Irish guys who already knew the ropes. It was through making these friends that I was able to have people to hang out with the first weekend.
The second day in Arona, the weekend, began by going into town for breakfast with the girls and ended with a beach trip with the guys. While breakfast was amazing, the beach was even better! The Tenerife beaches had the clearest water I had ever seen and was the perfect 75 degrees Farenheit. Furthermore, bars lined the beaches making it easy to grab a virgin strawberry daiquiri (only €2!) and lay out on the sand.
*Travel tip the sun in the Canaries is more intense than in America, American sunscreen does not provide adequate coverage. I recommend buying sunscreen in Tenerife unless you would like to fry, which I did.
While the beaches were absolutely amazing, and is currently the best ones I have ever visited, the real pleasure was being a volunteer with the AWF! From Monday-Friday volunteers are transported down to the marina in the morning to help open the shop and to get prepared for the day (the early everything gets done, the more likely the chance you can go to breakfast at Victoria’s Café). The preparations are typically deciding who goes out on the whale watching boats and who will remain in the shop to assist with visitors. Since I was only there for a short week, I was able to go out on the boats everyday!
Concerning the boats, typically two volunteers, with their AWF shirts, are allowed on if the boat has not reached maximum capacity. Once on the boat, one volunteer takes fin shots of the marine life (typically dolphins and whales) while the other records the data on how many cetaceans are present, how they are traveling, and their behaviors. In between viewings, both volunteers walk around the boat answering questions about the AWF and making the visitors aware of the whale conservation methods. If you are lucky and go on a long boat ride (usually over four hours), the boat stops off Masca Bay and allows the guests and volunteers to swim in the open sea (my first time doing so!). I was able to swim in Masca Bay twice during my week in Tenerife! However, if you take a short boat trip, the volunteer will usually go on another boat trip in the afternoon. Teresa, the mom figure of the AWF, does not drive back to the AWF Visitor Center for pick up until after 5:00 and only makes one trip.
Once back in Arona, the volunteers assist with cooking for dinner and other household chores. Once dinner is eaten and the plans for the night are made, the volunteers who went out on the boats report to the upstairs room in the Main House. It is there all data is recorded and fin shots taken that day are documented.
This routine lasts during the weekdays with the only exception being the field trip day. Once a week, the AWF leaders will book a field trip exploring some place on the island (during my week it was Masca Bay). However, due to my flight leaving the day before, I was unable to participate in the field trip. The week I spent in Tenerife was one of the most relaxing weeks I have ever had. The island life is very laid back and low stress, something I rarely experience. The people are friendly, the food is amazing, the volunteers become fast friends, and it is an experience like no other. I would not trade a week whale watching and working for whale conservation for anything!
*Side note at night in Arona, the stars are magnificent due to very little lights at night on the island. Star gazing is another must!