Are you looking for a way to give back during your Spring Break or vacation? Ambassador Christina shares an excellent way to volunteer while still having a great time on the trail with the American Hiking Society’s Volunteer Vacations.
Can I get a show of hands for every HLAW woman out there who, upon hearing the lyrics “Vacation, it’s all I ever wanted!” on the radio, can’t help but belt it out (off-key) and then glance meaningfully at their significant other, roommate, or drooling dog who never seems to want to travel as much as you do?
I know I’m not alone here. Every time I drop – an incredibly subtle – hint to my husband (or my dog, or my mom, or that lady I met perusing the produce section at the store last week…) about my burning wanderlust, nothing clicks. I’m not suddenly swept off into a faraway land filled with beaches, mountains, or endless mojitos.
So what’s a girl to? Pull up my spanx and plan my own damn vacation. But here’s the thing – for all my sass, sometimes I need more than just a drink on a beach (I said sometimes, okay? Other times it’s just fine to drop into a mild coma in the sunshine).
In my pursuit to make something meaningful of my vacation time, I discovered the American Hiking Society’s Volunteer Vacations. While they do offer trips around when Spring Break typically occurs in March, they also offer trips throughout almost the entire year, from about February until November. Their trips take place all over the country (including Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands!), each lasts a week long, and all of them include a service activity that benefits trails and public lands. This year, they have more than 50 different trips to choose from.
These trips are incredibly affordable – only $275 for members, $330 for nonmembers, for – the whole week. THE WHOLE WEEK. I’m pretty sure I can’t even live in my house for $275 a week (and it includes meals!). In fact, I know I can’t. Wait – what am I still doing here, sitting in my living room writing this?
Fascinated as I was with this amazing opportunity, I had the chance to speak with Libby Wile, the Senior Director of Programs at the American Hiking Society, who manages the Volunteer Vacations, which she says have been around in one form or another since the organization’s founding in 1976. When I asked her about the trips, she shared “it’s a good balance between rewarding service work and getting to hike and enjoy the nature and area that you are volunteering in.” For her personally, as a member of the American Hiking Society and an employee, getting out on the trail and giving back reminded her of why the work she does is so important for not only us, but future generations who will enjoy these wild places.
“Volunteer Vacations are great for the Hike Like a Woman community because there really are a variety of choices depending on each person’s personal comfort level or level of experience. For folks traveling alone, it’s a great opportunity because you are with a group of people and you can feel safe and secure. If you don’t have a travel buddy, or your friends aren’t into the same things you are, this is a perfect way to go to a new location and have an organized, secured vacation without the uneasiness of having to do that all on their own.”
American Hiking Society, much like HLAW, is committed to helping all kinds of people get outdoors. When asked about the important work AHS is doing, Libby shared that they are “working towards adjusting the mentality of people who think of hiking only as people with big heavy backpacks, going into the backcountry. Yes, there’s some of that, but it doesn’t have to always be hardcore to take part in the experience we’re promoting.”
In fact, the American Hiking Society, while working to protect trails, is just as committed to protecting the overall hiking experience. Libby shared that “we consider the hiking experience so much more than just the two-foot trail that our volunteers are working on… it’s broader than just those two feet. It’s that feeling of security, that feeling of being in the wild, of being protected from motor vehicles… We fight against sensory overload and other nontangible side effects that occur if the hiking experience is not protected.”
Where do I sign up?
So, this year, I encourage you to maybe take your love of hiking one step further and give back in the outdoors. Feeling nervous? Don’t be. Libby was confident that there was a Volunteer Vacation out there for everyone. To her, the best part is “really the diversity of the trips that we offer. One of the main goals of the program is to provide our partners with volunteers to complete the work they need. From that, though, we want to make sure we’re providing opportunities for as many people as we possibly can. Kind of going back to the concept that hiking isn’t just for people going into the backcountry. We want to make sure that we have those opportunities, but we also want to make sure that there are opportunities for those who want to volunteer but then want to sleep in a bed at night and have a hot shower at the end of the day. We have trips for both types of people, and everything in between.”
Learn more about the American Hiking Society, their important advocacy, and Volunteer Vacations at www.americanhiking.org.